Emmy voters tend to be conservative, predictable or lazy, depending on how charitable you want to be towards them, which leads to the same series and actors being nominated again and again and again. But the 2009-10 TV season was so loaded with memorable new series that even Academy members with their heads deepest in the sand couldn't help but notice, and then nominate many of them.
There were still plenty of lame "once a nominee, always a nominee" picks — "30 Rock" got 15 nominations for its worst season by far — and a number of superb newcomers (and relative newcomers) were either marginalized ("Treme" and "Parks and Recreation" only picked up two nominations apiece, though at least one for "Parks and Rec" was Amy Poehler as lead comedy actress) or shut out completely ("Community" and FX's incredible "Sons of Anarchy," which had one of the three best seasons of any drama on television last year), but the drama and comedy series categories featured five first-time nominees, and all the series acting categories featured at least one, and at times several first-time nominees.
"Glee" was the most-nominated series with 19 nods (the HBO miniseries "The Pacific" had the most nominations overall, though many of them were in technical categories), including best comedy, and four acting nominees (Lea Michele, Jane Lynch, Chris Colfer and, most surprisingly, Matthew Morrison) in four categories.
"Modern Family" picked up 14 nominations, and its gambit of submitting all of its actors as supporting paid off, with Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara duking it out for comedy supporting actress, and Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and (my favorite) Eric Stonestreet all being nominated for supporting actor.
Though the first season of Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" (which aired last summer, and therefore within the eligiblity period) was creatively uneven (and only occasionally comedic), voters were impressed by Edie Falco's "Sopranos" pedigree enough to hand the show eight nominations, including comedy series and Falco for comedy actress.
CBS's "The Good Wife" got nine nominations, including the expected ones for drama series and Julianna Margulies for drama actress, but also supporting nods for both Christine Baranski and Archie Panjabi. And HBO's "True Blood" went where vampire shows rarely go by locking down a drama series nomination for its second season.
The most pleasantly surprising "newcomers"? That would be Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton from "Friday Night Lights," who have been delivering incredible, Emmy-worthy work on that show for years, but finally got their first nominations this year after DirecTV extensively campaigned for the series. (This season's "The Son," a fantastic showcase for Zach Gilford, also got a writing nomination, though Gilford himself was unsurprisingly ignored in the guest actor category.)
Is this the nominations list I would have chosen? No. (You've seen my picks already.) That "Sons of Anarchy" couldn't get a single nomination in general, and one for Katey Sagal in particular, is an indictment on any suggestion that the Emmys actually do represent the best work being done on television. Both "Community" and "Parks and Rec" (and "Party Down," for that matter) were more deserving than several of the comedy nominees. "Treme," like David Simon's "The Wire," had some absolutely stunning performances that went unrecognized.
But the outlaw biker subculture depicted on "Sons" was likely always going to be a turn-off to Emmy voters, those voters are also barely aware that David Simon exists, and "Community" and "Parks and Rec" had the bad fortune to be great in years when there were two other adored comedy newbies with much higher ratings. Because even in a relatively forward-thinking year, there's only so much turnover the voters will feel comfortable with.
The Emmys have had so many terrible nominations in the past, and snubbed so many great series and shows, that by now I'm often conditioned to respond to the final list with the thought that it could be worse. "Sons of Anarchy" was ignored, but "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men" combined for 24 nominations. Andre Braugher from TNT's underrated "Men of a Certain Age" slipped in with a supporting actor nod.
And hey, at least "Entourage" wasn't nominated as one of the best comedies on television.