[WATCH] ‘Shameless’ writer Krista Vernoff dishes Emmy switch from drama to comedy

Shameless” is the rare show that jumped genres at the Emmys. The first three seasons of the Showtime series competed in the drama categories, then showrunner John Wells successfully appealed in 2014 to switch it to comedy. Krista Vernoff, a “Shameless” writer and executive producer, spoke at the Vancouver International Film Festival this month and elaborated on the unusual piece of Emmy history (watch above). “Showtime listed it as a drama. It took somewhere between three and five years for Wells to get them to change it into the comedy category.”

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Vernoff continued, “I believe that ‘Shameless’ would have won a lot of Emmys by now if it had been in the right category from the beginning. At least changing it to comedy got Bill Macy some well-deserved comedy nominations.” Indeed, the show has fared much better as a comedy. Its only Emmy nominations as a drama were three consecutive guest actress bids for Joan Cusack. She actually won on the comedy side in 2015 and the show picked up its second Emmy in 2016 for stunt coordination. As the lead actor of a comedy, Macy has scored three consecutive Emmy nominations and a Screen Actors Guild Award win.

Vernoff was previously the showrunner of “Grey’s Anatomy” from 2007 to 2011. That ABC series was consistent in its Emmy categorization as a drama, but was notably nominated for the 2006 Directors Guild Awards simultaneously in both Best Drama Directing (for an episode by in-house director Peter Horton) and Best Comedy Directing (for an episode by guest director Seith Mann).

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For the early seasons of that show when creator Shonda Rhimes was still showrunner, Vernoff earned three Emmy nominations, two as a producer for the show’s Best Drama Series nominations in 2006 and 2007 and one personally in 2006 for Best Drama Writing for her episode “Into You Like a Train.” That last nomination was possible because the episode made it onto the ballot in the first place; Vernoff explained that in her experience, “The showrunner decides which episodes get submitted for Emmys and some showrunners do it by what they think was the best episode of the year and some showrunners do it by which episodes they wrote, because they want the Emmy and that is their prerogative.”

When Vernoff joined “Shameless” in 2012, it marked her cable debut. “I wrote network TV for thirteen years,” she recounted and lamented the constant concern that characters be likeable. By contrast, “People can physically attack each other and have a beer in the next scene,” she laughed about “Shameless.”

She cited HBO’s “The Sopranos” and FX’s “Damages” for turning the tide, but especially AMC’s “Breaking Bad” “changed everything.” She said, “What they do on that show is so ground-breaking and you would never be allowed to do it on network television.” Vernoff relishes the narrative freedom that she is allowed now on premium cable, explaining, “You don’t have to edit any impulse and yet, all of your humanity comes through.”

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