A lot has changed in the TV awards landscape with cable and streaming content storming the gates in the last 10 years. But one thing that hasn’t changed is that Best Comedy Series at the Emmys tends to be reserved for broadly comic, half-hour laffers. In fact, only one hour-long series has ever won the top prize: “Ally McBeal” in 1999. At the time it seemed like a game-changer, but nowadays it looks more like an anomaly. This year there are a few hour-long shows competing as comedies, of which the highest profile newcomer may be Netflix’s “A Series of Unfortunate Events.” Can it be the first hour-long comedy to win in 18 years?
“A Series of Unfortunate Events” is based on a children’s novel series by Lemony Snicket (the pen name of Daniel Handler, who is also a writer and executive producer of the series). It follows the misadventures of the Baudelaire children after the apparent death of their parents’ in a fire. It’s true that Emmy voters are generally biased against kids’ fare: the last Comedy Series nominee led by a child actor was “Malcolm in the Middle” (2001), and the last child-led series to win was “The Wonder Years” (1988). But “Unfortunate Events” has an Emmy-friendly pedigree.
It was adapted for Netflix by Barry Sonnenfeld, who won an Emmy for directing “Pushing Daisies.” And starring as the Baudelaires’ evil nemesis Count Olaf is Neil Patrick Harris, who has won five Emmys out of 10 nominations in the last decade.
Sonnenfeld’s magic touch may be especially important. “Pushing Daisies” was never a huge ratings hit — it was cancelled after two seasons — and it was never nominated for Best Comedy, but it won seven Emmys out of 17 nominations, powered in no small part by its high production values. “Unfortunate Events” is a similarly ambitious showcase for its production design, costumes, makeup, hairstyling and cinematography, so it could end up as one of the year’s most nominated comedies on the strength of Creative Arts categories alone. And if it sneaks into the top race, all that support below the line might be crucially important since voting for the top series categories has opened up to an academy-wide vote, instead of the smaller judging panels that used to determine the winners.
Or maybe Emmy voters are just fundamentally biased against hour-long shows competing as comedies. Several have won acting awards, from “Monk” to “Ugly Betty,” but ever since “Ally McBeal” hour-long shows have faltered at the finish line even when they’ve come into the awards with the lion’s share of buzz. At the height of their popularity “Desperate Housewives,” “Glee” and “Orange is the New Black” couldn’t win their Best Comedy nominations despite widespread academy support in other categories. Are they cursed? And if so, could the curse be broken in a most “Unfortunate” way?
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