In Depth

Writing Makes a Dramatic Difference

Supporting Actors Stand Out From Crowd

As the Eisenhower era drew to a close and the short-lived, well-heeled magic of John F. Kennedy’s Camelot rose to replace it, a bunch of white guys in Manhattan decided to change the world, one slogan at a time.

AMC’s “Mad Men,” the freshman series that wowed the critics, waltzed off with 16 Emmy nominations, including one for supporting actor John Slattery as agency partner Roger Sterling. He’s a victim of old-fashioned cool who’s mired in the attitudes, cigarette haze and gin of Madison Avenue and who thinks, like most of his cronies, that he’s ahead of the curve.

The ad men are “cutting-edge dinosaurs,” Mr. Slattery said. “It’s just about people who happen to be in an iconic period. You can look back to the ’60s—the election of JFK, the assassination of JFK, landing on the moon. But to the people who were there, they were just in a particular situation that seems more heightened now.”

It was the writing style that drew him to Matthew Weiner’s pilot script, Mr. Slattery said, but not in the grab-you-by-the-throat way that sets some scripts apart.

“The writing was not like anything else,” Mr. Slattery said. “It wasn’t smacking you on the head with a message or trying to be brilliant. It was confident in its ability to tell a story, and it had a feeling of going somewhere unique.”

The characters, he said, “are people who are creating images of themselves that they want to project into the world, and then trying to live up to those images. Look at the character of Don Draper [played by Jon Hamm]. He created his own identity, larger than life, and now he’s projecting that image.”

Working with his wife, Talia Balsam, who also plays his wife on the show, saves a lot of time in terms of relationship development, Mr. Slattery said. “We don’t have to fake a lot of context, so it makes projecting everything that much easier.”

Six-time Emmy nominee and two-time winner (for “Boston Legal” and “The Practice”) William Shatner, who has been around long enough to win a little respect, is again nominated as supporting actor in a drama for his portrayal of Denny Crane on ABC’s “Boston Legal,” a David E. Kelley Production in association with Twentieth Century Fox Television.

FX’s “Damages,” from FX Productions and Sony Pictures Television, produced two nominees for supporting actor in a drama. Veteran Ted Danson, who won twice as lead actor in a comedy series for “Cheers,” was nominated 10 consecutive times for his portrayal of Sam Malone, and received another nomination for the made-for-TV movie “Something About Amelia.” Mr. Danson, who plays billionaire Arthur Frobisher, the target of a class-action lawsuit, goes up for this year’s supporting honor along with Broadway and TV veteran Zeljko Ivanek, who plays Mr. Frobisher’s crafty attorney Ray Fiske. In a season particularly marked by the appearance of top actors in more than one ace production, Mr. Ivanek also appeared as Pennsylvania Rep. John Dickinson in HBO’s miniseries “John Adams.”

ABC’s “Lost,” an ABC Studios production, made a stunning recovery from the writers strike in time to nab a nomination for Michael Emerson as the reprehensible Ben Linus. Mr. Emerson, an Emmy winner in 2001 for guest actor for “The Practice,” was also nominated last year in the supporting category, losing to fellow “Lost” cast member Terry O’Quinn.