In Depth

Taking Cues From Real World

Comedy Series Nominees Include Verite ‘Curb,’ Workplace Parodies ‘Rock,’ ‘Office’

The Emmy kings of comedy reign over their audiences from locations including a Malibu bachelor pad, the offices of a Pennsylvania paper company, a New York late-night sketch comedy show and hot spots frequented by the Hollywood elite.

CBS’ “Two and a Half Men,” HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Entourage” and NBC’s “The Office” and “30 Rock” are vying for the comedy series statuette at the Emmy Awards on Sept. 21.

Four of the five Emmy contenders—with the exception of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”—also competed for the crown last year, with “30 Rock” taking home the prize for its freshman season. This year the sitcom, starring Tina Fey as a sketch comedy writer and Alec Baldwin as her boss, racked up a staggering 17 nominations, second only to 23 nods for HBO’s miniseries “John Adams.”

“Curb Your Enthusiasm” is the longest-running of the comedy crowd, having premiered in 2000; this is its fifth nomination for the comedy series Emmy. Creator and executive producer Larry David stars as himself in a self-deprecating depiction of his life as a successful television producer. Shot in vérité style, the series follows Mr. David at home, at work and at play as he gets into predicaments with both fictional and real people.

To keep the storylines fresh, there is no formal script. The actors are given outlines of the scenes and often improvise their lines. The end of the sixth season saw the fallout from the breakup of Mr. David and his wife, Cheryl—played by Cheryl Hines—and each of them dating other people.

At “The Office,” entering its fifth season, there also were breakups, make-ups and new couples among the characters, who work in the offices of the fictional Dunder Mifflin paper company in Scranton, Pa.

Comedic inspiration for the series is drawn from everyday life at work, especially if one works for an often bumbling boss like the one played by Steve Carell.

“We have a staff of 12 to 14 writers, and everyone is listening to their friends and relatives in the business world, or we notice things we’re doing in our own offices, which are white-collar with computers and phones,” said Greg Daniels, executive producer of the show and one of its creators. “When something hits our world—like when we start watching YouTube videos or someone leaves a note on the refrigerator—that could be a story.”

“The Office” took home the Emmy for comedy series in 2006.

“Entourage” also has become an Emmy favorite in recent years. The half-hour comedy featuring Adrian Grenier, Kevin Connelly, Jerry Ferrara, Kevin Dillon and Jeremy Piven bowed in 2004. The conclusion of its previous season saw the group at the Cannes Film Festival, where their passion project “Medellin” bombed.

“The process of going out and making your own movie and getting trashed interested me, and I really latched on to that and wanted to take them through the whole process,” said Doug Ellin, the show’s creator, executive producer and writer. He said one of this season’s resonant and quintessential L.A. storylines—when Mr. Piven, as aggressive agent Ari Gold, tried to get his son into a private school—mirrored his own real-life experience with his son, who also played the boy in the episode.

In telling the stories of “Entourage” members trying to navigate the byways of Hollywood, the show has shot in some exotic locations. “It’s a challenge in the scope and place,” said Mr. Ellin. “U2 concerts, Sundance, Las Vegas, France—we want to make it look as good as possible,” he said, adding that he wasn’t expecting to get an Emmy nomination.

This year marks the fourth time “Two and a Half Men,” starring Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer as brothers who live in a Malibu beach house, has been nominated for the top comedy trophy since it premiered in 2003.

“You can’t ignore the fact that all the writers take steroids, human growth hormones and estrogen—very powerful for comedy writers,” said Chuck Lorre, the program’s co-creator and executive producer. He added that after five seasons, he enjoys the decadence of Mr. Sheen’s character and the biblical Job-like quality of Mr. Cryer’s.

“We put on a show every week that we laugh at and that we think is funny,” he said. “You can only hope others agree with you, but we know what we think is funny.”