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'Game of Thrones' Is the 'Avatar' of the Emmys, and That's Okay

Photo of Ben Travers By Ben Travers | Indiewire June 2, 2014 at 10:26AM

HBO's programming president Michael Lombardo thinks Emmy voters only see "Game of Thrones" for its production values. He's right, but so are they.
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Emilia Clarke in "Game of Thrones" on HBO
HBO Emilia Clarke in "Game of Thrones" on HBO

What awards are the right awards? Everyone wants to win Best Picture or Best Drama or Program of the Year, but aside from the top category, what awards matter to the companies distributing the honorees? To HBO, the answer seems to be the best acting trophies.

In a recent article provocatively titled "HBO: Why 'Game of Thrones' Gets Robbed at Emmys," Entertainment Weekly writer James Hibbard spoke with HBO's programming president Michael Lombardo about why "Game of Thrones" hasn't won many high profile awards despite many, many nominations in many, many categories. The article specifically targeted actors, noting the awards success of Peter Dinklage but few others in the giant ensemble -- the one weak point in an otherwise solid list of nods -- but Lombardo also shared a few theories as to the show's lack of top tier recognition. 

READ MORE: Review: 'Game of Thrones' Continues Its Critique of Heroism in Season 4 Episode 8, 'The Mountain and the Viper'

"What frustrates me about the show is people really love and connect with the characters -- but somehow, [the voters] don’t put two and two together that there are great actors embodying those roles," Lombardo said.

Long considered the most popular awards from the fan's perspective, it makes sense Lombardo would want to nab acting awards -- and the story itself serves as more of an Emmys FYC (for your consideration) spot than an objective article. It makes it easy for fans to rally behind Lombardo's plea. He wants the actors who play your favorite characters to be honored. He wants them to get the respect they deserve. He wants voters to "put two and two" together and realize the people depicting each character are as good as the characters themselves.

Is it an honorable move by Lombardo? Sure. Is it accurate? Not even slightly. 

Lombardo went on to say, "I think that’s part of the challenge of a show that’s a genre show. I think people think the show is carried along on its production values."

To be blunt, people think that because it's true. "Game of Thrones" earns respect for the same reason "Downton Abbey" does: it's a costume drama with sprawling landscapes, intricate costume design, impeccably crafted sets, and characters speaking in a fancy-sounding dialect. It appears on every level respectable because of its outstanding production team. "Downton Abbey" garners a few extra acting nominations because its characters are endearing and those portraying them long-respected in the industry. The production team behind "Game of Thrones," though, has created a show literally of its own world, much like the behind-the-scenes crew who helped Peter Jackson form Middle Earth. 

By no means is this meant to diminish the hard work of the cast and directors Lombardo wants honored, but we've seen this sort of thing every year with films during Oscar season. Each year, a new movie earns a shot at Best Picture thanks to jaw-dropping set and costume design, visual effects, and sound. The people who work in these departments -- and there are many -- are Academy members who can vote for Best Picture as well as the category they work in, and their contribution to the film as a whole is respected by the voting body of awards shows more than the studios who green light the budget needed for the crew to do what they do. 

Look at films like "Avatar," "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon," "Atonement," "Hugo," and "Gosford Park." They all vied for Best Picture, but only garnered a few, if any, acting noms and zero wins in the "major" categories -- and none of the acting nominees were ever really in contention to win. Even "Lord of the Rings" struggled to break into the acting categories and didn't get any top tier victories until "Return of the King."

Why? They were all viewed as production heavy films worth honoring for their technical prowess, but failed to resonate in an emotional way, or as emotional a way as its competitors. The same can be said for "Game of Thrones." None of the actors left off the list so far can compete with the likes of Jon Hamm, Bryan Cranston, Aaron Paul, Josh Charles, Mandy Patinkin, Robin Wright, Elisabeth Moss, Anna Gunn, or Christine Baranski -- and that's just a handful of contenders. Imagine, if you will, filling out a ballot yourself -- could you honestly place Kit Harington or Nikolaj Coster-Waldau above Dean Norris on "Breaking Bad"? Could you rank Gwendoline Christie or Maisie Williams above Maggie Smith or Michelle Monaghan?

I could not, and whether or not fans can is almost beside the point -- Lombardo knows devout "Game of Thrones" followers would argue it deserves to sweep the awards, and he knows the impression his legions of internet fan boys and girls can make on Emmy voters. He also probably knows it's a futile endeavor, but one without a possibility for failure. If an extra cast member gets nominated, it worked! If not, then the hoards of fans will rally around them with extra fervor, making their voices heard all the louder.

If only the technical awards of television were given as much time in the spotlight as film -- they would still be ushered quickly off stage, but at least they'd be elevated upon it. However brief, at least "Game of Thrones" would get its time to shine for the area most worthy of an audience's warm reception. 

This article is related to: Game of Thrones, Game of Thrones, HBO, HBO , Television, Emmys, Emmy Awards, 2014 Primetime Emmy Awards





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