The art of the samba, the perils of the sea, the secrets of souffles and the oeuvre of actors. All are on display next to equally exotic occupations and subjects in the reality program, reality-competition program and nonfiction series categories for the 60th annual Emmy Awards.
The latter two categories will be announced during the E!-televised Creative Arts portion; the winner of the reality program will be unveiled on September 21 during the main Primetime Emmys ceremony.
For the first time, Emmy will also honor the best reality host. Each nominee will get a chance to strut on the stage during the ABC telecast — because they'll be hosting the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
A more diverse set of competitors would be hard to find, but what they all have in common is a need to amp up the drama of their subjects, while still keeping it "real" enough for reality TV.
On the listThe reality program category may feel familiar; if so, that's because three of the honorees from 2007 are back — ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition," Bravo's "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List," and PBS' "Antiques Roadshow." "Makeover" deserves props for doing good work in the midst of a declining housing market (though even its homes have not been free of foreclosure) and is the strongest of the vets, with four prior nominations and two wins in the category. "D-List" broke "Makeover's" two-year winning streak in 2007, but Griffin didn't exactly endear herself in her acceptance speech, when she said, "Suck it, Jesus." "Roadshow" has had five additional nominations in three categories over the years — it was once considered in the nonfiction program (alternative) and then the nonfiction series (informational) categories — but zero wins.
That makes the newcomers — A&E's "Intervention" and Discovery Channel's "Dirty Jobs" — wild cards. If the television academy is looking to shake up the category a bit, these gritty shows may be the ones to do it.
Perhaps surprisingly, "Makeover" co-executive producer Denise Cramsey is a fan of "Dirty Jobs." "I love that show, and I know how hard a traveling show like that is to pull off," she says, but sides with conventional wisdom that Griffin is the toughest competition.
While hardly unbiased, Bravo general manager Frances Berwick agrees. "With a nomination for Kathy's special (Bravo's 'Kathy Griffin: Straight to Hell' also has a nomination for outstanding variety, music or comedy special) and her series, this is all just good news. I think she has a good shot this year."
The finish lineThe more the reality-competition genre changes, the more the television academy stays the same. For the second year in a row, CBS' "Survivor" has been overlooked in the category. Less stunning: the by-now-given inclusion of the same network's "Amazing Race," which has won every statuette since the category debuted in 2003.
Jane Lipsitz, executive producer of two nominees (Bravo's three-time nominee "Project Runway" and last year's nominee "Top Chef"), says she's delighted to go back to the Emmys. "We've been down this road so many times we'd be naive to be surprised when we hear 'Amazing Race' called again," she says. "We'll just enjoy the nomination and hope against hope."
Her partner, executive producer Dan Cutforth, is a little less sanguine about what's considered in the industry an obvious outcome for "Race." "When we were nominated for both shows last year, I thought, 'Well, that's enough,"' he says. "But I have to admit that on the actual night, I still want to win."
Odds have it that "Race" will take the victory lap, but that doesn't mean the presumptive winner can't be upset -- particularly by Fox's "American Idol," which routinely draws more viewers and more hype but has never won the category prize.
"Race" creator Bertram van Munster hopes one more statuette on his shelf might also count as a win for the team. "I think it's good for the reality business in general every time we win, because it sends a message that there's longevity in reality TV as long as it's done well," he says. "I know all of our fellow nominees are working just as hard as we are. Well, maybe not just as hard, but close to it. We do give it the extra 35,000 miles."
Last year's winner, "Planet Earth," has been replaced by Showtime's "This American Life," but otherwise the nominations list for outstanding nonfiction series remains intact from 2007.
More notably absent is a nod for Ken Burns' PBS series "The War," which seemed like a given -- he already has one nonfiction special win, from 2005, and three others in related categories. That omission goes far towards leveling the field. Meanwhile, Bravo's "Inside the Actors Studio" host James Lipton (whose program has been nominated every year since 1997 -- and sometimes twice) says his show is at a disadvantage compared with special series that take years to make and cost millions.
"We may be just a little crew of four," he says, "but every year we show up and applaud, deeply honored."
Jokes Bravo's Berwick, "He's going for the Susan Lucci award of reality TV."
Equally honored is "American Life" creator Ira Glass, although he says he's just grateful that, unlike his prior journalism accolades, he's finally been nominated for an award his parents have heard of. Glass is a fan of this year's likely winner: Discovery Channel's "Deadliest Catch," a dramatic standout in a field of more somber fare revolving around conversation and narration. The show has been nominated in the category for the last two years.
"They're master dramatists, taking a weird idea and making it work," Glass says.
As for the category's dark horse, it's worth remembering that even Susan Lucci eventually got her Daytime Emmy. But that was after 19 nominations.
Reality hosts in spotlightWhile none of the nominees for outstanding host for a reality or reality-competition program is a surprise, there is one favorite: "Survivor's" Jeff Probst. Without his hosting nomination, the CBS mainstay would have been blanked at the Emmys for the second year in a row.
"The first thought I had was, 'Does this mean I get to sit for one of those close-ups while they read the name of one of the other hosts as the winner?"' says Probst, who is quick to laud his colleagues. "Tom (Bergeron, of ABC's 'Dancing With the Stars') and Ryan (Seacrest, of Fox's 'American Idol') make you feel welcomed, keep the shows running on time, and their quick wit can often create memorable moments out of nothing. And Howie (Mandel, of NBC's 'Deal or No Deal') has made a traditional game show fun again by reinventing it."
The only woman in the category, Heidi Klum (Bravo's 'Project Runway'), says she's delighted to be included, even if she's not sure why she was. "When it comes to work, I show up, I'm always on time, and I give 100%," she says. "I'm not a scripted person who has her jokes written in."
No matter who wins, Seacrest is keeping things light. When asked what the television category is recognizing with his nomination, he notes, "The ability to combine subjects with predicates."