John Travolta: Will return to TV in ‘The People v. O.J. Simpson’ win him an Emmy?

John Travolta earned some of the best reviews of his 40-year career for playing lawyer supremo Robert Shapiro in “The People v. O.J. Simpson.” There is no denying his commitment to the part and he delivers a charismatic, bold performance. That ‘go big or go home’ attitude should earn him his first Emmy nomination. He currently sits in fifth place on our Movie/Mini Supporting Actor chart, with our experts giving him 7/2 odds of winning. Can he pull off an upset over co-star Sterling K. Brown who plays prosecutor Christopher Darden?

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The reviews are there for Travolta – the consensus is his work is deserving of an Emmy. Maureen Ryan (Variety) admits, “I started in the realm of puzzled disbelief, arrived at amusement, and ultimately traveled to a place of sincere appreciation. You simply can’t take your eyes off Travolta, and that is a form of enchantment.” And Elisabeth Garber-Paul (Rolling Stone) even went so far as to call it “Travolta’s best performance since Tarantino brought him back from the dead.”

So that’s that out of the way. What really helps him, however, is that he was a key figure in getting the show made and serves as producer. We’ve seen stars back projects before and, more often than not, they come out on top when it comes to awards rewards. Brad Pitt fought tooth and nail to get “Moneyball” (2011) and came out with a Best Actor nomination as well as a Best Picture nod (as producer). And Leonardo DiCaprio reaped the same pair of nominations as well, for “The Wolf of Wall Street” (2013). When a star gets behind a project, the industry rewards them.

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Another factor which swings the pendulum in Travolta’s favor is his physical transformation. A drastic change of appearance is a great box to tick. Consider the success at the Emmys of the cast of the “American Horror Story” anthology series, who look different every season; collectively, they have earned 20 nominations.  Jessica Lange has won twice (2012, 2014) with Kathy Bates and James Cromwell prevailing in 2014 and 2013 respectively. Ryan Murphy is the man behind both “American Horror Story” and this showcase for Travolta.

It’s also important to note that Travolta is campaigning in Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actor. Travolta’s performance, as well as his veteran status, are well-suited to this category. Consider the last 10 winners of this award:

Bill Murray – “Olive Kitteridge”
Martin Freeman – “Sherlock”
James Cromwell – “American Horror Story: Asylum”
Tom Berenger – “Hatfield & McCoys”
Guy Pearce – “Mildred Pierce”
David Strathairn – “Temple Grandin”
Ken Howard – “Grey Gardens”
Tom Wilkinson – “John Adams”
Thomas Haden Church – “Broken Trail”
Jeremy Irons – “Elizabeth I”

Murray, Cromwell, Berenger, Straitharn, Howard, Wilkinson and Irons are all veterans and Travolta would slot alongside those quite nicely. Quite a few of their performances were of the same tone as Travolta’s: big, broad, eccentric, entertaining.

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However, a hindrance for Travolta may be that he has never contended at the Emmys before. Sure, he’s bagged two Oscar nominations for Best Actor — “Saturday Night Fever” (1977) and “Pulp Fiction” (1994) — as well as seven Golden Globe nominations and three SAG nods for various film work. Having said that, until this year, Travolta has appeared in only two TV shows in the last 15 years —  “Kirstie” last year and “The Drew Carey Show” in 2001. Hardly Emmy material, then. Will the TV academy voters appreciate a newcomer (in a sense) to their world, one who has embraced his small screen return with relish and commitment?

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