A column chronicling events and conversations on the awards circuit.
Today is the day. Your Emmy ballots are live, and now is the beginning of the final run for the roses, as it were. All voting is done online, with ballots needing to be completed by August 22. It has been a very, very long season and the first since the pandemic began in earnest in early 2020 where campaigning was somewhat back to normal, events were in person and Q&As and receptions were rampant. You can count on that campaigning to keep going right up until the last minute in an Emmy season that was perhaps more content-rich and dense than any in recent memory.
But now it is up to the voters to decide who will stand on that Microsoft Theater stage hoisting their shiny new statuettes. Less than a week ago Deadline staged its latest Contenders event featuring nominees from more than 30 shows, a kind of one-stop-shopping opportunity for voters, as it has been since we started doing these events more than a decade ago. They are designed to intrigue voters, with clips and conversation, to find the time to sit down and watch as many of these nominees as they can in order to make an informed decision.
As part of those panels — which, because of the tight time span between nominations and start of voting, had to be done virtually — we also asked the nominees a few questions that would be used throughout the Contenders day last weekend (the panels are available to watch now). The one that intrigued me, and perhaps most influenced my sense of what shows are front-runners or perhaps poised to stage an upset, was, “What show from this year’s crop – other than your own – would you have liked to work on?”
COULD SEVERANCE BE THE EMMY DARK HORSE?
Based on the eight panels I moderated, there were three shows heard repeatedly. One that was totally expected was HBO’s front-running Succession. OK, no stunner there. Hannah Waddingham told me she will not allow anyone in the room to even talk when that show is on. It leads everything else with 25 nominations, including 14 for acting, and many of the nominees I asked this question were actors, but certainly not all, and we had a real cross section of the Television Academy for this admittedly unscientific but perhaps telling little question. In comedy, the answers I heard most often were not Ted Lasso or Hacks but rather FX’s What We Do in the Shadows. There also were some I quizzed whose choice was so adamant and instant you just had to admire the passion behind it. Impeachment: American Crime Story Lead Actress nominee Sarah Paulson didn’t wait a beat to emphatically answer Station Eleven. “I want them all to win Emmys, every one of them associated with that show,” she said.
There were a smattering of mentions for the likes of Barry (“This Season was totally next level” said an Abbott Elementary actor), Atlanta, Ozark, a few others, and in what may be an indicator of a real contender next year, more than once I heard this summer’s breakout hit The Bear.
But in terms of sheer numbers, and consistency the winner of this little exercise, hands down, was Ben Stiller’s first season series on Apple TV+, Severance. Across the board in terms of different branches it was the name that came up most often with a general consensus that it was the most unique, at least that is the impression I got and, with most of these actors, creatives, and artisans a new show that they have clearly been watching. That perhaps explains its very impressive breakthrough this year with 14 nominations, a number topped only by six other shows that had more. When asked what show he would want to be associated with, Seth Meyers took a beat and then said, “Severance”. I pointed out he was the fifth in a row that mentioned that series and he was surprised. “I thought I was going to be different than everyone else,” he laughed.
It may be just a hunch, but I am taking this little informal question about what other show you would like to be a part of quite seriously. If Severance has a big Emmy night September 12 – or nights since there are also two Creative Arts ceremonies Labor Day weekend – you heard it here first. The lesson is don’t go by the pundits (of which I am one), but rather trust the leanings of the actual voters and creators themselves.
Among this year’s many nominees is producer-director-writer Judd Apatow, whose latest documentary on a legendary comic is HBO/HBO Max’s George Carlin’s American Dream. It landed five nominations including two for Apatow as its co-producer and also co-director (with Michael Bonfiglio). Apatow won an Emmy – his only one other than a 1993 Emmy as part of the short-lived Ben Stiller Show’s writing team – for another show exploring the brilliance of a comedian, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling, which won the top award in this category in 2018.
Shandling was a mentor for Apatow, who was a writer for The Larry Sanders Show, and its star’s sudden passing in 2016 made that docu a highly emotional undertaking for Apatow, who has also published two books with interviews with numerous comics (Sick in the Head andSicker in the Head. In Carlin’s case, he only got to interview him once, in 1991, but this show goes much more in-depth for a star he thinks was truly unique, and probably ahead of his time – at least considering the dark ages we are going through right now.
“He saw our country, probably the world, as being way too short-sighted, not interested in long-term solutions,” Apatow told me recently in a Zoom conversation. “He felt like governments had been bought off by corporations, and the premise of our country was a bit of a lie, and the system wasn’t really set up to serve most of the population. We’re seeing that now, and we’re seeing people reacting, and all sorts of different ways — healthy ways and really scary ways — and people use that, use those ideas for non-ethical reasons. You can say the system doesn’t work and work hard to fix the system, or you can say the system doesn’t work and have something like January 6, and I think he tried to tell people that they needed to pay attention.”
Carlin, who could go to lowbrow humor and fart jokes with the best of them, also seemed to have a much darker side that he brought to his act, trying to warn people it might be time to think about saving the planet or we, our kids and grandkids all could die. Not exactly the obvious stuff of jokes.
“Our politicians just want to please their constituents today,” Apatow said. “They want inflation to be dealt with and not the environment? … I think that’s what he was trying to wake people up about. His whole thing was to create critical thinkers, right? He felt like we should question everything we hear and then we have the government that we deserve because we elected these people. And we’ve accepted so much. That’s ridiculous and hurts us.”
Apatow told me he always has been interested in the lives of comedians. Even as a little kid when he was obsessed with the Marx Brothers, then on to Lenny Bruce, Carlin and others as he matured. I asked if he thought Carlin would have written an autobiography.
“It’s hard to know. He definitely was interested in writing an autobiography and talking about his life,” he said. “And there were moments where he discussed being more open about his personal journey, but his focus was on the bigger issues for a lot of his comedy and the smallest observations. He wasn’t the type of person who nowadays gets a podcast or that tells you every detail on television sometimes and make up the names of children and completely lie about what was happening at home. I would hope people like George Carlin would want us to learn from their journey and to be able to watch their entire lives documented and be able to take some of the wisdom, and use that earlier in their lives.”
Apatow isn’t ready to say who he will be taking on next in his evolving documentary career, but he said he has been having a great time making these kinds of shows, and in the process learning a lot about himself.
Next up for him, though, is the world premiere at next month’s Toronto International Film Festival of Bros, a new comedy he produced for Universal that will open in theaters at the end of September. It stars Billy Eichner and was co-written by Eichner and its director Nick Stoller. With its LGBTQ+ focus of gay men forging relationships, and the fact that it is the first Hollywood film that will feature an all-LGBTQ+ cast in heterosexual roles, it promises, like many things associated with Judd Apatow, to be groundbreaking. He is excited about it.
“We were about to shoot it, in the spring of 2020. We were delayed, but we’re so proud of the movie and couldn’t be more thrilled to have it open,” Apatow said. Adding praise for Eichner, he said: “He’s fantastic. And it’s really funny and a heartwarming movie, but it’s also very emotional and moving at times. It’s gonna be fun to have it in, you know, in the theater for people to share it together. We tested all around the country, with packed houses, and it had been a long time since I’ve had that experience with one of our comedies. People seemed so happy to be together and sharing that.”