How did ‘This Is Us’ break the broad­cast curse in the Emmy best drama cat­e­gory?

The Hamilton Spectator - - GO - EMILY YAHR

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 on 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 makeup, cos­tumes and cast­ing.

“The Good Wife” was the last broad­cast drama to be nom­i­nated, way back in 2011. Since then, it has been a ca­bleonly 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.

It’s a far cry from 1999, when HBO’s “The So­pra­nos” be­came the first ca­ble se­ries nom­i­nated for best drama, along­side “The Prac­tice,” “Law & Or­der,” “ER” and “NYPD Blue.” In 2002, “Six Feet Un­der” made it on the best drama list, and in 2008, “Dex­ter” and “Dam­ages” joined the ca­ble party. Crit­i­cally ac­claimed dra­mas in­creas­ingly mi­grated to ca­ble, and award show vot­ers re­ally love any­thing that screams “pres­tige.”

So, how did “This Is Us,” of all shows, break the broad­cast curse? For one, it was the rare fresh­man show of the 2016-2017 that man­aged to be a crit­i­cal dar­ling and a rat­ings hit. While CBS’s 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 Post’s TV critic Hank Stuever wrote ear­lier this year, 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 — we won’t give any­thing away, but let’s just say 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 like “This Is Us” gen­er­ally don’t stand a chance against the grit­tier ca­ble and stream­ing dra­mas, where pro­duc­ers don’t 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.”

Mandy Moore as Re­becca and Milo Ven­timiglia as Jack in "This Is Us."

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