Gold Derby

The inside track on Oscars, Emmys, Grammys and all the award shows.

« Previous Post | Gold Derby Home | Next Post »

Landslide Emmy vote for Tina Fey as Sarah Palin?

August 22, 2009 | 10:28 am

In the Emmy election for best guest actress in a comedy series, one rival towers over all others: Tina Fey on "Saturday Night Live" as Sarah Palin. Easily, it was the most celebrated and even most important TV performance of the year because it played a starring role in the U.S. presidential election. So theoretically she's a shoo-in to win this lowly Emmy race, right?

Yes, but only in theory. Remember who votes here: snooty actors, who may not take an impersonation on a comedy-skit show seriously when measured against grand theatrical mugging in a traditional program with plot and character development. Last year, many of us pundits thought Amy Poehler ("Saturday Night Live") had the Emmy for best supporting actress in the bag, but voter bias against skit shows propelled Jean Smart ("Samantha Who?") to an upset victory.

Both of our gurus, Chris "Boomer" Beachum and Robert "Rob L" Licuria (, who've viewed the episodes submitted to Emmy judges, believe Fey will prevail, but they're keenly aware of this voter bias too and believe an upset could happen easily. Read their expanded views below. Also check out their (often clashing) predix in these categories: best comedy series, lead actor, lead actress, supporting actor, supporting actress, guest actor, comedy writing and comedy directing. Read more in our forums.

Tina Fey Sarah Palin Saturday Night Live

(Listed in likelihood of winning)
1. Tina Fey, "Saturday Night Live" ("Presidential Bash 2008")
2. Betty White, "My Name Is Earl" ("Witch Lady")
3. Elaine Stritch, "30 Rock" ("Christmas Special")
4. Christine Baranski, "Big Bang Theory" ("The Maternal Capacitance")
5. Jennifer Aniston, "30 Rock" ("One With the Cast of Night Court")
6. Gena Rowlands, "Monk" ("Mr. Monk & the Lady Next Door")

BOOMER'S COMMENTARY: Unlike the guest actor category, there doesn't seem to be a single trend to predicting who will win among the ladies. In recent years, veteran actresses (Cloris Leachman, Stritch, Kathryn Joosten) have won. A younger actress (Christina Applegate) and slightly older actress (Laura Linney) have won. I would say, in general, that the Emmy voters want to laugh and want good characters.

If you're looking for a previous Emmy winner, this category is completely loaded down with them (all six ladies have won before). In viewing these performances, I must admit that I was disappointed that Rowlands didn't have all that much to do on her episode of "Monk." While other characters had some funny things to do, she did not (although she does a wonderful job in what she is given).

Aniston is upbeat and silly, allowing her to play some funny personality traits that we don't often see from her. I would be surprised with a Rowlands or Aniston victory. Everybody else, though, has a decent shot.

Baranski, tremendously funny as the buttoned-down professor and mother of Leonard, gets some hilarious scenes with Jim Parsons.  Stritch has proved she can win with her portrayal of Alec Baldwin's mother and even gets a couple of nice sentimental holiday moments on this episode.

White is someone beloved by Emmy voters and plays a character unlike anyone we have ever seen her play before: a crazy witch neighbor who chains up all the regular cast members in her basement. Any other year, she would easily win yet another Emmy Award, but there is one person standing in her way: Fey as Sarah Palin. In a performance that was a comedy highlight of the decade, Fey also most likely influenced an entire presidential election. I just don't see how the voters are going to pass up the chance to honor something so iconic and memorable.

(Listed in likelihood of winning)
1.) Tina Fey, "Saturday Night Live" ("Presidential Bash 2008")
2.) Betty White, "My Name Is Earl" ("Witch Lady")
3.) Christine Baranski, "Big Bang Theory" ("The Maternal Capacitance")
4.) Elaine Stritch, "30 Rock" ("Christmas Special")
5.) Jennifer Aniston, "30 Rock" ("One With the Cast of Night Court")
6.) Gena Rowlands, "Monk" ("Mr. Monk & the Lady Next Door")

ROB'S COMMENTARY: This category could go any way because, as is the case for all four of the guest acting categories, the winners are sometimes based on other factors such as name recognition and honoring industry veterans. Since 2000, we've had three double winners, all being highly regarded industry vets (Jean Smart, Cloris Leachman and Kathryn Joosten); two high-profile winners (Christina Applegate and Laura Linney); and comedy legend Stritch, for the same role she is nominated for this year. Four of the wins were for traditional sitcoms ("Friends" and "Frasier"), three for single-camera comedies ("Malcolm in the Middle" and "30 Rock"), and both of Kathryn Joosten's wins were for her role in the hourlong dramedy "Desperate Housewives."

