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Emmy Nominations 2012: Cable and PBS Clean Up, TV Shows Its Range

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Atress Kerry Washington (L) and TV host Jimmy Kimmel speak onstage during the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards Nominations held at the Television Academy's Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre on July 19, 2012 in Los Angeles.

Jimmy Kimmel showed up to co-present the Emmy nominations with Scandal’s Kerry Washington this morning in pajamas, joking that he was rousted out of bed for the festivities, held at 5:40 Pacific Time. “This could be just as good at noon, really,” he cracked. But at least Kimmel had something to get up for: his late-night show was nominated for Best Variety. Nick Offerman—whom Kimmel replaced after Offerman was stuck in New York—didn’t get a deserved nomination for Parks and Recreation. (Nor did his sitcom, though Amy Poehler was nominated again.)

But though the podium was held down by the stars of broadcast TV, not so for the golden tickets. The Emmys, which once stubbornly held on to recognizing commercial broadcast TV over cable, has now accepted the creative dominance of cable over the big networks.

The traditional networks still have a slight grip on comedy; Modern Family continues to dominate the supporting nominations, and 30 Rock and Big Bang Theory joined it to take half the Best Comedy nominations. But beyond that, the big names and titles were virtually all from cable (as well as PBS, which collected enough Downton Abbey and Sherlock nods to fill a country estate).

Mad Men. Breaking Bad. Game of Thrones (series and a supporting nod for Peter Dinklage). Girls (best comedy, writing, directing and actress for Lena Dunham—and, haters gonna hate, but I’m delighted). Hatfields and McCoys. The thrillingly insane American Horror Story (which was submitted as a “miniseries” because each season is self-contained and has different characters, and which cleaned up). And Homeland, which deserved to be the most-honored new TV drama, and was. That’s not to mention—but I will, quickly—returns from the likes of Curb Your Enthusiasm; various nominations for Louis CK (albeit not best comedy for Louie, the best show of the last TV season); and, yes, one more nomination for Michael C. Hall. (But not, to take one broadcast example, for Hugh Laurie.)

In general, yeah, I have some gripes about nominations and oversights, and I’ll get to some in a bit. But looking at the big picture, I credit Emmy for at least, in general recognizing quality. The bad nominations this year don’t compare with the worst of a decade or two ago, or even a few years ago: even if Downton’s first season was superior to its second, there is no Boston Legal among this batch of drama nominees. And as much as I might deplore the absence of this or that show (Justified) or actress (Laura Dern), let’s take a minute and recognize that as a sign of the great bench strength of TV today. (The Good Wife is a very, very good show, and yet as a fan I can easily recognize that it was still not one of the six best dramas last season.)

The full list of nominations is available at the Emmy website, and as usual, it’s so voluminous that I’m not going to attempt to comment on every nomination–much less every non-nomination. (Weigh in for Community &c in the comments.) But a few off-the-cuff and non-comprehensive reactions:

* Gripes: So, yeah, if we’re recognizing that comedy is the one thing that broadcast TV does well, Community and Parks and Recreation did it far better than Modern Family last year, as did, say, Happy Endings. (And I say this as someone who still watches Modern Family every week and enjoys it a lot.) And while Louis CK is hardly unrecognized, both for his FX show and his comedy special, it’s still sad to see as transcendent a work of TV as its second season not get nominated as a series. Speaking of which: why the disconnect between the shows that are nominated for comedy writing and those which are nominated as comedy series? Writing is not a consolation prize, people! (Note: I am a writer. I may be biased.)

* Happy surprises: In the acting categories, I was thrilled to see Merritt Wever get recognized for Nurse Jackie, in which she’s given a singularly vibrant, distinctive performance for four seasons now. (Ditto Anna Gunn, over four seasons of Breaking Bad.) Likewise for Max Greenfield for his first season in New Girl, in which he made Schmidt not just a breakout character, but in a strange way the emotional heart of a show that began as a Zooey Deschanel vehicle and turned into a strong ensemble sitcom. And as much as I thought it fitting that Glee not get a series nomination, I’m happy to see a guest actress nomination for Dot Jones, who has found the heart in whatever insanity the show has thrown at her character. (In general, Emmy showed the bounty of comedy actresses working today, with seven lead nominations and a new nomination for Mayim Bialik in The Big Bang Theory.)

* Oddities: There were some category decisions that left us puzzling over definitions this morning. American Horror Story, though a series, is a “miniseries” because each season has a self-contained story with different characters. That seems fair enough to me. But then, Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia, a feature-length episode within a series with continuing characters, is considered a separate “movie.” Meanwhile, Ashley Judd gets an acting nomination for Missing as a “miniseries,” which was made “mini” only by being cancelled. The upshot of all of this: TV makes fewer and fewer ambitious miniseries and movies these days, so the definition is flexible.

* Nonfiction shows: the comedy/variety series have a way of becoming sinecures, with the same names and titles showing up over and over again. The Daily Show and Colbert still got theirs, but there is at least some sign of movement: recognition for Portlandia, Kimmel’s nomination, and, in the negative, no writing nominations for any of the big-broadcast late-night shows (excepting SNL).

Again, this just scratches the surface of a nomination list roughly the size of the Affordable Care Act, but in general, I’m not itching to repeal it. Then again, I have a personal policy of not taking awards seriously, period. The rest or you, gripe (or cheer) away!