The wails began before dawn Thursday, minutes after the Emmy nominations were announced.
Left out of all the fun were some of the most acclaimed shows on television, including “The Good Wife” and actors like Michael Sheen (“Masters of Sex”) and rising star Tatiana Maslany, a fan and critical favorite for her virtuoso performance on the sci-fi thriller “Orphan Black.”
But the perceived slights may have less to do with poor TV academy judgment than be a testament to the riches of sophisticated original programming on the medium, once derided as a “vast wasteland.” And it is a problem of abundance that other awards programs would love to have as the Oscars, Grammys and Tonys have sometimes strained in recent years to fill their categories with worthy contenders.
“There are many more channels and platforms to see good television. Each new service seems to bring a signature series that defines it but also pushes the genre in a new direction,” said Ron Simon, curator of the Paley Center for Media in New York. “There’s a lot to choose from, and that’s a good thing, but it’s very easy for intriguing, provocative programming just to be snubbed.”
In a sign of the sheer depth of quality programming available on television, both traditional and otherwise, many dramas considered worthy were left out of the series category — despite a rule change that could have potentially expanded the field to seven slots.
One of the most egregious oversights was for CBS’ “The Good Wife,” which was edged out of the increasingly competitive drama series category. Only one new contender, HBO’s “True Detective,” earned a slot in a field crowded with established favorites like “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Game of Thrones,” “House of Cards” and “Downton Abbey.”
The veteran legal drama starring Julianna Margulies enjoyed renewed critical praise for its moving fifth season, and it was thought to have a strong chance of vying again in the category after a two-year absence.
CBS even launched a pointed Emmy campaign earlier this year highlighting the number of episodes produced this season (22) versus cable dramas like “Mad Men” (seven) or “True Detective” (eight). But the argument seemed to have landed on deaf ears this year, the third straight in which broadcast television was shut out of the prestigious category.
“Maybe there should be another category for shows that come up with quality for 22 in a row,” suggested Christine Baranski, nominated for supporting actress for her role on the show. “It takes stamina, and that takes a great deal of imagination and craft to sustain a show through 22 episodes.”
Unlike the Academy Awards, which expanded the possible field of best picture nominees to 10 in 2009 but have, in some years, struggled to find even half that many worthy nominees, the Emmys honor at most seven series in the comedy and drama categories. This despite an ever-expanding array of TV options, and the increasingly obvious formal and aesthetic differences between network, cable and online programming.
And while the Oscars are preceded by a months-long awards circuit that helps establish clear favorites, the Emmys have fewer reliable indicators — other than previous Emmys, of course.
“The Emmys just sort of come out of nowhere. The snubs might be a little more felt because they can’t be anticipated in the same way that Oscar snubs are,” noted Phillip Maciak, an assistant professor of film at Louisiana State University and a writer for the blog Dear Television.
“Good Wife” cast members Margulies, Baranski and Josh Charles were at least recognized in their respective categories, something that could not be said for FX’s Cold War drama “The Americans.” It’s a critical favorite that has yet to see its glowing reviews translate into awards recognition, either for drama series or for its leads, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys.
“Homeland,” which dethroned “Mad Men” as outstanding drama series for its freshman season in 2012, only to endure an intense backlash in its sophomore outing, was similarly left out of the drama category, as was previous nominee “Boardwalk Empire.”
The inclusion of “True Detective,” entered somewhat controversially as a drama rather than a miniseries, left little room for the well-received newcomer “Masters of Sex,” or popular, pulpier fare such as “Scandal” or “The Walking Dead.” Still others cried foul over the exclusion of Bellamy Young for her portrayal of a complicated first lady on “Scandal” and Sheen for his understated performance as sex researcher William Masters on “Masters of Sex.”
But perhaps no group was more outraged than the fans of BBC America’s “Orphan Black,” who were reaching for their pitchforks when Maslany, who plays close to a dozen different parts in the sci-fi series, was overlooked for a lead drama nomination for the second straight year. The Canadian actress has won fervent critical praise for her chameleonic performance as a group of wildly different clones — enough roles to fill an entire category, as some have noted — as well as smaller prizes such as the Critics’ Choice Television Awards, but has yet to overcome the Emmys’ institutional inertia.
Maslany and her admirers can take comfort knowing that she was passed over in one of this year’s most fiercely competitive categories.
With only six slots to fill and a bevy of rich female dramatic roles on the airwaves, an unusually high number of noteworthy performances were shut out of the category. In addition to Maslany and Russell, Elisabeth Moss, a previous nominee for her role as Peggy Olson on “Mad Men,” whose poignant slow dance with Don Draper was one of this season’s most memorable moments, was also snubbed.
Only one truly fresh face, “Masters of Sex” star Lizzy Caplan, was able to elbow her way into the running.
“I think it says something really, really positive how steep this category is and how many deserving women got snubbed,” Caplan said. “And it’s because they are writing on television the most nuanced, layered and wonderful female roles. You hold those roles up to film roles and they just pale in comparison.”