New shows often fare well in the race for Best Drama Directing, but this is the first year since 1994 that the category has been filled entirely with freshman series. Seventeen years ago, four episodes from the first season of “NYPD Blue” contended against the pilot of “Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman,” but this year the wealth is spread between the pilots of “The Borgias,” “Game of Thrones,” and “The Killing,” along with two episodes of “Boardwalk Empire.” In a historic first, all of the nominees are cable dramas.
Academy Award-winner Martin Scorsese leads the pack for the extended pilot of HBO’s “Boardwalk Empire.” The lavish premiere – which cost $18 million to produce – was one of the most talked about television events of the season. Many Emmy prognosticators predicted Scorsese would win this race as early as last September, and it’s easy to see why. Scorsese effortlessly recreates Atlantic City on the eve of Prohibition in 1920. Introducing dozens of characters and utilizing extravagant sets, this is clearly the work of the man who directed grand period dramas like “The Age of Innocence” and “The Aviator,” as well as gangland epics “Goodfellas” and “The Departed.” He is expected to easily prevail here, and in addition he could also win Best Nonfiction Directing for “A Letter to Elia,” a documentary about controversial filmmaker Elia Kazan.
He competes against Jeremy Podeswa, who directed the fourth episode of “Boardwalk Empire,” titled “Anastasia,” in which corrupt city treasurer Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) plans his own surprise birthday party. A memorable scene involves shop girl Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) defending women’s suffrage to the mayor and a US senator, impressing Nucky and prompting him to ask her for a dance. The rest of “Anastasia,” however, is somewhat less compelling. Last year, Podeswa was nominated for Best Movie/Mini Directing for part eight of “The Pacific,” but he lost to Mick Jackson for “Temple Grandin.”
Patty Jenkins, who directed Charlize Theron to a Best Actress Oscar in “Monster,” is nominated for the premiere episode of AMC’s “The Killing,” based on a Danish series of the same name. The dark and chilly pilot, in which Detective Sarah Linden (Mireille Enos) searches for a missing Seattle teen, is interesting enough – and a far cry from most TV procedurals – but Jenkins is unlikely to win against a contender as powerful as Scorsese. If she does, she would be this category’s first female winner since Mimi Leder won for “ER” in 1995.
Scorsese is not the only Oscar-winner in the race. Neil Jordan, nominated for the two-hour premiere of Showtime’s “The Borgias,” won a 1992 screenwriting Oscar for “The Crying Game.” The historical drama’s first hour begins with Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) successfully – and unethically – campaigning to become Pope Alexander VI. Jealous Cardinal Orsini (Derek Jacobi) attempts to poison the new pontiff, but he himself is poisoned by the Pope’s son Cesare (François Arnaud). In the second hour, the Pope begins a torrid love affair and attempts to secure his position by making appointments to the College of Cardinals. Though period pieces can often be stuffy, Jordan capably balances impressive production values with satisfying drama.
Tim Van Patten may have had the most difficult task of any of the five nominees. He directed “Winter Is Coming,” the pilot of HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” and over the course of an hour, he must introduce dozens of characters and complex fictional settings in the medieval fantasy world created by author George R. R. Martin. The first episode is the series’s most enticing, beginning with terrifying creatures called White Walkers attacking a band of men. Van Patten struggles a bit to translate Martin’s sweeping epic from page to screen, but there are flashes of genius in this sumptuous first installment.
Van Patten earned four previous nominations in this category for “The Sopranos.” He also received a Comedy Directing bid for “Sex and the City” in 2004 and won an Emmy last year as a producer of the miniseries “The Pacific.” His loyalties may be divided this year, though; in addition to his directing nod for “Thrones,” he is nominated for Best Drama Series as a producer of “Boardwalk Empire.”
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