October 10, 2016

The Creative Spirit

Game gets started, while docs walk away with gold.

While HBO’s Game of Thrones began its ascent toward a record-breaking run of Emmy gold at this year’s Creative Arts Emmys, it was Fox’s Grease: Live and the Netflix documentary Making a Murderer that made impressive showings at the September 10 and 11 ceremonies held at L.A.’s Microsoft Theater.

“I don’t think I fully understood — until I did Grease: Live — the power and the relevance of network television and its unique ability to reach around the globe,” said executive producer Marc Platt of the Fox show that won four Emmys at the Creative Arts — special class program, lighting, production design and technical direction. (It would pick up one more, for directing, at the September 18 telecast.)

Making a Murderer also won four awards at the Creative Arts: outstanding documentary or nonfiction series, direction, writing and editing.  “It was such a wake-up call to document this story,” said Laura Ricciardi,  as she and her producing partner, Moira Demos, accepted the award for nonfiction directing.

The 10-episode documentary told the story of Steven Avery, a Wisconsin man exonerated of a sexual assault after spending 18 years in prison — only to be imprisoned later for murder.

“We had so many questions going in and so many questions remain, but  the one thing that is absolutely clear to us is, we need to have empathy for one another, ensure that everyone is treated equally under the law and that  we respect human dignity and human rights.”

This year, for the first time, the Creative Arts Emmys was held on two  nights instead of one; the focus Saturday was on scripted programming, while Sunday’s program was devoted to animation, variety and nonfiction fare.

Another documentary receiving multiple honors was A&E’s Cartel Land, which earned three awards: exceptional merit in documentary filmmaking (which it shared with HBO’s Jim: The James Foley Story), cinematography and sound editing.

“We shot much of Cartel Land in Michoacán, Mexico, a place where government institutions have failed and cartels operate with impunity,” said producer Matthew Heineman. “Meanwhile, our main character, Dr. José Mireles, remains a political prisoner for standing up against them. I hope this film will give voice to those trapped by the senseless cycles of violence and give hope that someday, somehow, these cycles will end.”

The networks scoring the most wins at the Creative Arts were Fox, HBO and Netflix, each taking five awards, while four went to both A&E (three for Cartel Land and one for Born This Way) and Adult Swim (two for Childrens Hospital and two for Robot Chicken).

A happy surprise went to RuPaul Charles who, after eight seasons as host of Logo’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, received his first nomination as reality host this year — and won. The show, a competition series among drag artists, is open to contestants of any sexual orientation. Though most are gay men, transgender participants have become more common.

“I really didn’t expect this,” Charles said later backstage. “I came here thinking, I got invited to the prom and I’m going to dance my ass off tonight. But I didn’t know that I would have this [Emmy] in my hand while I was dancing! It’s a very special night not just for me, but for all the young people around the world who dance to the beat of a different drummer.”

FX’s Archer was named outstanding animated program — its first win in the category — in a field that has featured such heavy hitters as The Simpsons, South Park and Bob’s Burgers. The show also picked up an Emmy for creative achievement in interactive media multiplatform storytelling.

Sunday’s ceremony featured several poignant moments, notably when A&E’s Born This Way was awarded the Emmy for outstanding unstructured reality program. Executive producer Jonathan Murray was joined on stage by the show’s cast as the audience gave them a standing ovation; the series follows a group of young adults who live with Down syndrome.

“This is such an honor — it’s overwhelming,” Murray said. “Thank you to our cast and their families.... We have learned from you that it’s about the ability, not the disability.”

Another big winner, FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, got its golden start on Saturday when the show nabbed awards for casting, editing, sound mixing and hairstyling, then followed that up on Sunday when the limited series’ Inside Look was named outstanding short form nonfiction or reality series.

“We assembled one of the most diverse casts and crew in our network’s history,” producer Ned Martel said of the O.J series. “We hope it will be a milestone that every network can surpass next year and every year after that. Thank you to my friend Ryan Murphy [an executive producer on the limited series and a producer on Inside Look] and to RuPaul Charles, for showing me that television can be both purposeful and weird.”

Guest actor awards this year went to Margo Martindale (The Americans) and Hank Azaria (Ray Donovan) for drama, and to Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (Saturday Night Live) and Peter Scolari (Girls) in comedy.

“I’m so thrilled,” Martindale said, as she accepted the Emmy (her second for this role and her third to date). “Let this be the year of The Americans!”

The Governors Award, handed out on Sunday night by Television Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum, went to Fox’s veteran competition show American Idol, which ended its run this year after 15 seasons. Accepting the award were Simon Fuller, the show’s creator; Cecile Frot-Coutaz, CEO of FremantleMedia Group; and Dana Walden, Fox Television co-chairman and CEO.

“It’s been 15 years, and this is the first Emmy we’ve actually won for the show. Can you believe that?” said Fuller, who then turned to Walden, adding: “Dana, thank you for bringing the show back in 2018. We can’t wait to make it!”

Fuller later admitted that he was just “being mischievous.”

This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 9, 2016

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