Preview: Turning 71, Emmys Have Plenty Of New Wrinkles
Jimmy Chin (l) and Alex Honnold atop the summit of El Capitan just after Honnold free solo climbed Freerider in the documentary "Free Solo" (photo by Samuel Crossley/courtesy of National Geographic)
Awards season thus far may hold clues as to what will catch the fancy of TV Academy voters
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The 71st Emmy Awards are fast approaching with an entry deadline of May 6, nominations-round voting slated to get underway on June 10 and end on June 24, with nominations announced on July 16, final round voting to commence on August 15 and end on August 29, and then the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony to be spread over the weekend of September 14-15, followed by the primetime Emmys on September 22, televised live on the FOX network.

While the schedule may sound like a familiar drill, there are a number of new wrinkles in this year’s competition as the Television Academy’s 24,000-plus members--representing 30 professional peer groups, including performers, directors, producers, art directors and various other artisans--will have more to consider this year when casting their Emmy ballots. For one, there’s a new category honoring Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Underscore). This recognizes the unique creative process and evaluation criteria for documentary scoring, versus scoring for scripted series or specials.

Furthermore, choreography categories have been restructured with two separate juried awards: Outstanding Choreography for Variety and Reality Programming (variety series, variety special, structured reality, unstructured reality and competition program); and Outstanding Choreography for Scripted Programming (comedy series, drama series, limited series and TV movies).

Changes in rules for the 71st Emmys span such disciplines as sound mixing. For instance, in the Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Variety Series or Special category, entries will be recognized in the two genres (variety series, specials) with the number of nominees proportional to the number of submissions in each genre, with at least one nomination for each. Similarly in the Outstanding Sound Mixing for Nonfiction Program category, entries will be recognized in two genres (documentary/nonfiction programs and reality programs), with the number of nominees proportional to the number of submissions in each genre, with at least one nomination for each.

The alluded to Academy peer groups and their respective governors are:

  • ANIMATION Jill Daniels (returning governor serving an ongoing term through 12/31/19), and Janet Dimon (newly elected to a term extending through 12/31/20)
  • ART DIRECTORS/SET DECORATORS Halina Siwolop (returning), and James Yarnell (newly elected)
  • CASTING DIRECTORS Peter Golden, CSA (returning), and Howard Meltzer, CSA (newly elected)
  • CHILDREN’S PROGRAMMING Jill Sanford (returning), and Troy Underwood (newly elected)
  • CHOREOGRAPHY Eboni Nichols (returning), and Mandy Moore (newly elected)
  • CINEMATOGRAPHERS John Simmons, ASC (returning), and Gary Baum, ASC (newly elected)
  • COMMERCIALS Rich Carter (returning), and Ann Leslie Uzdavinis (newly elected)
  • COSTUME DESIGN & SUPERVISION Terry Ann Gordon (returning), and Laura Guzik (newly elected)
  • DAYTIME PROGRAMMING Steven Kent (returning), and Eva Basler (newly elected)
  • DIRECTORS Michael Spiller (returning), and Mark Cendrowski (newly elected)
  • DOCUMENTARY PROGRAMMING Daniel H. Birman (returning), and Lois Vossen (newly elected)
  • INTERACTIVE MEDIA Lori H. Schwartz (returning), and Chris Thomes (newly elected)
  • LIGHTING, CAMERA & TECHNICAL ARTS Jeffrey A. Calderon (returning), and David Plakos (newly elected)
  • LOS ANGELES AREA Brenda Brkusic (returning), and Paul Button (newly elected)
  • MAKEUP ARTISTS/HAIRSTYLISTS Terri D. Carter (returning), and Mary Guerrero (newly elected)
  • MOTION & TITLE DESIGN Greg Kupiec (returning), and Lauraine Gibbons (newly elected)
  • MUSIC John Debney (returning), and Rickey Minor (newly elected)
  • PERFORMERS Bob Bergen (returning), and Patrika Darbo (newly elected)
  • PICTURE EDITORS Scott Boyd, ACE (returning), and Michael Ruscio, ACE (newly elected)
  • PRODUCERS John Ziffren (returning), and Keith Raskin (newly elected)
  • PRODUCTION EXECUTIVES Keiren Fisher (returning), and Lucia Gervino (newly elected)
  • PROFESSIONAL REPRESENTATIVES Glenn Rigberg (returning), and Bryan Leder (newly elected)
  • PUBLIC RELATIONS Steven Spignese (returning), and Nicole Marostica (newly elected)
  • REALITY PROGRAMMING Philip D. Segal (returning), and Bob Boden (newly elected)
  • SOUND Frank Morrone, CAS (returning), and Bob Bronow, CAS (newly elected)
  • SOUND EDITORS Christopher Reeves (returning), and Eileen Horta (newly elected)
  • SPECIAL VISUAL EFFECTS Mark Scott (returning), and Spatny Erik Henry (newly elected)
  • STUNTS Lesley Aletter (returning), and Dorenda Moore (newly elected)
  • TELEVISION EXECUTIVES Sam Linsky (returning), and Debra Curtis (newly elected)
  • WRITERS Judalina Neira (returning), and Regina Hicks (newly elected)

