In Depth

Expanding Definition of TV Comedy Series

Funny Women Lend Support Across Genre

“I love this category,” Frank N. Magid Associates Senior VP Jill Rosengard Hill said of supporting actress in a comedy series. “I think all of them in their own right have such unique, funny takes on their characters.”

It’s going to be a difficult year to pick among the five very funny actresses who all do stellar turns in their respective shows. What stands out this year is that these funny women are in a list of shows that redefines comedy. Three of the five nominations aren’t for the traditional 30-minute sitcom.

“Pushing Daisies” and “Ugly Betty,” both ABC shows, are an hour long. “It points out what’s considered comedy now,” said Horizon Media Senior VP Brad Adgate. “It’s not the half-hour sitcom. This is more like dramedy. There are light-hearted moments and comedic elements and quirkiness to these shows. But you could call them dramas as easily as comedies.”

Mr. Adgate noted NBC’s “Chuck” also fits this definition. “Even ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ has a comedic quirk,” he said. “I don’t know what the threshold is between comedy and drama.”

Amy Poehler, nominated as a performer in NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” represents the sketch comedy genre, a type of show rarely seen in this category. Ms. Rosengard Hill noted Ms. Poehler’s nomination brings something extra to the category. “She does both the writing and the performance, and it is just so brilliant,” she said. “It is very odd to have a variety show in here and it is a unique nomination. But she is a tentpole for ‘SNL’ and has not received the credit she deserves for the leadership, writing skills and downright hilarious performances she gives.”

When it comes to picking a winner, the experts TVWeek contacted couldn’t arrive at a consensus. “I love ‘Pushing Daisies,’” said Mr. Adgate. “I think it’s a really quirky show. Kristin Chenoweth is very talented, but she’s a Broadway star. It’s not that she’s a fish out of water—she’s good in the role—but I don’t think she’ll win.”

Ms. Rosengard Hill disagreed. “A newcomer—Kristin Chenoweth—has a brilliant role on ‘Pushing Daisies’ and executes it spot-on,” she said.

Ms. Chenoweth reported the role did indeed stretch her, but she noted she learns something from every role. “I don’t view it as TV, a play, Broadway,” she said. “If you’re being true in the moment, no matter what venue, you can’t go wrong. It’s fun playing Olive Snook because it’s a character that people can relate to, and one that has gotten to grow and have a real arc to her story. They also let Olive sing, and I think that’s sweet how they’ve done it. It’s integrated so it really works, like in life. And that’s fun for me as well.”

“Two and a Half Men” is one of the two traditional sitcoms on the list, and Holland Taylor, who plays Evelyn Harper, noted it takes a comedy to be able to play such a “bottomlessly evil person.”

“If I don’t fully commit to it, it’s not funny,” she said. “I have to land on it and be firmly on the awfulness of it, with full bravado. When I really get that’s the way to do it, it goes best.”

Like Jon Cryer, who is nominated for supporting actor in a comedy series for the show, she stressed the “extraordinary writing” that makes the show work and the fact that the cast “is a really good ensemble.”

Mr. Adgate names Jean Smart, who plays Regina Newly in sitcom “Samantha Who?,” as his pick to win. “She is great in the role and she’s very funny,” he said. “I’ve always liked her since ‘Designing Women.’ It’s a traditional comedic role, a first-year comedy, and it’s the only comedy returning on ABC.”

Ms. Smart downplayed her contribution: “People adore Christina Applegate, so they tune in.” But they stay for the comedy, which includes the mother-daughter relationship, and Ms. Smart’s take on a toxic mother. “It’s an ideal premise that you can mine,” she said. “The fact that it has turned out to be this much fun with incredible people has been a real gift.”