Saturday, March 25, 2023

Canceled But Not Forgotten: How ‘Lovecraft Country’ and ‘Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’ Are Still in the Emmy Hunt


Earlier this spring, I had the privilege of moderating a panel with the always joyful cast of one of my favorite recent comedies, “Superstore.” But the timing was unfortunate: Just days beforehand, NBC had announced that the show was ending its run.

You would have excused the cast for not exactly being on cloud nine with the news. But they handled it like pros — and when I asked them to address the elephant in the room, they cleverly took out the network talking points and read, word-for-word, how they had been coached to explain the sudden decision to end the show. It was amusing in its awkwardness.

Much to my disappointment, “Superstore” didn’t land an Emmy nomination in what ended up being its final season. But this Emmy season is filled with many other examples of such discomfiture. And it starts with “Lovecraft Country.”

Canceled series regularly receive Emmy nods — but rarely at the level that the HBO drama did this year. “Lovecraft Country” scored a whopping 18 nominations, the most of any program from HBO (or its sister HBO Max streamer), and more than anything else on cable.

“Lovecraft Country” was not only nominated for outstanding drama series, but stars Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors received their first-ever Emmy nods, while supporting performers Aunjanue Ellis and Michael K. Williams were also recognized with noms.

Hell, even “Game of Thrones” received fewer noms —a still-respectable 13 — in its freshman year. Like “Thrones,” “Lovecraft Country” utilizes genre (in this case, horror), something that isn’t often recognized by Television Academy voters. But “Lovecraft” was so much more than that, a unique and striking story of the brutality of violence against Blacks in Jim Crow-era America, and the story of resistance by those who took on those forces.

The announcement of the cancellation of “Lovecraft Country” came on July 2, after nomination round voting had already ended — which means there was no way the show could have shifted to the limited series category. It also means those nominations were decided without any knowledge by voters of whether there would be a second season.

Creator Misha Green hasn’t publicly commented on the bittersweet nature of scoring so many Emmy noms right after learning the show wouldn’t continue. But she did reveal on Twitter plans for a second season with a dramatically different story, one focused on a segregated, post-zombie apocalypse United States.

It’s gotta be a touch uncomfortable for the HBO folks to plan out the phase 2 campaign for “Lovecraft Country,” given the obvious question that is front of mind. But it is the network’s most celebrated show this year, presenting them a bit of a conundrum.

That’s also the case with NBC and “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist,” which received five nominations — the second-most of any primetime broadcast series, behind only “This Is Us.” “Zoey” was a show on the bubble, and insiders share that part of the debate inside NBC had to do with the fact that it was, indeed, one of the few broadcast shows to receive Emmy attention (even if the ratings didn’t match the critical acclaim). But “Zoey’s” was canceled in June, just days before nomination voting began.

“Zoey’s” didn’t make any of the top categories, but it did receive one for guest actress (Bernadette Peters), while creator Austin Winsberg landed a nom, with others, for original music and lyrics. The campaign to save “Zoey’s” continues, and was bolstered recently when the Television Critics Assn. gave the show a nom for achievement in comedy.

And what about a canceled network? That’s the case with Quibi, which received 8 nominations this year, but doesn’t even exist anymore. (Those shorts now run on Roku.)

Do canceled shows have much of a chance at the Emmys? There have been several winners over the years, including Kristin Chenoweth (“Pushing Daisies”) and Blythe Danner (“Huff”). Chenoweth famously used her acceptance speech to jokingly look for work: “I’m unemployed now, so I’d like to be on ‘Mad Men,’” she quipped. Here’s hoping Emmy pays some attention to this year’s worthy, dearly departed shows.


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