This year’s Emmy nominations reflected a lot of change in TV. Netflix got creative validation; there are more female-led dramas than ever. But one rule has become calcified: No zombies need apply.
Even as hordes of network executives and publicists hawked their wares at Comic-Con, AMC’s genre hit “The Walking Dead” was once again shut out of the Emmys.
On lists that ran as long as seven slots, every show and its brother seemed to get a nomination — except, you know, the show that’s the No. 1 scripted drama in the key 18-to-49-year-old demographic. Even “Scandal” and “Nashville” made lists, for heaven’s sake.
You would think the television academy, of all institutions, would understand the shortsightedness of genre elitism. For years, television has felt the sting of snobbishness, perpetually playing second fiddle to film and diminished by epithets such as “the boob tube” or “the idiot box.”
Now, of course, the tide has turned; film stars, writers and directors flock to TV, sparking a creative melee that is as rich in both promise and peril as the logistical implications of Netflix.
“Mad Men” may have set the template for the new basic-cable-goes-scripted model that every network and streaming service is now following, but “The Walking Dead” made it critically acclaimed and commercially viable.
Smartly written, beautifully acted and gorgeously shot, “The Walking Dead” tells the same intertwined tales of physical and moral survival, of family bonds, fractured passions and social collapse that have become the hallmark of our “prestige” dramas while creating a post-apocalyptic world as vivid and detailed as ever seen on any screen, big or small.
But it’s about, you know, zombies. And though the purveyors of awards have been forced with great reluctance to accept that warrior-based fantasy is as genuine and effective a sub-genre as, say, gangster epics or CIA thrillers, they draw the line at the undead.
“Downton Abbey” and not “The Walking Dead”? Nothing for Andrew Lincoln or at least Norman Reedus, whose Daryl has become so iconic he shows up in Super Bowl commercials?
I understand that horror is not for everyone and popularity among young people is not synonymous with quality, but members of the television academy must take degree of difficulty into consideration. Horror is the hardest genre to sustain with depth and dignity. Even “Game of Thrones” has the advantage of taking place in a truly alternate universe.
Year after year, despite all its well-publicized internal drama, “The Walking Dead” continually transcends the confines of its own decaying flesh. It isn’t even about zombies at this point.
“The Walking Dead” is, obviously, not the only name on the “shoulda been” list. The rise of television has been slow and steady and much-chronicled by those who cover it, but this year’s nominations provide the quantifiable proof of its scope. Every category is bursting at the seams, and still there are the shadow lists of those just as deserving.
The female leads, in drama and comedy, were particularly gratifying. Just a few years ago, putting together a list of five was something of a chore (name a woman in a leading role who isn’t Mariska Hargitay!). Now seven (drama) and six (comedy) don’t quite cover it.
But where is Tatiana Maslany for “Orphan Black”? It’s an amazing show and she plays six characters, people! Where, for that matter, are Julianna Margulies for “The Good Wife” or Keri Russell for “The Americans”?
Let’s hear it for Laura Dern, whose excellent and revolutionary HBO comedy “Enlightened” got canceled this year (please win, please win). But shouldn’t Patricia Heaton have been nominated for “The Middle” by now?
Heaven only knows what they’re going to do next year with Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black.” Steal “best ensemble” from the SAG Awards? The academy certainly can’t ignore it, as it did the Netflixian resurrection of “Arrested Development,” for which only Jason Bateman was recognized.
Peter Dinklage and Emilia Clarke were nominated, but “Game of Thrones” could have easily filled the supporting/drama category — Lena Headey was also fabulous this year, ditto Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Gwendoline Christie.
And though it was gratifying to see the new and moody “Top of the Lake” on several miniseries or movies nomination lists, the wonderful “Rectify” was conspicuously absent from drama’s acting and writing lists.
I could go on, and many will, as the “what-were-they-thinking?” lists jam up new and old media. Everyone will have their top causes of exultation and aggrievement, and no doubt the category issue will be re-examined.
Netflix made history, as did Kerry Washington — the fact that almost 20 years separates her from the last black woman who earned a lead actress nomination is truly horrifying. But more important, television made history too.
It has become so good that even the Emmys can’t keep up.