Emmy's picks for writing and directing nominees in the series categories are kinda like a state of the craft report card every year. They're often the category where new and innovative programs are recognized long before they crack the more prominent races.
But in a year when Emmy voters seemed to embrace new and different, the choices in the writing and directing heats seem more pedestrian, though some of this year's contenders were so obvious (Bryan Fuller and Barry Sonnenfeld for "Pushing Daisies" Pie-lette, Matthew Weiner and Alan Taylor for the "Mad Men" pilot) as to take some of the suspense out of the race this year. Sonnenfeld (pictured left) and Taylor (pictured right) have already bagged DGA Awards for their work on these pilots.
Sonnenfeld, IMHO, can safely begin rehearsing his acceptance speech for comedy helmer. (Coming from him, it oughta be a doozy.) The competish is strong -- a six-nominee category meaning that there was one tie in the nom ballotting -- but nothing was quite so inventive and visually distinct as that first slice of ABC's "Pushing Daisies."
From my viewfinder, the dark horse in the race could be James Bobin of HBO's "Flight of the Conchords." Bobin, co-creator of the series with Kiwi comedy-rockers Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, is up for the "Sally Returns" episode of "Conchord's" 12-episode frosh season.
Dan Attias nabbed a nom for the "No Cannes Do" installment of "Entourage." Paul Lieberstein has shown that there's no end to his talents by performing, writing and directing segs of NBC's "The Office," and now he's up for helming the seg "Money" Parts 1 and 2 (sounds like a James Brown hit from the early '70s). Also nommed from "Office" is Paul Feig, for handling the season finale, "Goodbye, Toby," which happened to mark the farewell of Lieberstein's character. Michael Engler of NBC's "30 Rock" is up for the "Rosemary's Baby" installment.
For drama director, IMHO, "Mad Men's" Taylor is in the same sweet spot as his comedy counterpart Sonnenfeld.
Obviously there was great lensing work done across the dial this past season but it's hard to compete with the look and feel and pacing of "Mad Men" opener "Smoke Gets in Your Eyes." The dark horse here me thinks would be the helmer/showrunner on that other AMC show that made so much noise last year, Vince Gilligan for "Breaking Bad."
Another horse that a few shades darker would be Allen Coulter for the pilot of FX's "Damages." But I really think it's between Taylor and Gilligan, with the advantage to Taylor.
I think Emmy voters could've found some room for a "Lost" candidate in this category -- the show's primary directors, Jack Bender and Stephen Williams did a-mazing work in season four, and no helmers in series TV work harder, physically, than the hearty souls in Hawaii who lens "Lost."
There were more omissions, in my view, on the writing side this time. Comedy-wise, I think destiny will put the trophy in the hands of "Pushing Daisies" creator Fuller (pictured left), for sheer zing and imagination. I'm really biased in assessing the dark horse pick, because the "Office" seg "The Dinner Party," penned by Lee Eisenberg and Gene Stupnitsky, made me laugh out loud multiple times on multple airings.
"Conchord's" Bobin is in this heat too, for the seg "Yoko." "30 Rock" star Tina Fey nabbed slot for "Cooter"; Jack Burditt is up for "Rosemary's Baby," the "30 Rock" episode that also grabbed a directing nom.
Frankly, I think "The Big Bang Theory" scribes were robbed in this category. Beyond the pilot, there was some swell work done in the show's post-strike episodes, notably "The Bat Jar Conjecture" (the one about the Physics Bowl), "The Peanut Reaction" (the one where Penny throws Leonard a surprise birthday party) and "The Pancake Batter Anomaly" (the one where Sheldon gets sick). Also overlooked in this field was CW's "Aliens in America," Showtime's "Weeds" and CBS' "How I Met Your Mother."
In the drama-rama, it kinda surprising that all of the noms went to cable skeins. The glaring oversight here is NBC's "Friday Night Lights." I also can't help but think of all the derring-do from the scribe tribe led by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse on "Lost." Peacock's "Law & Order" and "Law & Order: SVU" also had good seasons.
"Mad Men" creator Weiner (pictured right) is twice-nommed, as a solo for the pilot, and with Robin Veith for episode "The Wheel," and I firmly believe he'll take the gold for the pilot in this category. I'm split on the dark horse here, it's a toss-up between "Battlestar Galactica's" Michael Angeli, for seg "Six of One," and the trio behind FX's "Damages," Todd A. Kessler, Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman, for the show's pilot.
I wish I felt like David Simon and Ed Burns of "The Wire" had a shot for their fantastic series finale "30," though there were other episodes in the show's fifth season that were as good, but I don't. Sad to say but I think Emmy will continue to snub this deserving body of work down to the last possible moment. Go figure.