Rewind just a few short years in Emmy comedy history and shows such as "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Everybody Loves Raymond," "Friends," "Sex and the City" and "Will & Grace" were at the top of their game, showered year after year with multiple nominations.
This year appears to be the beginning of a new era of comedy contenders -- and one for the Emmy history books. Two of the nominees for comedy series, "30 Rock" and "Ugly Betty," not only earned nods after just one season on the air, but they topped the category's nomination derby with 10 and 11 nods, respectively.
"We might be benefiting from the fact there are fewer comedies on television," said Tina Fey, executive producer of "30 Rock," who is also up for lead actress and writing Emmys. "We try to have a lot of jokes per minute as opposed to being a love-story comedy. I feel a lot of 'Arrested Development' fans needed a new show to watch, but I think people who like 'The Office' will like our show as well."
Ms. Fey initially resisted the idea of doing a show with so many parallels to her nine-year stint on "Saturday Night Live." But after giving it some thought, she knew she wanted to write a truthful portrayal of a woman in a male-dominated workplace.
She said her "SNL" experience also provided her with characters she felt she knew right out of the gate. Those personalities include Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy, a brash network executive who loves the finer things in life, and Tracy Morgan as Tracy Jordan, the unpredictable star of a hit variety show. The show's head writer, Liz Lemon, as portrayed by Ms. Fey, spent the season juggling corporate interference from Mr. Donaghy and crazy diva antics from Mr. Jordan while navigating her personal life.
"I wanted to go make a show we would want to watch and be proud of and fill up with jokes, and also get into issues of race and gender and deal with juicy topics from the n-word to the c-word," Ms. Fey said.
The workplace setting of ABC's "Ugly Betty," Mode magazine, is a stylized stage where the characters play out their ambitions, deceptions and betrayals while beautifully dressed, except for America Ferrera's Betty Suarez, who plays a frumpy, good-hearted young woman from Queens trying to make her way in the shark-infested waters of high fashion.
"It was just the luck of the draw that we shot the pilot before the success of the film 'The Devil Wears Prada,' and once people got a taste of Betty and the world of Mode, they loved it and dove right into the same type of escapism," said "Betty's" Vanessa Williams.
At "The Office," the quirky comedy entering its third season on NBC, they're still celebrating their surprise Emmy win last year, even as they hope for a repeat performance.
"A lot of the show's success has to do with the cast and the concept that allows them to do subtle acting and allows the writers to do comedy moments that aren't verbal jokes," said Greg Daniels, executive producer of the program. "A lot of times it's just the way the characters are behaving, and you're not exactly sure where the joke is. It's a little bit of a dry joke-telling voice. You have to put it together in your head to see it's absurd."
"Two and a Half Men" is the longest-running program in the category, having been on CBS since 2003. This is the second year it has been nominated for the top comedy trophy.
"We have an unbelievable, incredibly talented cast who should always be ducking because people are throwing trophies at them," said Chuck Lorre, the program's co-creator and executive producer. "When I get out of this hermetically sealed box in Burbank, it's really encouraging to see the show makes people laugh and they love the characters. That goes hand-in-hand, but it says a lot about these actors. If it ain't on the page, it ain't on the stage -- but it's got to be there, too."
For the members of HBO's "Entourage," the comedy's first comedy series nomination is a validation of the show's take on Hollywood behind closed doors.
"I attempt to make it a realistic look at Hollywood and how men talk, while still keeping it moving fast and no attempt at messages," said creator and executive producer Doug Ellin, who said he writes most of the drafts, yet changes a lot of things on set and welcomes input from the actors.
"It's the whole fantasy element, being able to buy Maseratis for your friends," said Kevin Dillon, up for supporting actor for his performance as Johnny Drama. "It's kind of a dream come true. The show is about friendship and how much the guys really care about each other. If not, you would get sick of them really fast."
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