Recently, cable network TNT announced its cancellation of the critically acclaimed police drama “Southland,” which ended its fifth and final season on a cliffhanger where the life of Officer John Cooper (Michael Cudlitz) hung in the balance. On May 22, Cudlitz and his co-star Regina King were both nominated for Critics’ Choice TV Awards for their performances, but the show has never been on the Emmy radar, apart from a pair of Creative Arts wins for Best Stunt Coordination.
So why the cold shoulder? There’s no lack of praise for the series, which scored 86 on MetaCritic this season, higher than expected Emmy contenders like “House of Cards,” “Downton Abbey,” “Boardwalk Empire,” and “The Newsroom.” As San Francisco Chronicle’s David Wiegand raved, “There isn’t a better cop show on TV right now than ‘Southland.'”
The lack of recognition is even stranger when you consider the storied history of cop shows at the Emmys. Past winners of Best Drama Series include “Police Story” (1976), “The Rockford Files” (1978), “Hill Street Blues” (1981-1984), “Cagney & Lacey” (1985-1986), “NYPD Blue” (1995), and “Law & Order” (1997). A number of other crime-fighters have been nominated for the top prize, including “Kojak,” “Columbo,” “Miami Vice,” and “CSI.” And many more police dramas have earned nominations and wins for acting, writing, and directing.
One reason for “Southland’s” shortfall is probably its low ratings. It narrowly avoided cancellation year after year and averaged fewer than two million viewers in its final season, but the Emmys have championed ratings underdogs before, even helped rescue a few from cancellation (including the aforementioned “Cagney & Lacey”).
Perhaps voters are also not as fond of police dramas as they were in the ’80s and ’90s. It’s true that no such series has won the top Emmy since “Law & Order” in ’97 – unless you expand the definition to include the counter-terrorist agents of “24” (Best Drama, 2006) and “Homeland” (Best Drama, 2012) – but a number of other police dramas have earned nominations and wins in major categories in recent years, including “Dexter,” “The Killing,” and TNT’s own “The Closer,” which received five Best Drama Actress bids and one win for star Kyra Sedgwick.
So what accounts for Emmy’s blind spot where “Southland” is concerned? And can it stage a last-minute coup like “Friday Night Lights,” which earned its first and only Best Drama bid for its finale season? Or will the show, like poor Officer Cooper, be left hanging?