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Fishing For Emmys

Winning an Emmy is a lot like fishing. Fish aren’t going to nibble on a bare hook, and voters aren’t inclined to pick a performance with no meat to it. When there is a big, fat, succulent worm, wriggling ferociously at the end of a line, fish will devour it without question. Voters, meanwhile, can be most easily lured with unforgettably dynamic performances.

Each lead acting nominee (in drama and comedy) has to submit a single episode from their season and they are judged solely on these tapes. While rewarding veterans or famous actors is popular in the TV Movie and Miniseries categories, what makes voters’ mouths water here is a performance with range, guts, and the impact of a Mack truck. A performance so alive and juicy that voters will have no choice to eat it up.

By now, most actors know what the voters are looking for when submitting a tape, but some have the system down a bit more than others. How do you think Allison Janney has won four of them? Her speech in the “Women of Qumar” episode of West Wing, where she exclaims, “They beat women, Nancy. They hate women,” and the phone call to her ailing father in the episode “Access” sealed her fate the last two times she won. James Spader clinched his Emmy last year with his final, desperate speech to the Texan court in Boston Legal’s “Death Be Not Proud” ep.

The most prominent example of a killer Emmy tape in recent history is Sopranos episode “Whitecaps”, where Carmella gets a phone call from one of Tony’s mistresses and all hell breaks loose. It won both Edie Falco and James Gandolfini Emmys for what was some of the showiest (and most brilliant) acting I’ve ever seen on television. No one was going to beat them that year.

What does this mean for this year’s nominees? Who’s got the wriggling worm and who’s stuck with a bare hook? Kiefer fans, I’m sorry to say that Jack Bauer is never going to win an Emmy. They aren’t going to vote for him if he’s shooting, torturing and killing. They want epic monologues and profound character revelations. This category comes down to Denis Leary and Christopher Meloni. Leary’s character gets to mourn the death of his son and Meloni’s reveals that he was abused as a young boy. Both will leave voters salivating, but ultimately it’s Leary that delivers the bigger punch.

Drama Actress is a bit more muddled since you have several nominees with killer tapes. Despite a strange consensus that Geena Davis will win, she absolutely is in dead last. Her tape is dull, and the only “big” thing in it are those lips of hers. Conroy cries nonstop, Hargitay gets a 911 call from an abused child, Sedgwick is nearly raped, and Janney admits she doesn’t know how to have a real relationship. Any of them could win, but I have a feeling voters will fall for Janney one last time.

On the comedy side, Steve Carell is the biggest star in the category, and gives my favorite performance of the nominees in The Office episode “The Injury.” But he lacks that Emmy clinching scene. Perhaps if he submitted a more sympathetic episode he would be the frontrunner, but don’t be surprised to see Monk’s Tony Shalhoub win…again.

In Comedy Actress, Julia Louis Dreyfus has the buzz (and the only returning show in Old Christine), but you can expect Jane Kaczmarekto finally take it for her hilarious and heart-wrenching performance in Malcolm in the Middle’s, “Lost Strikes Back.” Even though Stockard Channing could probably get nominated for burping the alphabet, she won’t be playing a role in this race. It being Kaczmarek’s seventh straight nomination for Malcolm without a win helps, but for the first time, she has that clincher of a scene. She’s hilarious in getting revenge on the girls who humiliated her son, but will truly wallop the voters with a scene where she admits the reason why Reese is so violent is because she has been a terrible mother.

It’s the filet mignon of bait.

By Intern Gordie Steiner