I, like the Emmys, fawned of "The Daily Show" for many years (2002-2006, 2009), but lately I've felt the need for a change of pace. "The Daily Show" is still one of TV's funniest, but lately I feel like it has gotten stuck in a feedback loop battling FOX News, which less and less deserves to be dignified with response, while "Colbert" has refined its satire to the point of improving on "Daily" -- his recent Super PAC endeavor has been a brilliant device to demonstrate the clear dangers of unlimited, undisclosed funding of political campaigns. This is the second time I've awarded "The Colbert Report" in this category; it previously won in 2008. And "MythBusters" was the winner last year.
No one who has read my opinions of Louis CK and his series will be surprised by this choice. I love Steve Carell, but unlike Emmy I don't have to give him a make-up award: I gave him this prize way back in 2006. Baldwin won in 2007 and 2008. I gave it to Lee Pace ("Pushing Daisies") in 2009. And Joel McHale won last year.
I gave this award to Bryan Cranston for "Breaking Bad" for the last two years, so without him in the race it was a tough call: to award Kyle Chandler for the first time or Gabriel Byrne. I narrowly picked Chandler, whom I've nominated five times in total (Best Actor nods in 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011, and a New Series Actor nod in 2007). The decision was made with clear eyes and a full heart.
An episode in which Louie CK does something rare and brave: he examines the way comedians get laughs. This was the second episode of "Louie," which I watched after strongly disliking the pilot. This first scene about the use of the word "faggot" in comedy -- its history and implications, the perspectives of homosexuality from straight and gay perspectives -- sets us up for what the show would eventually become: one that chooses thematic depth over easy payoffs, an elegant anthology of short films about topics few writers are this intelligent about. The episode's second segment is almost as good, in which Louie's divorce makes him reminisce about a formative sexual experience.
This is the second time I've awarded Steven Moffat for writing "Doctor Who," after another sensational two-parter in 2009: "Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead." Mofffat may be the most creative storyteller currently working on TV, and these episodes, with their frightfully original villains, the Silence, and its creative narrative structure (Moffat uses time travel to its greatest storytelling effect), were far and away my favorite example of dramatic writing this year.
I never would have guessed how good this show would become based on its brief first season, which felt like an "Office" clone without any direction of its own. Part of what has made the show successful is how Amy Poehler and the writers have turned Leslie Knope into a kind of anti-Michael Scott: zealously committed, but utterly competent. Poehler is just as funny as Steve Carell, but unlike Michael it's never hard to root for Knope.
I often admire "Mad Men" more than I like it. During its second and third seasons I found the show to be often quite leaden despite occasional flashes of excellence (like "Meditations in an Emergency" and "The Gypsy & the Hobo"), but even at its slowest I am always compelled by Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson, consistently the most satisfying character on the show. So in the fourth season, the show's best since its first, when she was given some of her best material and delivered knockout work in episodes like "The Suitcase," I knew I had to honor her. This is her first win and third nomination: I previously nodded her in this category in 2009 and in the supporting-actress race in 2010.