Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
Just 13 years ago, “The Sopranos” made history by becoming the first pay-cable series to contend in the Emmy race for Best Drama Series, initiating a stranglehold on the category by cable channels that only got more intense as the seasons passed by.
This year, for the first time in Emmy history, all of the Drama Series nominees could come from the world of cable, leaving major broadcast networks CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox wondering where things went wrong.
Gold Derby’s Experts, Editors and Users believe this year’s six nominated dramas will be reigning four-time champ “Mad Men,” (AMC), Golden Globe winner “Homeland” (Showtime), long-overdue “Breaking Bad” (AMC), miniseries-turned-drama-series “Downton Abbey” (PBS) and two sophomore offerings from HBO — “Boardwalk Empire” and “Game of Thrones.” That’s a history-defining line-up of cable shows that doesn’t bode well at all for the future of network television.
Clamoring for attention In the unlucky seventh slot is the popular CBS legal drama “The Good Wife,” which has been nominated in this category the past two years. The show has enormous support from Emmy’s acting branch, with Julianna Margulies winning last year’s Best Drama Actress race and Archie Panjabi prevailing in 2010 as Drama Supporting Actress. Other nominated performers have included Christine Baranski, Josh Charles, Alan Cumming, Michael J. Fox and Dylan Baker, and the show even reaped a Drama Writing bid for the series pilot.
“The Good Wife” is widely considered the only serious rival from network television that could possibly make a dent in the top race. But is it too soon to count out four-time Drama Series nominee “House” (Fox) or two-time nominee “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC)? The Hugh Laurie-fronted Fox medical drama just aired its final episode and will contend for the very last time at the Emmys, so there’s a scalpel of a chance it could be given a goodbye hug from voters. As for “Grey’s Anatomy,” the series last received a nod in 2007, meaning the Emmys have likely moved on for good.
Freshman series “Smash” (NBC), “Once Upon a Time” (ABC), “Revenge” (ABC) and “Touch” (Fox) all hope to hear their names called for the first time in the Drama Series race, but for any of them to break through would be a miracle. The competition is simply too strong.
Last year in this category, “The Good Wife” and “Friday Night Lights” (NBC/DirecTV) were the only two network shows to appear in the top drama race. The last time networks claimed more than two Drama Series nominees was in 2008, when “Boston Legal” (ABC), “House” (Fox) and “Lost” (ABC) made up half of that year’s nominated shows.
Some Emmy watchers believe the cable channels have an unfair advantage because their standards and practices are more lax (meaning more cursing and nudity), but that’s all hooey. Cable dramas keep getting nominated because, simply, they’re better than the average offerings from the networks.
Fox’s “24” was the last broadcast network drama to claim victory in this race, way back in 2006. That series was highly original, wasn’t afraid to take gambles or risks, and most importantly had enormous buzz. If the networks have any hope of reclaiming this category as their own, they’re going to need to step up their game. That means more engaging, intriguing shows like “24” and less cookie-cutter crime procedurals.
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