Emmys: A Telecast Dominated by Upsets That No One Saw Coming (Analysis)

Scott Feinberg
The Hollywood Reporter
Emmys: A Telecast Dominated by Upsets That No One Saw Coming (Analysis)

The 65th Emmy Awards let out not long ago, and, as honorees and attendees headed off to the after-parties, reviews of the show seemed to be mixed, but one thing was agreed upon by virtually everyone: the vast majority of the results couldn’t have been more surprising. As host Neil Patrick Harris put it late in the show, “This just in: no one in America is winning their office pool!”

In the drama categories, The Newsroom’s Jeff Daniels beat Breaking Bad’s Bryan Cranston and Netflix’s Kevin Spacey to win best actor (nobody saw that coming). Boardwalk Empire’s Bobby Cannavale beat Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul and Jonathan Banks and Homeland’s Mandy Patinkin to win best supporting actor in a drama series (his winning turn in Woody Allen’s hit indie film Blue Jasmine couldn’t have hurt his prospects). And Breaking Bad’s Anna Gunn knocked off the heavy favorite for best supporting actress in a drama series, Downton Abbey’s Dame Maggie Smith, who has taken home an Emmy for her performance each of the last three years (Gunn was the only member of her show’s principal trio of actors who had yet to win and who won tonight).

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Meanwhile, in the comedy races, Veep’s Tony Hale prevailed in the best supporting actor category over a trio of contenders from Modern Family, the show that produced the category’s winner each of the last three years (the show’s supporters are fervent and it’s a good thing that Hale submitted himself for consideration in this category for this show rather than Arrested Development, as he could have). And Nurse Jackie’s Merritt Wever—the contender with the lowest odds in the category according to Vegas—blindisded past winners Julie Bowen (Modern Family) and Jane Lynch (Glee), as well as perennial bridesmaids Jane Krakowski (30 Rock) and Sofia Vergara (Modern Family) to win best supporting actress, even though her show isn’t really an all-out comedy (which caused a stir when its lead Edie Falco won a few years ago).

As for the TV movie or miniseries surprises, The Big C: Hereafter’s Laura Linney beat American Horror Story: Asylum’s Jessica Lange, who won the category last year, and the Critics’ Choice Award winner, Top of the Lake’s Elisabeth Moss, to win the best actress. And Ellen Burstyn, the star of USA’s since-canceled Political Animals, swooped in to win the best supporting actress Emmy that most expected to go to AHS:A’s Sarah Paulson.

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It wasn’t a total shocker—but was also far from a given—that the perennial best comedy series winner Modern Family (ABC) would hang on for another year and hold off the edgier cable shows Girls (HBO), Louie (FX) and Veep (HBO); Homeland’s Claire Danes would repeat as best actress in a drama series winner for the show’s weaker second season and up against the popular Scandal star Kerry Washington, who was the category’s first black nominee in 18 years and was poised to become its first ever black winner (presenter Diahann Carroll teed that one up early in the show); that The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons would win best actor in a comedy series for a third time—after missing last year—over Alec Baldwin for the last season of 30 Rock and Louis C.K. for the best season of Louie (I picked him because, in a super-close race like this category’s, I think you have to give to the edge to the contender whose show has the highest ratings, and no show on the air has higher ratings than Big Bang); or that AHS:A’s James Cromwell, a beloved veteran, would hold off his costar Zachary Quinto and others to win best supporting actor in a TV movie or miniseries.

Indeed, the only odds-on winners, one could argue, were Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus for best actress in a comedy series; Behind the Candelabra, Steven Soderbergh, Michael Douglas and Richard LaGravanese for best TV movie or miniseries and associated director actor and screenplay.

So much for months of looking at Emmys history and trends. Us pundits might have scored better this year if we’d just thrown darts at the nominees.

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Only on a night like tonight would the thing that everyone is talking about not be that AMC’s Breaking Bad won the best drama series, at long last (that seemed as likely as not, with the show’s final season killing it in the ratings as phase two voting took place); Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report ended The Daily Show with Jon Stewart’s 10-year run as the winner of best variety series (and also beat it for best variety series writing); CBS’ The Amazing Race lost the best reality competition series Emmy for only the second time in the 13 years that the category has existed; and that upstart Netflix, which spent a fortune on its awards campaign, took home only one major award—a best directing Emmy for David Fincher’s pilot (the first major Emmy ever awarded to a streaming service)—while cable vet HBO won even more major Emmys (i.e. Daniels, Cannavale, Hale, etc.) than even its biggest champions ever imagined it would.

My main takeaway from the past year of television is that the medium has never had more great things to offer. And if a few people left today with big gold statuettes who weren’t expected to, that may not be great for the pride of us pundits—Emmy predicting is, in fairness, significantly harder than Oscar voting because there simply aren’t months of other awards shows and festivals to give hints about contenders’ popularity, and only small committees of the TV Academy determine the winners, supposedly on the basis of a single episode—but, but, it is great for television. Because, after tonight, a few more people are going to want to check out Veep and Nurse Jackie and House of Cards, among others. And their lives will be all the richer for it. Trust me. I do my best to watch them all.

Twitter: @ScottFeinberg