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Emmy Spotlight 2007: Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Jun 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

The good news is that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has one more chance to finally honor “Gilmore Girls'” Lauren Graham.
The bad news is that Ms. Graham stars on a frequently funny drama with a largely female cast that has an audience largely made up of teenage girls, which airs on the youth-skewing CW network (which, in turn, is the successor to the just as overlooked UPN and The WB).
A victim of circumstances, Ms. Graham has been called the poster child for the great divide between the industry and the critics, with Entertainment Weekly TV writer Ken Tucker calling the perennial ignorance of Ms. Graham’s performance and the show’s smart writing an “eternal scandal.”
Of course, there are years when the Academy, viewers and critics are in alignment, but the discrepancies are what constitute the annual dialogue about who should, but who won’t, be nominated.
“Whether it’s reasonable, and it isn’t, dramas that are specifically targeted at a female audience tend to not be given the same gravity that a strong male lead gets,” said Bill Carroll, director of programming for Katz Television.
So although Ms. Graham has been mastering Lorelai Gilmore’s rat-a-tat dialogue and comic timing, and the series’ emotional gravitas has been registering with its fiercely loyal viewers for seven years, the overall nature of the show has been simultaneously working against it at Emmy time.
Combined with the departure this past season of series creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who was responsible for much of that crackerjack wit, it’s even more unlikely that this will be the year for that Emmy nomination, much less what critics call Ms. Graham’s long-deserved win.
Same goes for Kristen Bell of “Veronica Mars,” which was unceremoniously canceled after three years of gasping for breath on The WB and The CW.
One actress who has had no trouble reaping the same honors as her series’ male counterpart is “The Sopranos'” Edie Falco, a three-time Emmy winner who already received a Golden Globe nomination this year as she comes off her final season playing the long-suffering yet devoted—to a point—wife Carmela Soprano on HBO’s landmark drama series.
Boosting Ms. Falco’s chances for a statuette is the bowing out of frequent competitors Frances Conroy (“Six Feet Under”) and Allison Janney (“The West Wing”), both of whom were nominated for their shows’ final season last year, while Ms. Falco was passed over.
The Los Angeles Times’ Paul Brownfield called the snub, which came after a particularly strong season for Ms. Falco, a “ridiculous omission,” noting she has “arguably done more to raise the bar for the kind of performance you can wrench out of a TV series than anyone nominated in the category.”
Another frontrunner this year is veteran Sally Field, whose turn as the matriarch of the extended Walker clan on ABC’s breakout hit “Brothers and Sisters” has critics welcoming the two-time Oscar winner back to the small screen.
“Certainly you can’t ignore a major movie star,” Mr. Carroll said. “What they bring to the screen is the history of their work. Obviously, that’s going to come into play.”
Other critics’ favorites include 2007 Golden Globe winner Kyra Sedgwick, a one-woman case-cracker on “The Closer,” and 2006 Emmy winner and 2007 Golden Globe nominee Mariska Hargitay, whose performances have benefited from “Law & Order: SVU’s” increasing focus on its detectives’ personal lives. This season, Ms. Hargitay’s Olivia Benson spent half the season undercover (the actress missed six episodes while on maternity leave) and then learned she had a half-brother who might be a serial rapist.
Not to be overlooked are fellow Golden Globe nominees Evangeline Lilly of “Lost” and Ellen Pompeo of “Grey’s Anatomy,” both stars of top-rated shows and standout members of densely populated ensemble casts.
Even more likely to follow her Golden Globe nomination with an Emmy nod, however, is “Medium’s” Patricia Arquette, also a winner in 2005 for her performance as psychic wife and mother Alison Dubois, who solves murder cases for the Phoenix district attorney with the help of messages she receives from the victims.
Rounding out the top five could be Minnie Driver, whose biting turn in FX’s “The Riches,” as a con woman whose nomadic family has stepped into the vacated shoes of some dead upper-middle-class suburbanites, has been a highlight of the new dramedy. And the Academy has been known to recognize the pioneering efforts of FX, giving Michael Chiklis an Emmy for “The Shield’s” first season in 2002.
Perhaps hoping the Academy might learn from the fallout it has caused by ignoring Ms. Graham year after year, some are rooting for a nomination for Mary McDonnell, who plays the secretary of education-turned-ailing president of an apocalyptically decimated world on the critically acclaimed “Battlestar Galactica,” a show “so beautifully shot, edited and acted that you can practically taste its emotional validity,” according to Newsday’s Diane Werts.
At a Glance
Leading Contender
Edie Falco, “The Sopranos” (HBO)
Other Likely Nominees
Kyra Sedgwick, “The Closer” (TNT)
Mariska Hargitay, “Law & Order: SVU” (NBC)
Sally Field, “Brothers and Sisters” (ABC)
Patricia Arquette, “Medium” (NBC)
Solid Picks
Evangeline Lilly, “Lost” (ABC)
Ellen Pompeo, “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC)
Dark Horse
Minnie Driver, “The Riches” (FX)
Deserves aNomination But Won’t Get One
Lauren Graham, “Gilmore Girls” (The CW)

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