The biggest flaw of the Emmy Awards is arguably that it’s the same faces getting recognized year after year.
David Hyde Pierce, nominated for all 11 seasons of Frasier, is the most glaring example of the Academy sticking to what it knows.
But television’s landscape has changed dramatically in the past few years. And the Academy, finally, is beginning to take note.
This change doesn’t just apply to how we watch television (DVRs and Netflix, after all, have made the term “appointment” television almost passé), but it also encompasses who we’re seeing on the small screen as well.
Specifically, television is no longer regarded a stepping- stone to bigger and better pastures.
A quick glance at the Best Actor in a Drama category, where nominees include the likes of Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom), Jon Hamm (Mad Men), Woody Harrelson (True Detective), Matthew McConaughey (True Detective), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), reads more like an Oscar ballot and not an Emmy one. In fact, two of those men (McConaughey and Spacey) are Oscar winners, and Harrelson is a nominee.
“There’s an undeniable shift happening... great talent is moving to television... I think actors go where the good parts are, and great parts are on television,” Ryan Murphy, director of the HBO film The Normal Heart (which won 16 nominations), told the LA Times.
This seismic shift can be attributed to Alec Baldwin’s departure from the big screen – where he made memorable, but fleeting impressions starring in minor roles – to making a big splash as an arrogant and obtuse television network executive in NBC’s 30 Rock. Baldwin earned seven nominations and two wins for that role and started a trend that caused actors to reevaluate their choices.
The other notable shift that cannot be ignored are the kind of shows being celebrated. Safe bets like six 20-somethings complaining about life and love in a coffee shop in New York (Friends), or a careless buffoon of a father constantly embarrassing himself in front of his wife (Everybody Loves Raymond) are just not going to pass muster with an audience currently embracing shows featuring a chemistry teacher who manufactures methamphetamines (Breaking Bad), mass orgies (Game of Thrones) and the gritty reality of an all-women’s prison (Orange is the New Black).
In fact, Orange is the New Black, which garnered eight nominations on Thursday, is perhaps the epitome of modern-day television. The Netflix dramedy has a few familiar faces (Jason Biggs, Laura Prepon to name a few), but its breakout stars like Taylor Schilling, Laverne Cox, Uzo Aduba and Kate Mulgrew (all nominated) are the show’s true highlights.
“I was just happy that I booked a TV show. I’d never done that before,” a surprised and humble Aduba told Entertainment Weekly after hearing of her nomination for her portrayal of Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren.
And her Crazy Eyes may very well be representative of who we want to let in our living rooms: a well-intentioned but flawed misfit.
Because in an era where normalcy is shunned and eccentricity is welcomed, mundane sitcom and drama clichés are so very pre-2010.