Atop the hierarchy is Television Academy CEO Frank Scherma who began a two-year term on January 1. Scherma, president of RadicalMedia, has a long history of volunteer service for the Television Academy; prior to becoming CEO, he was as an officer of the Board of Governors as the vice chair for the 2017–2018 term. He previously served as the second vice chair for the Board of Governors as well as several terms as Commercials Peer Group governor. Scherma has also served on the Creative Arts Emmy Awards Show Committee, Membership Committee, Governors Award Selection Committee, Digital Strategy Committee and on the Television Academy Foundation’s Board of Directors, among other positions.

In contention
While it’s difficult to gauge how Academy members will ultimately vote, clues abound in terms of how the awards season thus far has shaped up as Emmy-eligible fare has already scored impressively in competitions ranging from the Golden Globes to the Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, Producers Guild Awards, Directors Guild of America (DGA) Awards, even the Academy Awards.

On the latter front, Free Solo (National Geographic) won the Best Feature Documentary Oscar. It could become a contender for the Exceptional Merit in Documentary Emmy. Only once has a documentary won both an Academy Award and an Emmy: Citizenfour, directed by Laura Poitras.

Free Solo marks a cinematic and storytelling achievement that literally and figuratively entailed a delicate balancing act, chronicling Alex Honnold as he tried to become the first person to ever free solo climb Yosemite’s 3,000-foot-high El Capitan Wall. With no ropes or safety gear, he completed a monumental feat in rock climbing history.

While the literal aspect of keeping one’s balance is obvious from a physical/athletic standpoint as well as in terms of navigating a slew of daunting production logistics, the figurative challenge was centered on an inherent moral dilemma. 

The wife and husband team of directors/producers Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin had to capture their friend Honnold’s ambitious journey--which could go terribly wrong. 

Honnold’s quest put him in great peril and making a documentary about him, Vasarhelyi told SHOOT, was “scary,” “terrifying” and full of “ethical implications,” with the real possibility that the filmmakers could bear witness to his demise. Vasarhelyi and Chin agonized over the decision to proceed with the film but ultimately they were swayed by the inspirational value of Honnold’s story and the extraordinary nature of the potential communal experience for the audience.

Chin said the ethical quandary cited by Vasarhelyi required much soul searching but ultimately was decided by his and her trust in Honnold. “I’ve seen Alex climb for 10 years,” related Chin, a skilled rock climber himself. “I’ve worked with the best climbers for almost 20 years. Alex is truly phenomenal at what he does. I’ve seen how he approaches every solo climb. It was really helpful to have that confidence in him and to believe in him not just as an athlete but also as a human being.”

Free Solo also gave viewers access to Honnold’s humanity, which made him all the more relatable to them. “His is a really inspirational story,” said Chin. “Everyone can relate to the fear that Alex felt, seeing that for him it was less scary to go climb alone than to ask someone to be a partner. He continually pushes himself in the face of fear to overcome those fears and improve who he is. He’s always in that headspace. People understand that and his vulnerability helps people to connect with him.”

Among its other honors, Free Solo received DGA and Producers Guild Award nominations. The DGA competition could also be a precursor to what might be in the offing for Emmy nominations. For instance, Ben Stiller won a DGA Award for his direction on the limited series Escape at Dannemora (Showtime), a Emmy contender in the Limited Series category. 

Similarly Adam McKay garnered the DGA Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Dramatic Series for the pilot “Celebration” episode of Succession (HBO), which too could very well be in the running in the Dramatic Series Emmy derby.

Succession introduces viewers to the Roy family--Logan Roy and his four children--who control an enormous media and entertainment conglomerate. Succession tracks their lives as they contemplate and grapple with what the future may hold for them once the aging patriarch steps down from the company.

Oscar-winning writer Jesse Armstrong (In The Loop) created the show and penned the pilot episode, “Celebration,” helmed by McKay.

