Why the Procedural Drama — a TV Staple and Historically a Heavyweight on Awards Night — May Never Win Another Emmy for Best Drama

Jul 31, 2014  •  Post A Comment

The chance for a procedural series to win an Emmy for best drama — or for that matter, to even be nominated — appears to be slipping away. That’s the premise of an insightful piece by TV columnist Brian Lowry, writing in Variety.

This year’s nominees, Lowry notes, are all serialized, “highlighting an appetite for such storytelling that has permeated not just television, where it has found its deepest and most satisfying roots, but multiple forms of entertainment.”

“Indeed, modern-day film franchises have adopted a serialized approach, as evidenced by the book-to-screen successes that have become such lucrative annuities, from ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ to ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Hunger Games,'” Lowry writes.

But it is on television where the serialized drama appears to work best, as productions from “The Sopranos” to “Downton Abbey,” from “Mad Men” to “The Wire” to “Breaking Bad,” “House of Cards” and “True Detective” have proved and continue to prove.

Writes Lowry: “All roads lead toward a rarefied appetite for novelized stories — the more dense, the better — which ties into other factors and helps explain why the argument about the most creatively satisfying medium has tilted so heavily in TV’s favor.

“Because once the audience has acquired a taste for the thoroughly unpredictable turns of ‘Breaking Bad,’ say, it’s hard to get quite as excited about something that labors to provide closure, or at least a semblance of it, each week. And given the challenges associated with conjuring those twists and writing one’s way out of corners, it’s a sizable advantage to produce a dozen or fewer episodes a year than 20 or 22.”

Lowry notes that a project such as HBO’s “True Detective” has the advantage of being able to “focus on a single story with laser-like intensity, just as ‘Downton Abbey’ can arc a season around its sprawling cast and ‘House of Cards’ can chart the next leg of Frank Underwood’s campaign for power from beginning to end.”

But the piece notes that broadcasters continue to champion the drawing power of the procedural, with CBS’s “NCIS,” for example, topping almost every cable drama in the ratings. (“The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” would be two major exceptions.)

“Nevertheless, the major networks’ own evolution and experimentation — from short orders to limited series to programs like ‘The Blacklist’ that wed nabbing different bad guys each week with an ongoing mythology — indicate their realization that this is an itch it behooves them to scratch,” Lowry writes.

We urge you to read Lowry’s entire column by clicking on the link in the top paragraph, above.

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