Surprises and sure things at the Emmys

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September 23, 2016

Fall is here. The new television season began on Monday. And just the day before, the brightest and best of last season were honored at the 68th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. And for the first time in a long time, almost everybody is happy!

There was nary a head scratching "huh?" moment Sunday night, as awards went to programs, actors and industry professionals mostly in line with favorite picks, predictions and prognostications.
The night's biggest winners: "Game of Thrones" and "The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story." The HBO drama series and the FX miniseries, respectively, dominated the night.

"Game of Thrones" won 12 awards, including Outstanding Drama (for the second consecutive year).  And "The People v. O.J. Simpson" -- which last week I declared as "possibly the year's single greatest achievement" -- took home nine awards.

Most of my predictions panned out, with a few exceptions. But even when there were surprises, they were very pleasant surprises, and all well-deserved.


"Game of Thrones" ("GOT") winning Outstanding Drama is not unexpected. Although I did think "The Americans" had a good chance of finally getting some Emmy love, "GOT" is an amazing spectacle, every single week.

This season had a bit more action than last season (for which the show earned its first win in this category), and had a bit less of the sensitive dialogue and fewer intense character studies than in seasons past. Also, performances from the main cast seemed to take a bit of a back seat to battle scenes and some extraneous secondary characters. But nevertheless, there's no doubt there's nothing else like "GOT" on television.

There was another repeat winner in the Outstanding Comedy category, as HBO's "Veep" earned the victory for the second time in a row.

I did think "black-ish" was the year's best sitcom. But "Veep" has indeed improved with each season. On the other hand, there was never any doubt that "The People v. O.J. Simpson" would win Outstanding Limited Series. If you have yet to watch this 10-episode masterpiece, you don't know what you've been missing.

The impressive "Grease: Live", as predicted, won in the Special Class Program group, and as expected, voters went with the trendy "The Late Late Show Carpool Karaoke Prime Time Special" in the Variety Special category.

A pleasant surprise came with the Outstanding Variety Talk Series win for "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver" -- which should have won last year, but wasn't even nominated. Poor "Real Time with Bill Maher" continues as the Susan Lucci (even though she did eventually win one) in this category, having lost 11 times.

In the Reality categories, (for which I didn't make predictions), the entertaining "Shark Tank" won for Outstanding Structured Reality Program, "Born This Way" (following seven adults with Down Syndrome) won for Unstructured Reality Program, and "The Voice" beat out category bully "The Amazing Race" to take its second straight victory (and third in four years) for Competition Program.

The night's biggest surprise was the win for "Key & Peele" for Outstanding Variety Sketch Series. The Comedy Central show, which ended late last year, beat out last year's winner "Inside Amy Schumer", and the surprising and innovative "Documentary Now!" But, hey! What a way to end a run.

Unlike many of the performances here, the lead categories were devoid of any "drama".

In the Drama categories, Emmy voters eschewed their reputations for stodginess and went with Lead actors in two of televisions most exciting and complex roles. The long-underrated Tatiana Maslany, who plays at least eight characters on "Orphan Black" was finally rewarded after four seasons on the BBC America series. And Rami Malek on USA's "Mr. Robot" earned a gold statuette for his mind-bending performances.

Of course, Sarah Paulson and Courtney B. Vance won for Leading Actress and Actor, respectively, in a Limited Series or Movie for their portrayals of Marcia Clark and the-late Johnnie Cochran in "The People v. O.J. Simpson". They were absolutely two of the greatest performances of the year.

I didn't know which way voters would go in the Supporting Drama category; they went with Ben Mendelsohn on "Bloodline", the Netflix thriller-drama. And I told you not to count out Dame Maggie Smith, for the final season of "Downton Abbey." She won, to the chagrin of Emmy Show Host Jimmy Kimmel, who's upset that Smith has never been in attendance to accept any of her now four trophies (out of nine nominations).

The fantastic Regina King won for the second year in a row for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Limited Series, and once again for the underrated "American Crime." As I said last week, as amazing as her work is in the ABC anthology series, her performance last year in "The Leftovers" was even better. In any event, she is one of the brightest stars on all of television, and deserves every award and more!

I inadvertently left off Supporting Actor in a Limited Series. I would have said the race was between two actors from "The People v. O.J. Simpson" -- the spellbinding Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden, and the scene-stealing John Travolta as Robert Shapiro. Brown won, and all is right with the world!

On the comedy side, no surprises in the Lead categories; Jeffrey Tambor ("Transparent") and Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Veep") repeated their 2015 victories. Louis-Dreyfus made some history on Sunday, with her fifth consecutive win in this category. And as this is her sixth win in the category overall, she has surpassed all other actresses. Plus, as her show won Outstanding Comedy Series, and she is a producer, she won another Emmy on Sunday, adding to her career total of nine!

There were, however, a couple of surprises in the Supporting categories. Louie Anderson, who plays the mother on FX's "Baskets," won for Outstanding Supporting Actor. And the winning streak for "Mom" star Allison Janney came to an end (as did her chance to tie Cloris Leachman for most Emmy wins by a performer. Janney remains with seven, for now.)

The well-deserved award instead went to "Saturday Night Live" star Kate McKinnon, who's played some of the sketch comedy show's most memorable characters over the past couple of years. McKinnon also made history, becoming the very first current "SNL" cast member to win an acting Emmy for the show, something Eddie Murphy, Chevy Chase, Will Ferrell, nor Kristen Wiig ever achieved.

Not unexpected however, were the dismal ratings for the ABC Emmy telecast. Ratings hit an all-time low in the U.S. (just over 11.3 million viewers). There are a number of reasons, of course. For one, it's up against ratings-juggernaut "Sunday Night Football" on NBC, which had double the number of viewers.

But other reasons include the fact that many people had never watched or even ever heard of some of the programs up for awards. The U.S.' most popular scripted series, "NCIS", "The Walking Dead" and "The Big Bang Theory" and "Empire" were largely shut out of the nominations. And many of TV's top rated programs are apparently not "Emmy worthy." And, more so than movies, and even music, television enjoyment seems to be exceptionally subjective. What may be seen as the "greatest television series of all-time" to one person, may top another's person's "worst-ever TV show" list.

In any event, with more choices than ever before, it's a great time to be a television fan. I, for one, can't wait to see what this season has in store.

o Dwight Strachan is the host/producer of "Morning Blend" on Guardian Radio. He is a television producer and writer, and an avid TV history and film buff. Email and follow him on twitter @morningblend969.

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News date : 09/23/2016    Category : Entertainment, Nassau Guardian Stories

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