Part 2: How The Drama Awards Show A Problem
To be fair to the Golden Globes, they led the way nearly as much in recognizing great drama as they did great comedy. Three months after the Emmys basically short-changed The Sopranos brilliant premiere season, the Golden Globes gave it the recognition it fully deserved, giving it prizes for Best Drama, James Gandolfini as Best Actor, Edie Falco as Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress to Nancy Marchand. It would be part of a long string of the Golden Globes great record of acknowledging Peak TV, giving the Best Drama prize to Six Feet Under in 2002 (something the Emmys would never do) and The Shield in 2003 (the Emmys would never even nominate it for Best Drama. Throughout the next several years they would be far above the curve when it came to the Emmys, giving 24 the Best Drama prize three seasons before the Emmys did and acknowledging Grey’s Anatomy in 2007 (something the Emmys has never and probably never will do) They also gave trophies to Actors who would never duplicate their success at the Emmys, such as Ian McShane for Deadwood in 2004, Sandra Oh for Grey’s Anatomy in 2006 and Hugh Laurie for House in 2005 and 2007. (His speeches have often been the high point of the ceremony.)
All of this would seem to indicate that the Golden Globes was doing a fine job when it came to recognizing Great Television. Unfortunately, their biggest blind spot is one of the great omissions in TV history. It is all the more glaring because even though the HFPA were willing to recognize three of the greatest shows at the forefront of HBO, they were never willing to acknowledge The Wire. And it’s a lot harder to justify the Golden Globes refusal to acknowledge the series many great actors when years later, they were more than willing to nominate Idris Elba and Dominic West — two of the shows breakout stars — with nomination for multiple series, but not the one where they gave their best work.
This pattern becomes even clearer when you consider their similar refusal to recognize Treme, David Simon’s follow up drama set in contemporary New Orleans. Bluntly speaking, this is the kind of show the Globes are more inclined to acknowledge in their Best Musical or Comedy Series category. Considering they were more than willing to recognize Glee (two years running) and were even willing to go so far as to nominate Smash one of the biggest trainwrecks in TV history, it’s frankly appalling that Treme was completely shut out. Treme was clearly not as good as The Wire, but it sure as hell was a as good as Glee and it was beyond better than Smash. What did those shows have that Treme didn’t?
(To be fair, David Simon has never had a great track record with the Globes. They basically ignored The Deuce, a more imaginative and star-friendly series, Show Me A Hero and The Plot Against America. The latter series, which had a predominantly white cast, was shutout across the board. There’s something about the work of David Simon that major awards groups just can’t get a handle on.).
But perhaps what makes this particularly group of slights all the more appalling is that, to be blunt, from the mid-1990s to roughly 2015, when it came to the TV the Hollywood Foreign Press was basically sucking on HBO’s teat. Again, this is not entirely either groups fault. Three of the major categories of the Globes — Best Movie/Limited Series, Best Actor and Best Actress in a Movie in a Limited Series — were basically completely controlled by HBO during that period. This was basically less because HBO was that good — though many of their projects were — then the fact that almost every other network was getting a score of ‘absent’. The broadcast networks would basically abandon the field altogether by 2001; Showtime would try for several years before more or less surrendering in 2005; TNT would compete for awhile, but give up around the same time and FX would not become a serious competitor until 2011. When one company has a monopoly on the goods, there’s nothing the buyers can do.
It doesn’t, however, excuse the fact that during this same period, the Golden Globes would nominate a group of series multiple times that were clearly inferior. Big Love and Boardwalk Empire were undervalued gems, but it’s hard to argue for the nominations of True Blood, In Treatment and most egregiously Hung an utterly forgettable series about a male prostitute were quality choices. (Paradoxically, HBO’s biggest success in the past decade, Game of Thrones was basically ignored altogether by the Golden Globes, only winning a single prize during its entire run.) I have often wondered the HFPA and HBO had some kind of backscratching arrangement during those years. Considering some of the other scandals, I might not be far off.
Now to be clear, a lot of the choices the Golden Globes have made in the past decade were pretty daring. They were willing to recognize Showtime not just for its hit series Dexter and Homeland, but for lesser charmers like The Borgias and The Affair. They’ve been more than willing to acknowledge Starz, a network that the Emmys still hasn’t acknowledged for underrated gems like Boss and Magic City before hitting the sweet spot in Outlander. They were more than willing to acknowledge Mr. Robot one of the greatest creations of the past decade, and The Americans, neither of which the Emmys was willing to let defeat the Game of Thrones juggernaut. And you have to give them credit for giving Emmys to actors the Emmys won’t like Taraj P. Henson for her work on Empire and Katey Segal for her blinding work on Son of Anar. Did Billy Bob Thornton deserve to win for Goliath? No, but his speech was good. (Besides, they gave him the grand prize for Fargo so credit where its due.)
So the Golden Globes history when it comes to Drama (and to a certain extent when it comes to TV Movies) is a decidedly mixed bag. In my next piece, I will move away from the specific to deal with some of the more general flaws in the nominations over the last twenty years.