The fictional Roy family conjures up thoughts of other power-wielding mass media families from the Murdochs to the Maxwells and the Redstones. McKay said that Armstrong’s original script for Succession was “fabulous,” prompting his desire to direct the pilot. 

“You try to only direct things you feel you should direct,” related McKay. “And there are times you feel someone else could direct. I was drawn to this. It just felt like it was from the world we live in right now. As a director, I felt I could actually help the first episode, setting the tone and feel. From my background in theatre and improv, I thought I could add to the idea of family which is at the core of the story. I could add something to this show which touches upon all kinds of ideas--dynastic wealth, income equality, media empires, power, the hallmarks of the times we live in.”

Streaming shows have also performed well this awards season, perhaps boding well for their Emmy prospects. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon Prime), already an Emmy darling from last year, proved it was able to stay at or above the high bar it set, recently earning the Producers Guild Award for Best Episodic Comedy and the SAG Award for Best Performance by an Ensemble in a Comedy TV Series.  

Meanwhile, a newcomer, The Kominsky Method (Netflix), created by producer Chuck Lorre, won the Golden Globe for Best Comedy Series. Lorre also has in the Emmy running such series as Mom (CBS) and the finale season of The Big Bang Theory (CBS).

Ozark (Netflix), which garnered five Emmy nominations last year, might return to the Emmy fray in 2019 based on a recent SAG Award win and Golden Globe nomination for Jason Bateman as Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Bateman this year also scored a DGA Award for his direction of the Ozark episode titled “Reparations.”

Better Call Saul (AMC) could also be in the Emmy running based in part on recent SAG Award nominations for Bob Odenkirk for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and the cast for Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series. 

Winning the Drama Ensemble Series SAG Award was This Is Us (NBC), which also earned a Lead Actor nod for Sterling K. Brown who won the Emmy Award a couple of years ago for his work on the show. 

In the This Is Us mix this year is a special episode--which aired in January-- modeled after a one-act play, taking place almost entirely in a hospital waiting room and during a single day, a departure from the show’s normal flashback storytelling.  Penning the episode was playwright Bekah Brunstetter.

Homecoming (Amazon) could make a case for the viability of a half-hour show making the Best Drama Emmy cut. After all, Homecoming recently earned a Writers Guild (WGA) Award nomination in the New Series category as well as three Golden Globe noms--for Best Drama, Best Actress (Julia Roberts) and Actor (Stephan James).

However, the awards season barometer isn’t always an indication of things to come for the Emmys. Consider that the prohibitive favorite for multiple nominations won’t debut its final season until April: Game of Thrones, HBO’s three-time Best Drama Series champion.

Also returning to eligibility after a hiatus is Veep (HBO), which was the Emmy king of comedy prior to The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s win last year. Veep’s seventh and final season debuts on March 31.

Among assorted other shows in the mix for Emmy consideration are: A Very British Scandal (Amazon Prime), Barry (HBO), Better Things (FX), Billions (Showtime), Black-ish (ABC), Catch-22 (Hulu), Castle Rock (Hulu), Central Park Five (Netflix), The Chi (Showtime), Counterpart (Starz), The Deuce (HBO), Fosse/Verdon (FX), GLOW (Netflix), The Good Fight (CBS All Access), The Good Place (NBC), High Maintenance (HBO), The Hot Zone (National Geographic), Killing Eve (BBC America, AMC), Maniac (Netflix), Now Apocalypse (Starz), Pose (FX), The Romanoffs (Amazon Prime), Russian Doll (Netflix), Saturday Night Live (NBC), Sharp Objects (HBO), The Sinner (USA Network), Sorry For Your Loss (Facebook Watch), True Detective (HBO), When They See Us (Netflix), and telefilms such as Brexit (HBO), the Deadwood movie (HBO), King Lear (Amazon Prime) and Native Son (HBO). 

Opportunities have opened up in the Emmy field with stalwart shows ineligible in that they are slated to premiere too late for this season, including The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu), Big Little Lies (HBO), Stranger Things (Netflix), The Crown (Netflix) and Homeland (Showtime). Also no longer in the mix is critic’s favorite The Americans, which has ended its broadcast run on FX.

This Emmy Awards Preview sets the stage for SHOOT’s annual 16-part weekly The Road To Emmy Series of feature stories kicking off May 10. This Series will be followed by coverage of the Creative Arts Emmy winners on Sept 14 and 15, and the Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on Sept. 22.

Click Here for the 2019 Road To Emmy Schedule.

Click Here for past Digital versions of Road To Emmy features.

Click Here for past Print/PDF version of Road To Emmy installment.



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