Breaking the Emmys' network drama curse

This Is Us, which stars Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia, received 11 Emmy nominations.
This Is Us, which stars Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia, received 11 Emmy nominations.PHOTO: WASHINGTON POST

WASHINGTON • One Emmy Award casualty in the prestige TV era? Network drama series.

In the last six years, exactly zero broadcast network dramas have been nominated in the best drama category - but that finally changed last Thursday, when NBC's breakout hit This Is Us nabbed 11 nominations for its first season.

Along with best drama, the series scored a slew of acting nods (Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia for lead drama actor; Chrissy Metz for supporting drama actress; Ron Cephas Jones for supporting drama actor; Brian Tyree Henry, Denis O'Hare and Gerald McRaney for guest drama actor) and landed others for make-up, costumes and casting.

The Good Wife was the last broadcast drama to be nominated, way back in 2011. Since then, it has been a cable-only parade, as acclaimed series such as Mad Men, Homeland and Breaking Bad dominated.

And when streaming arrived, House Of Cards and Orange Is The New Black crashed the party as well.

So, how did This Is Us, of all shows, break the broadcast curse? For one, it was the rare freshman show of the past year that managed to be a critical darling and a ratings hit.

While CBS' procedural Bull was technically the most-watched new series of the season with an average of 15.1 million viewers, This Is Us was close behind with about 14.8 million people watching every week.

Critics could take or leave Bull; for the most part, they love This Is Us. Viewers love it, too.

As The Washington Post's TV critic Hank Stuever wrote earlier this year (in a piece titled "You Need A Hug And A Good Cry, America, And That's What This Is Us Was Made For"), the sweetly sad series manages to hit an emotional nerve every week as it chronicles the adventures of the Pearson family in Pittsburgh.

The show came along at the perfect time, when many viewers are seeking an outlet for escapism.

"Forget your problems and focus on theirs: that's the great gift of the rare, relatable weekly weepy," he wrote.

"Tethered to a believable foundation, This Is Us satisfyingly counters its ups with precisely enough downs. It's a show that is pleasant and sad, but not too sad, not right now, no-thank-you."

Those elements put together are ideal Emmy bait, especially when voters award heartbreaking performances - the Pearson family goes through quite a few tragedies and the actors are up to the challenge.

In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, creator Dan Fogelman acknowledged that shows such as This Is Us generally do not stand a chance against the grittier cable and streaming dramas, where producers do not have the same broadcast restrictions.

But that makes the nomination all the better.

"It's kind of a populist dramedy, for lack of a better way of phrasing it. Those types of shows aren't usually in the conversation with the heavier, more serious fare," he said.

"So just to be seeing the name of our show amid all these other shows that are darker and weightier and fancier, it's really exciting for us."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 17, 2017, with the headline 'Breaking the Emmys' network drama curse'. Print Edition | Subscribe