Any awards show leaves behind more losers than winners, but Sunday night saw one especially big gorilla take the fall — America's Emmy pundits.
The 65th Primetime Emmy Awards, we were told by Billy Bush (among others), was "weird." There was the song-and-dance opening number that host Neil Patrick Harris performed in the middle of the show. There was the unmistakable pall of death. And there was Jeff Daniels winning Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for "Newsroom."
[Related: Emmys Restrained, But Still Offers Surprises]
Wait, wasn't Bryan Cranston from "Breaking Bad" a lock? And wasn't Kevin Spacey supposed to step to the stage for "House of Cards" in the event Cranston didn't take the statuette? Jeff Daniels?! For the widely mocked but little seen "Newsroom"?! Where'd that come from?
In the world of punditry, the pick came from nowhere. At the awards-show mecca Gold Derby, not one of its 18 experts called Daniels. Twelve had Cranston, four had Spacey, and two had Damian Lewis ("Homeland"). "Showbiz Tonight" host A.J. Hammer came the closest, in a way, to predicting the "upset" —h e put down Daniels as his second choice; no one else had him higher than fourth in the six-nominee race.
Now, the reason we placed the word upset inside quotes is the reason so many were wrong:
1. Awards Shows Aren't Ballgames
Daniels was never two touchdowns behind, Cranston was never two touchdowns ahead, voting took place once, and the result was the result.
2. The Emmys Aren't Like Other Awards Shows
They're the "toughest of the major awards shows to predict."
That last quote is the take of Steve Pond, awards-show columnist for the Wrap, who, like just about everyone else with a media credential, didn't pick Daniels.
"Unlike most other shows, where the entire membership votes for winners, final voting in the acting categories is restricted to volunteer committees who view specific episodes and then vote," Pond said via email. "I've been told by an Academy official that the biggest committees are about 700 to 800 [voters], and they can be as small as 15 to 20 in some categories."
Whereas with the Oscars or the Globes, its relatively easy for the pundits to take the temperature of the voters, schmoozing with them at events and screenings around Hollywood, with the Emmys the electorate is a more elusive group and thus a lot more guess work — or wild guess work is required.
Then there's the specific problem of calling an Emmy win for anyone or anything related to "Newsroom": Critics generally do not approve of the Aaron Sorkin HBO series.
"Maybe the pundits were too focused on the fact that 'The Newsroom' isn't a widely celebrated show," Pond said.
And if that's true, then they weren't focused on the fact that Sorkin himself is widely celebrated. During the run of "The West Wing," eight actors won Emmys for reciting Sorkin-written and/or Sorkin-inspired dialogue. As the Los Angeles Times' Glenn Whipp, pointed out in a pre-Emmys piece in which he likewise didn't pick Daniels, Emmy voters judged the "Newsroom" star on the series pilot, an episode which featured a four-minute, Sorkin-written, Daniels-spoken monologue. ("Daniels masterfully delivers [it]," Whipp wrote, adding, "but that alone probably won't win him the Emmy.")
[Photos: 2013 Emmys Afterparties]
If there's one group that should identify with tunnel-visioned critics, it's everybody else on the Internet. On Sunday night, the Twitterverse became more unhinged than usual when "Modern Family" scored its fourth straight Comedy Series win over the likes of "Louie," "Girls," and "Veep." ("F--- you Modern Family you suck so bad," wrote one especially aggrieved poster.)
The funny thing is, Twitter users perhaps wouldn't have been as outraged if they'd prepared themselves for the inevitable, and listened to the pundits: nearly every expert correctly foresaw Nielsen favorite "Modern Family" holding off the cult (and Twitter) favorites. Said Pond, who did indeed call "Modern Family" in the Comedy Series category, "Just because people think it's time [the Emmys] should get more adventurous and go for something different doesn't mean that they will."
So, maybe it's time to just relax, and embrace Sunday's weirdness. At least it brought pundits and Twitter together.