The Emmys Before The Emmys

By  · Published on September 13th, 2016

Breaking down the 2016 Creative Arts Emmy Award Winners

Over the past few years, rapid increases in content production have inspired the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to repeatedly add prize categories to the Creative Arts Emmy Awards. After the ceremony’s length hit an untenable peak last year, the academy chose to split this year’s awards into two parts that would occur on the weekend before the Primetime Emmy Awards. Consequently, members of the academy and celebrities galore met this Saturday and Sunday to honor the nonperforming categories of TV production. With over 80 categories across fields including editing, costuming, and directing, summarizing the Creative Arts Emmy Awards is quite an endeavor. To make this easier, I’ve broken down an assortment of award winners into three categories based on the winners’ likelihoods of victory.

The Usual Suspects

I’ll keep this section brief. Perennial favorites dominated the Creative Arts Emmy Awards. Game of Thrones led the pack with nine wins, an unsurprising result considering its status as the most nominated program. Among others, the series received its fifth consecutive win for special visual effects and the award for best casting in a drama series. The HBO juggernaut is also a favorite going into this weekend, where it is up for eight Primetime Emmy Awards.

Another standout was The People v. O.J. Simpson, which won four awards on Saturday night. In addition to its wins for picture editing, sound mixing, hairstyling, and casting in the limited series designation, its Inside Look segments won for short form nonfiction or reality series. Keep an eye out for its 13 nominations in six categories at this Sunday’s ceremony as well.

On the nonfiction side, Making a Murderer cleaned up. The Netflix documentary series converted four of its six nominations this weekend. The show’s creators were thrilled to take home awards in the top 3 nonfiction categories, best documentary or nonfiction series; best writing; and best directing, but also stood firm in their commitment to bring about justice. Backstage at the event, co-creator Moira Demos expressed that Brendan Dassey’s overturned conviction is only one step in an on-going process they will document in future episodes of the series.

Pleasant Surprises

Unlike in the first category, these wins were not a certainty. At the same time, they’re not too shocking either.

Continuing HBO’s streak, Last Week Tonight went home with its first Emmy for best variety series writing. With a new host on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report off the air, the category was wide open for the first time in a decade. While The Daily Show is still entertaining, Last Week Tonight has become the television home for a mixture of in-depth criticism and biting satire. It’s all too appropriate that the series won this year, especially because both John Oliver and writer Tim Carvell won Emmys while working on Jon Stewart’s program.

Though NBC is responsible for the resurgence of live TV musicals, Fox’s Grease: Live was the first to beat out three awards ceremonies (and the Super Bowl 50 Halftime Show) and win for best special class program. Considering that only one other recent TV musical, NBC’s The Sound of Music Live, has been nominated in this category, the Grease win was impressive. But the production, as directed by Hamilton’s Thomas Kail, did not stop there. The musical also won for both production design and lighting design in a variety special, as well as for technical direction for a limited series, movie, or special.

After years of playing second fiddle to shows like South Park and last year’s winner Bob’s Burgers, Archer picked up its first Emmy for Outstanding Animated Series after three years of nomination. Though some fans have been disappointed in the show’s recent seasons, the win represents recognition for its hilarious track record and its attempts to stay fresh with new spins on its premise. It remains to be seen how well the series will hold up over its next three seasons with FX.

For the second year in a row, character actress Margo Martindale won for best guest actress in a drama series. Her two awards are The Americans only Emmy wins to date, though the series received nominates for best series, best lead actor (Matthew Rhys), and best lead actress (Keri Russell) this year. Though she and the show are deserving of praise, I tend to agree with Alan Sepinwall of Hitfix when he said, especially because she was in one scene all season, “Compared to some of the other performances in that category – and particularly Laurie Metcalf’s jaw-dropping work in the third episode of Horace and Pete— she barely had business being nominated, let alone winning.” Sepinwall credits her win to changes in Emmy rules, which now allow the entire TV academy membership to vote in the final round, rather than just the “blue-ribbon panel” for each category of previous years.

Unexpected Treasures

These are the REAL winners. Okay, everyone is a real winner, but these are the people and teams whose wins were both surprising and amazing.

First of all, RuPaul Charles won the Emmy Award for outstanding host for a reality or reality competition series. After eight seasons of hosting duties, the icon converted his first nomination for Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race. Speaking backstage at the event, Charles remarked, “I came here thinking I got invited to the prom and I’m going to dance my ass off tonight, but I didn’t expect that I would have this in my hand while I was dancing. It’s a very special night not just for me but for all the young people around the world who dance to the beat of a different drummer.” The win is not only well-deserved, but it is also a victory for the LGBT and drag community that Charles has supported his entire life.

The next highlight was historic in another sense. Amy Poehler has received 17 Emmy nominations but did not win one until this weekend. Along with Tina Fey, Poehler won for best comedy series guest actress for hosting the Christmas episode of Saturday Night Live. Their win was also the first in Emmy history for joint winners in an acting category.

The Alternate Emmy Nominations

Before the Emmy nominations were announced in July, Erica Bahrenburg wrote a piece that focused on well-qualified, unlikely potential nominees. She cannily named a few actors who ended up receiving nominations, like the aforementioned leads in The Americans; Constance Zimmer for UnREAL; Andre Braugher for Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Judith Light for Transparent; and Titus Burgess for Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Unfortunately, some of the other performances and series went unrecognized by the Primetime Emmy Awards.

However, the TV Academy helped compensate for these snubs by awarding Jessica Jones and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend their first Emmys this weekend. The former won for outstanding original main title theme music and the latter won for single-camera picture editing for a comedy series. It’s heartening to see such outstanding, female-centered shows receive recognition from the academy, though I hope they show up in the Primetime categories next year.

The most unexpected win came for Peter Scolari in Girls. Scolari, who won for outstanding guest actor in a comedy series, only received his nomination after Peter MacNichol was deemed ineligible for appearing in too many episodes of Veep to be considered a guest star. With the next highest amount of votes in nominations balloting, Scolari entered the race late and still ended up victorious. Who said awards ceremonies can’t be exciting?

If you’re interested in the full list of winners from this weekend’s Creative Arts Emmy Awards, then check out this excellent article from The Hollywood Reporter. The ceremony itself will air in an edited form on Saturday, September 17th at 8 p.m. on FXX. And, of course, the Primetime Emmy Awards air this Sunday, September 19th, at 5 p.m. Pacific/8 p.m. Eastern.

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