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Cable stars make a historic breakthrough in Top 10 Emmy lists

July 3, 2008 |  1:18 pm

Not only is there lots of great Emmy news in the Top 10 lists for best comedy and drama series — "The Wire," "Mad Men," "Damages," and "Family Guy" — but, as of this counting, cable stars have nabbed 18 of the 40 slots for lead actor and actress in a comedy and drama series. That's up from 11 last year.

We still need to fill in two slots for lead comedy actor (it used to be three, but we just learned that "Til Death's" Brad Garrett is in), but so far we already have 38 of the 40 entries in those top acting lineups. So we're nearly done with our snooping. Looks like cable TV has made historic inroads and the TV academy must be cheered for the increasing presence of excellent cable fare in a traditionally broadcast-heavy contest.


As Lisa de Moreas points out in her Washington Post column today (CLICK HERE): "Last year only three of the 10 contenders for a nomination in the drama-series lead actress competition came from cable. This year only three are actresses in broadcast TV series."

Among the most notable entries in the acting Top 10s are three nice surprises certain to make TV critics cheer: Sarah Silverman of Comedy Central's "The Sarah Silverman Program," Bryan Cranston of AMC's "Breaking Bad" and Mary McDonnell of SciFi's "Battlestar Galactica." Plus there are the new cable contenders we expected and are happy to behold: Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men"), Glenn Close ("Damages"), David Duchovny ("Californication") and Gabriel Byrne ("In Treatment"). And lots more in the supporting slots.

The TV academy is experimenting with a relatively new voting process involving these semifinalist runoffs, so it's naturally gun-shy about publicly releasing any info. They did so by officially unveiling the best-series lists, but didn't divulge the acting lineups. So Gold Derby did it for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. (We have yet to receive a thank-you note.)

The reason: We want people to see how heroically the TV academy is increasing its process of insisting on careful scrutiny of contenders. Forget the Oscar, Grammy and Tony, the Emmy is the only showbiz peer-group award that demands its voters actually see what they're voting on and there's something fantastically noble about that. Prior to three years ago, nominees were chosen strictly by a popular vote and only the final five in each race were subjected to the same careful judging process that calls for voters to watch representative episodes submitted by contenders as examples of their best work, then sign an affidavit attesting that they viewed everything required before inking their ballots.

The Emmy isn't just any award, it's the most important showbiz prize on the planet because it weighs the work of the most powerful medium in the world: TV. The Oscar is more glamorous and esteemed only because we're a nation of film snobs. We call movies the silver screen, but dismiss TV — which we take for granted, like family, because we view it in our underwear at home while crunching Fritos — as the boob tube. In fact, some episodes of "Mad Men," "Dexter" and "Damages" were better than most, if not all, of the flicks that just won Oscars, right?

I, hereby, officially apologize to the TV academy for outing them these last three years by disclosing the Top 10 lists, but I did it out of profound admiration. I love the Emmy — it's my favorite award by far — and, arguably, it's the most important because, by giving underdogs a serious shot at winning, it's running the fairest contest and one that, in the end, makes an invaluable contribution to the world's most powerful medium.

Bottom line: TV's Golden Girl rescued many brilliant, low-rated TV shows that probably would've been canceled if they hadn't won Emmys, including "Cheers," "All in the Family," "Hill Street Blues," "Picket Fences" and "Cagney and Lacey." In more recent years, it didn't, alas, save "Arrested Development," but by hailing it as best comedy series of 2004, Emmy bought it a few more years on the air when it was nominated again (and again) for that high prize before the network ax dropped. Everyone — except, no doubt, David E. Kelley — got upset when "The Practice" beat "The Sopranos" in the latter's first year, but that helped to keep a show on TV that morphed into "Boston Legal," which was nominated for best drama series last year and will probably be again this year.

The TV academy, let's recall, is an academy: a place meant to encourage intense debate, which is often heated, yes, and unpleasant for academy staffers. But the reason we have award contests, I maintain, is not to dole out fake gold statuettes, but to encourage a public discussion of what makes, in this case, the best TV. That means we must open up the voting process for everyone to see at every stage that voters are involved so we voice our own views, however harsh. Throughout my two-decades-long career of chronicling awards as a journalist, I've always found that the more TV critics, for example, can see the Emmy process up close, the more they appreciate TV's Golden Girl.

Usually, TV critics beat the bejesus out of the Emmys, but they do so, frankly, because they don't understand what's going on. When nominations come out and their favorite shows and stars aren't on the list, they immediately start hurling nuclear weapons of mass destruction, which has made Emmy chiefs war weary over the years and thus leery about sharing any information they don't have to. But I'm trying hard to force them to disclose everything — just like the Oscars and Daytime Emmys (overseen by a different TV academy), which disclose all contenders in every race that involves a runoff.


My efforts include promoting what actual episodes are entered in competition because all Emmy-watchers must pay careful attention to those. They're what the voters see. At the Oscars we all get to see all of the movies and engage in lots of public grumbling about what should — and shouldn't — win. Why not the Emmys? Keeping such info hush led to the single most anguishing and embarrassing fiasco in Emmy history: that whole Susan Lucci biz. To everyone on the outside, it looked like the TV establishment (the academies) were cruelly denying its top prize to the reigning, highest-paid diva in daytime. But that wasn't true. Turns out those 18 defeats were all Lucci's fault because she kept handing in lousy episode samples. She finally won only when she blundered upon submitting a good tape, which she, finally out of desperation, let her writers choose in 1999.

It's best if we encourage public scrutiny and discussion of what episodes the actors submit rather than worry that their pampered egos might be offended by criticism. Again, the reason we have an Emmy contest is to encourage a debate that may lead to what we all want to know: What's the best TV?

So far we've learned and/or leaked these Top 10 lists — click through these links:

Best drama and comedy seriesCLICK HERE
Best drama actorCLICK HERE
Best drama actressCLICK HERE
Best supporting drama actorCLICK HERE
Best supporting drama actressCLICK HERE
Best comedy actor CLICK HERE
Best comedy actressCLICK HERE
Best supporting comedy actor CLICK HERE
Best supporting comedy actressCLICK HERE
Best guest comedy actressCLICK HERE
Best guest drama actorCLICK HERE

Below: Breakdown of the reports of our spies at the TV academy judging panels.

DRAMA-SERIES PANEL: Tattle from Secret Judge No. 1 — CLICK HERE

DRAMA-SERIES PANEL: Tattle from Secret Judge No. 2 — CLICK HERE

COMEDY-SERIES PANEL: Tattle from Secret Judge No. 1 — CLICK HERE

COMEDY-SERIES PANEL: Tattle from Secret Judge No. 2 — CLICK HERE

COMEDY-SERIES PANEL: Tattle from Secret Judge No. 3 — CLICK HERE

Photo credits: AMC, SciFi