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July 17, 2008

Emmy nominations; critic reactions; analysis

Top critics from the Television Critics Association press tour lend their first-blush reactions to the Emmy nomination list, below. In a word, they are stunned (and for once, that's a good thing).

First, here's the Emmy list.

Our take: Cable is, obviously, very well represented. What's interesting is that a show's ratings seem to play less of a factor in receiving an Emmy nomination than ever before. Showtime's "Dexter" -- surprisingly and deservingly -- gets an outstanding drama series nod. Fox's "Family Guy," unsurprisingly, didn't make outstanding comedy series cut. Another stunner: Gabriel Byrne (HBO's "In Treatment") and Bryan Cranston (AMC's "Breaking Bad") got actor nominations. Ryan Seacrest, Heidi Klum, Jeff Probst are among those in first-ever reality host category. "Survivor" was yet again snubbed for outstanding reality competition series, a category that's a carbon copy of last year's noms.

The biggest critic complaint: "The Wire" was snubbed. But with the likes of "Breaking Bad" and "In Treatment" represented, its Emmy absence is clearly not due to having a small audience. "The Wire" is, quite simply, a tough grind to watch. Brilliantly written, yes. But TV is still escapism and “The Wire” universe is not an enjoyable place to spend your time. Emmys are to honor excellence, but it's difficult to award a show that you respect but don't actually like to watch.

To commit a second act of Emmy sacrilege, let’s defend one of the most mocked choices on the list: Howie Mandel, for the newly created reality host category. Mandel arguably contributes more to the success of “Deal or No Deal” than the other nominees to their shows -- he’s on screen the entire time. “Deal” is silly and simple, yeah. But that’s what makes his performance so key. To find infinite variations on presenting the exact same statistics over and over while keeping the audience engaged is not easy.

This isn’t to say Howie Mandel deserves an Emmy and “The Wire” does not, only that both Academy decisions are defensible.

Here's the critics:

-- "I thought it was an astounding year for AMC which a little more than a year ago was just the classic movie channel that didn't even have that many classics," says Ellen Gray, Philadelphia Daily News. "Now it not only has the most-nominated series in cable in 'Mad Men,' but its other original, 'Breaking Bad,' received four, only one fewer than the most-nominated HBO series. Talk about your Cinderella stories. And with 'Damages' getting FX's first series nomination ever, I'd say it was a very good morning for basic cable."

Tim Goodman, Matt Roush, Rick Kushman and a bunch of links after the jump...

-- "The weird thing right off is that the nominations aren't bad," says Sacramento Bee's Rick Kushman. "Pretty good, actually, everything considered. There's lots of surprisingly unstuffy nominations: like 'Mad Men,' 'Dexter' and 'Damages,' or Bryan Cranston, Gabriel Byrne and Jon Hamm. And even if they went the usual direction of being mesmerized by movie stars for the lead women  dramatic actresses, it's still a good bunch. In short, there's nothing that makes me want to scream, except they stiffed 'The Wire' again."

-- "Obviously the 'Mad Men' and 'Damages' haul were surprising -- perhaps less so for 'Mad Men' because it had such tremendous buzz," emails Tim Goodman, San Francisco Chronicle. "But for sheer shock I'd have to say Bryan Cranston's nomination for 'Breaking Bad,' which is very much deserved but absolutely stunning. That 'Breaking Bad' was on the Emmy voter radar is, in itself, a real eye opener. I was less surprised, but -- as always -- annoyed by the continual snub of 'The Wire.' A writing nomination is not enough. It's borderline criminal at this point. Other pleasant surprises for me included the 'Dexter' nominations and the 'Damages' supporting actor nods. Lastly, it was good to see voters remember 'Pushing Daisies.'"

-- "I am thrilled that the Emmys opened the door so wide to basic cable this year," writes Matt Roush, TV Guide. "I think someone must have told the Emmy voters that Mad Men actually airs on HBO (it certainly looks like it does), given how well it did. But there's no denying the quality and entertainment value of both 'Mad Men' and 'Damages.'"

Roush continues: "Also jazzed about 'Lost' getting back in the mix again for its dazzling comeback season and after being snubbed since winning the top prize in its first season. It felt rejuvenated, and it's refreshing to see the Emmys take notice. I was shocked that 'Dexter' made the cut. I was sure that show was too 'out there' and twisted for them, but 'Dexter' was brilliant, and so was Michael C. Hall, and good for the Emmys."

"At this point, I'm resigned to the fact that Hollywood considers 'Boston Legal' some sort of masterpiece. The fact that it gets a nomination while 'The Wire' and 'Friday Night Lights' again go begging tarnishes the process that otherwise worked out pretty well this year. I have to wonder if the Emmy voters think 'The Wire' and 'FNL' are maybe documentaries. They feel so real maybe the voters don't understand there was actual writing and acting going on. "I also wonder if the strike hurt the newer network series. 'Pushing Daisies' earned an impressive 12 nominations, but not for best comedy (last season's 'Entourage'? Really?), perhaps because it produced so few episodes and hasn't been seen late last year when it was shut down by the strike. Out of sight, out of mind. And in this case, out of touch."

Also, more critic reactions on THR.com ....  THR: Reality Emmys are a repeat of last year -- except that host category ... and here's Diane Holloway, "Emmys ignore 'Friday Night Lights' ... again!" ... Aaron Barnhart writes "the saddest words in the English language, from the Emmy packet: 'This is Howie Mandel's first Emmy nomination.'" ...


-- Nominees react: Neil Patrick Harris, Glenn Close, Tom Bergeron, etc.

-- Emmy nominees talk SAG strike threat

-- A collection of Emmy reactions from around the Web


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