Another actress in an hourlong show, Rowlands ("Monk") -- an industry favorite herself -- has a good shot at winning this category, but my gut feeling is that, although she gives a lovely performance, the laughs were almost nonexistent in a performance that is the most dramatic in this category in years. I am not sure how Rowlands was nominated in this category, because name recognition wouldn't have been the deciding factor in a category that was judged by a top 10 panel.

I would have ranked Aniston higher but for the serious competition she is up against in four of the other contenders in this category. Her performance is over the top. She sings, she steals the limelight and she is given some great writing to work with. Plus, she is the biggest "star" on this list, and voters do like their stars in the guest acting categories.

I am a big fan of Stritch, and her performances in "30 Rock" have all been outstanding. Since she's won for this role in the past, a repeat is a definite possibility. She brings the laughs in this episode, and she has enough screen time to pose a real threat to the presumed front-runner.

Based on laughs alone, and overall contribution made to a single episode, I would be voting for Baranski. I love this performance -- note-perfect comedic timing, deadpan and spot-on -- appearing in one of the best-written episodes of this show's second season. Baranski is a multi-Emmy-nominated past winner and has not been on the Emmy radar for a few years, so she's another strong possibility for a surprise "spoiler" win.

Then we have White, in what I regard as one of the weirdest performances of the year, comedy or drama. She plays the psychotic "witch lady" very well, achieving just the right amount of screen time and laughs to warrant serious consideration. The fact that we are watching BETTY WHITE wield a big butcher's knife while excitedly proclaiming that she intends to murder one of her captors in her dungeon-like basement might be reason enough for voters to choose her in honor of an extreme example of "playing against type." This was the surprise performance for me, and I won't be surprised if she takes the prize.

And still, I am not willing to bet against the Palin-ator: Fey as then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin. She gave the performance of the season, maybe one of the most memorable performances of the decade. Seriously. I'm not saying it was a feat of exceptional acting skill and prowess. Perhaps this is no more than an exceptionally uncanny impersonation. But I am saying that it was probably one of the funniest, most talked-about and most influential comedic performances in quite some time, which literally helped shape last year's historical election campaign. I am still a little puzzled about how this particular special episode of the show is eligible as an Emmy reel, but putting that issue aside, I think Fey will win this one. The only factor really going against her is the same problem faced by Justin Timberlake in the comedy actor category and two comedy supporting actress nominees (Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig): Will voters be willing to support a performance in a late-night sketch show in the comedy acting categories? Time will tell.


Easiest Emmy prediction: '30 Rock' will win best comedy series -- again

Emmy clawfest over best comedy actress: Tina Fey vs. Toni Collette (and watch out for Christina Applegate! Meow!)

Dueling Emmy predix: Alec Baldwin vs. Steve Carell

Best supporting comedy actor: Neil Patrick Harris, Rainn Wilson or Jon Cryer?

Emmy battle over best supporting comedy actress: Kristin Chenoweth vs. Amy Poehler

Emmy predix: Steve Martin or Beau Bridges to win best guest actor in a comedy?

Emmy predix: Which episode of '30 Rock' will win best comedy writing?

Emmy predix: 'The Office' will win best comedy directing

Why try to fix the Emmycast? It's not broken!

Strategic DVD releases at Emmy time: 'Dexter,' 'Flight of the Conchords,' 'House M.D.,' 'Mad Men' and . . .

Photo credit: NBC

Get Gold Derby on Twitter. Join the Gold Derby Group at Facebook. Become friends with Tom O'Neil on Facebook. Get Gold Derby RSS feed via Facebook. RSS Feedburner. RSS Atom.