The writers branch continued its tradition of rewarding scribes from new shows that received little other Emmy love. They nominated Showtime's "Episodes" and FX's "Louie" for Best Comedy Writing, even though neither show was considered a major contender for Best Comedy Series. Both shows also managed to break into the Best Comedy Actor race (Matt LeBlanc for "Episodes" and Louis C.K. for "Louie").
The longform writing race yielded an even bigger surprise. Alongside the expected nominees "Downton Abbey," "Mildred Pierce," and "Too Big to Fail" was the mystery "Sherlock: A Study in Pink," which reaped just three other bids, all in craft categories. Neither of its stars, Benedict Cumberbatch or Martin Freeman, was nominated and the program failed to crack the top six for Best Movie/Miniseries. The modern-day "Sherlock" was penned by its executive producer Steven Moffat, whose other major claim to fame, the venerable sci-fi series "Doctor Who," is ineligible at the Emmys because of its foreign production credits. Perhaps many of the writers are closet Whovians who checked off "Sherlock" as a way to honor the "Doctor Who" maestro.
While the television academy has been notoriously biased against sci-fi and fantasy programming, the writers have been accepting of this genre. Of the four fields – performing, producing, writing, and directing – the writers were the only group to recognize the perennially ignored "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." In 2000, they nominated the episode "Hush," penned by series creator Joss Whedon, against two episodes of "The Sopranos" and two episodes of "The West Wing." (Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland prevailed for the "West Wing" episode "In Excelsis Deo.") The writers also bestowed two nominations on "Battlestar Galactica," another series notoriously snubbed for acting and series nods.
The writers recognized HBO's gonzo musical-comedy "Flight of the Conchords" a year before it caught on in the Best Comedy Series race. "My Name is Earl" won for writing despite being rejected in the Best Comedy race. Other critically hailed shows that broke through in the writing field despite snubs in the top race include "Freaks and Geeks," "Sports Night," "The Bernie Mac Show," "Alias," "The Shield," and "Rescue Me."
"The Wire" – considered by many to be last decade's best drama – received its only two Emmy nominations for writing. And it was the writers who finally ended the losing streak of "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" in 2007.
But alas, even the writers' branch is prone to the Repeat Winner Syndrome. "The Sopranos" won Best Drama Writing six times, losing just once to the aforementioned episode of "The West Wing." And Best Drama champ "Mad Men" has proved just as unbeatable for its writing, winning three in a row with eight nominations in all. This year it's nominated twice more and another win seems likely as one of those bids is for "The Suitcase." That was one of the most talked-about episodes of any series last season, and could win Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss their elusive first Emmys. Also nominated are episodes of "Game of Thrones" ("Baelor"), "The Killing" ("Pilot"), and "Friday Night Lights" ("Always").
In the comedy race, "Episodes" and "Louie" face off against three previous winners of this prize: "The Office" ("Goodbye Michael") "30 Rock" ("Reaganing") and "Modern Family" ("Caught in the Act"). Will the writers continue their unconventional ways, or will they fall back on an old favorite?