The 67th annual Emmy nominations were announced last week and to my surprise the hit FOX drama Empire only earned on major nomination in the Best Actress, Drama category for Taraji P. Henson as ferocious mother Lyon, Cookie.
While the writers, producers and fans fully embrace the soapy goodness that is EMPIRE, the Television Academy traditionally shuns away from the genre. But, I thought this year would be different. First, this year the Television Academy eliminated paper ballots and all voting was done online so voting would be more appealing to the younger member base allowing for some fresh blood among the nominees. Secondly, EMPIRE was a ratings juggernaut right out of the gate, growing each week during its ten episode run. Lastly, it’s a wonderfully written and produced show!
Fun fact, in its first season, GLEE earned 20 Emmy nominations, including one for Best Comedy Series. Why am I mentioning GLEE? Well, let’s walk through it. GLEE was an hour-long show featuring combative relationships, musical productions, a breakout female lead and an emotional gay coming-out story. EMPIRE has all of these elements, plus the distinction of centering around a wealthy African-American family. Yes, a black tv family richer than the Jefferson and Huxtable families combined! In 2014, broadcast television finally had a hit drama featuring a predominantly African-American cast, something only cable has been able to achieve with Showtime’s SOUL FOOD and more recently, the Tyler Perry offerings on OWN.
Ethnicity aside, EMPIRE put on amazing production, week-to-week. Unlike GLEE, EMPIRE produced original music in every episode with amazing performances by largely unknown talent. The show also honestly tackled homophobia in the black community. The sometimes heart wrenching journey of Jamal as he fought to gain his father’s acceptance of not just his sexuality but also his talent was one of the finest stories told on television this season. The image of patriarch Lucious angrily putting a young Jamal in a trash can after seeing the boy in his mother’s high heels and scarf still haunts me.
It’s time for academy members to get over this misconception that serialized dramas they consider soap operas are not Emmy worthy and remember that many of them nominated the 1980s soap DALLAS for Best Drama, twice, awarding Barbara Bel Geddes (Miss Ellie Ewing) the Best Actress trophy in 1980. And, let’s not forget that many of this year’s nominees are serialized, contain over the top story telling and, in the case of GAME OF THRONES are pure fantasy (she talks to dragons, folks).
EMPIRE could still make history if Taraji P. Henson wins for Best Actress, making her the first African-American woman to win in the category. She faces stiff competition, including fellow African-American nominee Viola Davis for HOW TO GET AWAY WITH MURDER.
At least EMPIRE is a part of the EMMY conversation and if it can avoid the sophomore slump, there’s always next year!
*Full disclosure, I’m a voting member of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.*
Are you a fan of EMPIRE? Which of the nominated dramas would you replace with EMPIRE on the ballot?
- BETTER CALL SAUL (AMC)
- DOWNTON ABBEY (PBS)
- GAME OF THRONES (HBO)
- HOMELAND (SHOWTIME)
- HOUSE OF CARDS (NETFLIX)
- MAD MEN (AMC)
- ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK (NETFLIX)