While it’s not uncommon for stars to indulge in self-deprecation upon winning a major entertainment award, something was different when Edie Falco took to the stage to accept the 2010 Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for her role in Showtime’s Nurse Jackie. As the video (left) shows, Falco skips over humble and lands on incredulous, citing her win as “ridiculous” because she’s, well, “not funny.”
While there are comic elements within Jackie, Falco’s role as the eponymous drug-addict and adulterer is not one of them, and that she would admit as much reveals a growing complication within the Emmy Awards’ generic categorization.
Historically, the Emmys have not always been organized as a binary between comedy and drama. Dragnet won Emmy Awards for “Best Mystery, Action or Adventure Program” for 1952 and 1953, but then won “Best Mystery or Intrigue Series” for 1954, before being nominated for "Best Action or Adventure Series" for 1955 (which it lost to Disneyland (Davy Crockett)). The year after that, the Academy threw out genres entirely to simplify things (shifting to a half-hour and hour-long split), only to return to genres a year later before gradually settling on the comedy/drama split we know today.
That current system of dividing between comedy and drama reflects how a half-century of television development has mediated and shaped generic expectations, but the rise of the mash-up genre known as dramedy has created circumstances where dramatic performances within shows on the border between the two genres are competing in comedy categories, and winning. Falco’s win is part of a growing trend, including Toni Colette the year before in the same category for United States of Tara, and she could be joined by Laura Linney (The Big C), Chris Colfer (Glee) or even pick up another Emmy herself later this month.
Falco’s speech raises two questions. First, is this a problem? Should Emmys be given for performances that are inherently comic or dramatic, or should they instead go to great performances (either comic or dramatic) within a given genre? Secondly, what can be done? While genres may be growing more fluid within television production, award shows require a certain degree of rigidity, and any solution (like categorizing performances and series separately) could compromise their legitimacy well beyond Edie Falco’s humorlessness.
It could be worse: at least her speech was funny.