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HBO's 'Game Change,' 'VEEP' make Baltimore a player at Emmys

Sunday's telecast could mean more recognition for TV work done here

By David Zurawik

The Baltimore Sun

2:41 PM PDT, September 21, 2012

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Whatever happens Sunday night in Los Angeles, Baltimore is already a winner when it comes to this year’s Emmy Awards.

Last Saturday at the creative arts Emmys, which are awarded in off-camera categories, Baltimore casting director Pat Moran was honored for her work on HBO’s “Game Change.”

The film, which tells the story of the 2008 presidential campaign of John McCain and Sarah Palin, was made here in 2011 and brought top-flight TV production back to the city after a four-year drought that came after the end of “The Wire.” That renewal meant millions of dollars spent locally, along with work for hundreds of local actors, crew members and TV/film professionals.

The Emmy for Moran, who has cast virtually every major production filmed in Baltimore since “Hairspray” in 1987, was icing on the cake — Hollywood recognition for the kind of quality work that can be done here.

And there could be a lot more recognition for Baltimore on Sunday night at Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre and in millions of living rooms across the country during the 64th Emmy Awards telecast. “Game Change” has a total of 12 nominations, while “VEEP,” a comedy filmed mostly in Baltimore that stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus as vice president of the United States, has three. The latter includes one for best comedy and another for Louis-Dreyfus as best lead actress in a comedy, where she is the odds-on favorite to win.

“HBO has always loved making movies and doing projects in Baltimore,” Moran said last week. “The great thing is, HBO has stuck with Baltimore and came back with two big projects recently, ‘VEEP’ and ‘Game Change.’ And both have multiple nominations. ... That recognition for productions made in Baltimore does matter — it matters for everyone working in the business here.”

The dozen nominations for “Game Change” in the movie and miniseries category include major ones for Julianne Moore and Woody Harrelson for best actress and actor. Moore played Palin, while Harrelson depicted senior McCain adviser Steve Schmidt in the docudrama. Ed Harris (as McCain) and Sarah Paulson (as aide Nicolle Wallace) were nominated for best supporting actor and actress.

Jay Roach picked up a nomination for his direction, while Danny Strong is up for his script. The film itself is a contender for best movie or miniseries.

Analysts are saying “Game Change” could walk away with half a dozen Emmys in one of the night’s most prestigious and star-studded categories.

Tom O’Neil, founder of the Hollywood website GoldDerby.com, is picking Harris, Moore and “Game Change” to win, with Harrelson a near toss-up as best lead actor. The consensus of all prognosticators at GoldDerby is that “Game Change” will take top honors, with Moore, Roach, Harris and Strong also winning.

“Julianne Moore is a shoo-in,” O’Neil said in a telephone interview Friday. “No one even comes close. Remember, Tina Fey recently won an Emmy portraying Sarah Palin, and everyone agrees Julianne Moore nailed it far better than Tina Fey. So, that gets an automatic Emmy.”

O’Neil is more cautious in picking “Game Change” itself, saying, “It looks like it’s out front to win best movie/mini, but there’s a lot of competition in that category, with ‘American Horror Story’ and ‘Hatfields & McCoys.’”

Deadline, another Hollywood showbiz site, also sees a close win for “Game Change,” saying: “Because this is falling so closely to a typically fractious presidential election, ‘Game Change’ gets the nod despite general acknowledgment that it’s a less than great film. It’s a very good movie filled with terrific acting work from Woody Harrelson and Julianne Moore in particular.”

The full field of nominees for movie and miniseries: “American Horror Story,” “Game Change,” “Hatfields & McCoys,” “Hemingway & Gellhorn, “Luther” and “Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia.”

“Game Change” is my pick without reservation, and I think it is a much better film than Deadline does. No movie or miniseries anywhere on TV last year generated the kind of conversation about political leadership and the lack of it on the 2008 Republican ticket the way this docudrama did.

Overall, HBO leads all networks and channels with 81 nominations, and it should once again lead in number of Emmy wins Sunday night, with several of them coming from “Game Change.” The one Moran took home last week will be added to the Sunday night count.

Moran was also nominated but didn’t win for her casting of “VEEP,” which returns to Baltimore for its second season of production next month.

If “VEEP” is going to be a headliner at the awards telecast, it’s going to come in the best actress category for Louis-Dreyfus. Her 13th nomination ties her with Lucille Ball as Emmy’s most-nominated comedy actress, according to O’Neil, author of “The Emmy,” a history of the awards.

“I think Julia Louis-Dreyfus is going to win,” O’Neil said. “That’s such a strong category, with five of those seven women capable of winning, but she’s won twice, she’s beloved, she’s in an HBO show, which is catnip for the academy, and it’s a comeback.”

Analyzing the way Emmy voters seem to favor high-end, quality political productions like “Game Change” and “VEEP,” O’Neil added, “She portrays the vice president in a show that is ‘The West Wing’ with laughs. And remember how ‘The West Wing’ swept the awards? The deep, dark secret of Emmy voters is that they are elitist snobs, and a show like this appeals to them. And they are fiercely loyal to their kin, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus is kin.”

Deadline sounds the Hollywood consensus, saying, “This is Louis-Dreyfus’ 13th Emmy nomination overall. And while she’s won only twice before — once for ‘Seinfeld’ in 1996 and once for ‘The New Adventures of Old Christine’ in ’06 — her work in ‘Veep’ is as good as anything she’s ever done (‘Seinfeld’ included). It’s also precisely the kind of role that seems to have Emmy written all over it. This year, it will.”

Having seen her on set here working with creator Armando Iannucci’s demanding mix of scripted and improvised material, there is not a shred of doubt in my mind that Louis-Dreyfus deserves the Emmy. And after talking to O’Neil, I think she’ll get it.

On the other hand, “VEEP” will not win as best comedy. That award will once again go to “Modern Family.” But there’s even some Baltimore attached to this groundbreaking ABC sitcom.

One of the stars, Baltimore native Julie Bowen, is the hands-down favorite to win again as best supporting actress for her performance as Claire Dunphy, the character at the center of this multigenerational, multicultural comedy.

Another Baltimore native, Jason Winer, is nominated for an episode that he directed last year. Winer, who won the prestigious Directors Guild Award for his work on the pilot of “Modern Family,” is not expected to win Sunday night. He has already moved on from the series and is executive producer of a new NBC midseason entry, “1600 Penn,” a family sitcom set in the White House.

Rob Berman, who like Winer grew up in Baltimore and graduated from Friends School, is already an Emmy-winning director for his work in 2012. Along with Moran, Berman was awarded an Emmy at last week’s creative arts ceremony. He won for his musical direction of “Kennedy Center Honors,” the celebrated CBS variety show that annually showcases the best of American popular culture.

The parents of Bowen, Winer and Berman all still call Baltimore home.

While that kind of local flavor can help generate rooting interest, the storyline that matters most to this area Sunday night is the one involving Hollywood’s return to Baltimore in 2011 and the recognition those productions could garner on Hollywood’s big stage.

“HBO brought in two projects last year, and both were nominated for big awards,” Moran says. “HBO helped get Baltimore back in the game, and we should all be hoping they get lots of recognition Sunday for the shows they made in Baltimore.”

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/davidzurawik

Emmys broadcast

The Emmys, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will air at 8 p.m. Sunday on WMAR/Channel 2.