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This year, “Mad Men” could make Emmy history. Right now it has four statues for best TV drama, as do “The West Wing,” “L.A. Law,” and “Hill Street Blues.” If it comes away from tonight’s Emmy ceremony with a fifth, the AMC series — which is set in the 1960s but focuses on our contemporary response to that decade — will become the most celebrated drama in the history of television.
It’s this kind of streak that distinguishes the Emmys and all of the other back-patting fests that honor TV. You’re not going to find any movie, album, theatrical production, or music video taking home the same award across the years, no matter how much you wish “Annie Hall” or “The Godfather” could have had their victories on a repeat loop. They win, they take their bows, and they get tucked into history, fodder for future pop culture classes and Top 10 lists. The same artists may win in future years, but not for the same material.
Television, on the other hand, is about the ongoing creation of a show from week to week, season to season. It’s a medium that lends time and space to storytellers, and the Emmys celebrate that characteristic. They honor the constancy of shows and performers as they stretch forward — “Frasier” won five for best comedy, for instance, and “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” has won nine for best variety series. The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences acknowledges all the work that goes into shows year in and year out; it would hardly be fair if only new series were eligible. Good shows get better, great shows get worse, and the Emmys are designed to recognize that natural flux.
But repeat nominations and wins can also be the bane of the Emmys. Sameness creeps in. Often, this year’s Emmys look like last year’s Emmys, with only a handful of newcomers (this time they include “Girls,” “Homeland,” and “New Girl”) among the familiar names (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and faces (Alec Baldwin). By the end of a single Oscar season, I’m tired of the nominees and their thank-yous; I was sick of “The Artist” before I even saw it. Likewise, after consecutive years of Kelsey Grammer, or Tony Shalhoub, or the makers of “Modern Family,” or even one of my favorites, Tina Fey, I am ready to move on. The thrill is gone, too, when the likes of Matthew Weiner and his “Mad Men” family take the stage one more time; the surprise meter is hovering around nil.
Despite the exhaustion that comes with replication, the Emmys do offer a convenient bird’s-eye view of good TV. Yes, some of the greatest shows, including “The Wire,” “Homicide: Life on the Street,” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” have been underrepresented, if not invisible. But still, the long list of nominees serves as a curated presentation of what’s out there. Here are a few predictions about the current crop before the ceremony, which airs tonight at 8 on Channel 5 with host Jimmy Kimmel.
“Game of Thrones”
Will win: This is the year four-time winner “Mad Men” won’t prevail. And that’s OK; this is the one year the drama doesn’t deserve it. Compelling and rich, the season was nonetheless unfocused. Also, voters won’t want it to be the show that breaks the four-win record. “Homeland” and “Breaking Bad” are the two main contenders, and I’m thinking that, despite the difficult subject matter, “Breaking Bad” will take what it deserves. “Homeland” will surely get its props in the acting categories. Dark horse: “Downton,” which is in the series rather than the mini-series categories for the first time. It’s probably too British, and the second season was less distinguished than the first; but it is an American sensation that, judging from the show’s 16 nominations, is dear to many voters.
Should win: “Breaking Bad” is not only the best show that aired during the eligibility period (June 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012), it’s near the top of TV’s all-time best list. Each episode is a gem, bold enough to move slowly without sacrificing a second of suspense. Voters have honored “Breaking Bad” actors, but acting is only one part of this finely written, gorgeously shot, expertly directed series.
Was robbed: “Justified,” “Shameless”
Hugh Bonneville, “Downton Abbey”
Steve Buscemi, “Boardwalk Empire”
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”
Michael C. Hall, “Dexter”
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”
Damian Lewis, “Homeland”
Will win: If Hamm didn’t win last year for his spectacular work in the episode “The Suitcase,” a year when Cranston wasn’t in the running, then logic suggests he won’t win this year. Logic, though, suggests that Cranston will win his fourth statue. The Academy loves him.Continued...