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Can anything derail 'Glee' from Emmy glory?

It's a sign of just how much the genre has shifted recently that the front-runner in the best comedy series Emmy Awards category -- for the first time in more than a decade -- is an hourlong comedy-drama.
/ Source: Reuters

It's a sign of just how much the genre has shifted recently that the front-runner in the best comedy series Emmy Awards category — for the first time in more than a decade — is an hourlong comedy-drama.

Overlooked are such classic three-camera, laugh-track vehicles as "Two and a Half Men," "How I Met Your Mother" and "The Big Bang Theory," none of which made it into the final six nominees this year, despite the growing popularity of the latter in particular.

Instead, Fox's "Glee" will compete with two premium-cable shows (HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and Showtime's "Nurse Jackie"), NBC's "The Office" and "30 Rock" as well as ABC's "Modern Family."

Can any of them knock "Glee" from its front-runner perch when winners are announced on August 29?

Voters' ages might be a deciding factor. While the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences doesn't publicize the age and gender breakdown of its 15,000 members, they are widely believed to be older than the younger demographic toward which "Glee" skews.

"The perception has been that, if you're over 40, you don't like to have fun watching TV," one insider says. And "Glee" is nothing if not fun.

But chairman John Shaffner says the assumption that the TV Academy largely comprises people age 50 and older is wrong.

"The reality is that voting members are professionals in all adult age groups," he says. (A study that The Hollywood Reporter conducted last year revealed that the parallel motion picture Academy has an average membership age of 57.7 years.)

Kids could influence votersStill, age will be just one factor in this race. Even more important, says TV academy member and writer-producer Marc Guggenheim (ABC's "Brothers and Sisters"), is a show's buzz factor.

"(A series' overall) commercial success is driving awards, more than anything else," he argues.

There's a reason for this: Emmy voters might receive nominated programs in the form of DVDs, but they are inevitably influenced by the shows they like to watch on a regular basis. They're also influenced by the families with which they watch them; meaning older voters may be influenced by their kids.

If Guggenheim is right, this favors "Glee," which consistently led the ratings last season with an average of 11.1 million viewers. It also overwhelmed its Emmy competition among adults 18-49, a demographic coveted by advertisers.

ABC's dark-horse candidate "Modern Family," averaged 9.6 million viewers. While respected — especially for its five supporting nominees — "Family" hasn't yet gained the massive traction of its Fox competitor.

After six seasons, NBC's "The Office" still retains a strong following, averaging almost 8.9 million viewers. But the show has already won once, during its heyday in 2006, and has been overshadowed in recent years by reigning three-time champ "30 Rock." Despite "Rock's" self-perpetuated joke that no one actually watches the show, the show averaged 6.7 million viewers.

Cable's offerings — the seven-season-old "Curb" and "Nurse Jackie," fresh off its second season — lack official demographics as they are on pay cable networks that don't cater to advertisers; but last season they averaged 5.7 million and 3.6 million viewers, respectively.

Still, if commercial success is as important as Guggenheim believes, being on cable will hurt these series.

"They just don't have the same level of exposure as network shows," says analyst Larry Gerbrandt of Media Valuation Partners. "When you're less accessible, it's a handicap."

By contrast, what might help these shows is how different they are from the kind of sitcom that has mostly been excluded this year.

The absence of "Two and a Half Men," "How I Met Your Mother" and "Big Bang Theory" (all on CBS) has created a singular void: Not one of this year's nominated comedies has a traditional laugh-track, multicamera format.

This might indicate that Emmy voters are looking for something less conventional.

But will "Glee" just seem too unconventional — at least for those determined to reward an actual comedy? Will it be seen as too much of a dramedy to get the comedy vote, which would make it the first one-hour show to take home the trophy since Fox's "Ally McBeal" in 1999? Back then, insiders were surprised when that series was even entered as a comedy.

"'Glee' feels much like 'Ally' did," Guggenheim says. "(But) there's no real litmus test anymore. If you combine drama with comedy, the comedy is more funny and the drama more dramatic. The counterpoint brings out the essence in both tones."

Adds one of "Glee's" directors, Paris Barclay (he's nominated for the "Wheels" episode): "I was raised on comedies like 'Andy Griffith.' There wasn't this broad expectation of laughter in every scene. In some ways, we are reinventing our childhoods through these contemporary comedies. All around, the characters feel more like real people."

As for the "Glee" writers themselves — Ryan Murphy, Ian Brennan and Brad Falchuck — they say they've never questioned their show's genre.

"Not every comedy is designed to be 'joke, set-up, joke, set-up, joke,'" Brennan says. "People's tastes are broader now. It's actually a credit to the academy and to viewers that ('Glee' is in this race) — even though we are probably a little more than just a 'comedy.'"