You’ve heard the awards-show drill: It’s an honor to be nominated, blah, blah, blah.
That’s more true than ever of the Emmys, where an explosion of scripted programming has made competition even fiercer.
But Kenya Barris wants to be a winner this weekend, and he’s not shy about saying so. “We want an Emmy,” he told a group of reporters visiting the Burbank, Calif., set of ABC’s Black-ish last month.
Nominated for outstanding comedy for the second year, Black-ish, which returns Oct. 3 for its fourth season, has formidable competition, including ABC’s Modern Family, a five-time winner, as well as FX’s Atlanta, Netflix’s Master of None, HBO’s Silicon Valley, and Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. The likely favorite among Emmy voters, who tend to repeat themselves, is HBO’s Veep, the two-time winner for comedy that broke Modern Family’s streak in 2015.
Still, it can’t hurt to put it out there.
“I want it for my cast and crew, myself, but I want it because I grew up watching network television, and I think that there’s something special … to be able to sit and watch programs with our kids,” said Barris, who based the show in part on his own large family. Like Dre Johnson, the character played by Anthony Anderson, he’s a successful African American, married to a doctor — played on the show by Tracee Ellis Ross — whose first name is Rainbow. And like Dre, he has sometimes worried that his kids might take for granted the privileges with which they’ve been raised.
“I love Donald Glover [creator and star of Atlanta]; we are friends, I think his show is amazing. You know, I love Aziz [Ansari], I love Alan Yang [cocreators of Master of None], I mean, all these people are people I’m friends with. And they will get their time,” Barris said.
“But the days of network television are numbered. … We have to reward it so that it keeps going on,” he said.
Ross and Anderson also are again nominated as lead actress and actor in a comedy, and while Anderson joked that he’d been urged by his publicist to be “humble” so people would root for him, Ross said she was mindful of the history.
“I can’t help but acknowledge, and say, that it’s been 30-some-odd years since a black woman was nominated … in my category,” said Ross, who won a Golden Globe in January. (Phylicia Rashad was nominated in 1985 and 1986, but did not win, for The Cosby Show. Isabel Sanford, who won in 1981 for her role in The Jeffersons, remains the only African American actress to win as a lead in a comedy.)
“I know that this is my second time being nominated and it was historic last year, but knowing that I stand on the shoulders of so many and shoulder to shoulder with so many in this moment is not to be taken for granted. And although it is fun for me personally,” Ross said, “I feel like the larger historical context of the moment sort of takes the cake.”
“Better Things” returns
At least one of the nominees in Ross’ category feels she has already won.
“I know it sounds like a cliché, but it was a massive thing for me as an actor,” said Pamela Adlon, creator and star of FX’s Better Things, “someone who’s been doing it my whole life. And then for people to get introduced to my show who maybe didn’t [in its first season]. I’m thrilled.” The show’s second season begins Thursday.
“This is beyond anything I’ve ever dreamt. I had no ambition to be a director, I had no inkling that I would be a showrunner of my own show, be the lead actress — none of this was on my radar. So it’s just been an incredible thing, like that I turned 50 and all this crazy good [stuff] is happening to me.”
Adlon, who has acted on TV since her teens — including a role on Facts of Life — until now has probably been best known as the voice of Bobby Hill on King of the Hill (for which she won a voice-over Emmy in 2002) and for her work with Better Things co-creator Louis C.K. on FX’s Louie and HBO’s one-season Lucky Louie.
In Better Things, she plays Sam Fox, a lifelong actor and the single mother of three daughters, Max (Mikey Madison), Frankie (Hannah Alligood), and Duke (Olivia Edward).
Her own three daughters love the show, she said last month after a Better Things media session. “They’re insanely proud of me, and also, they have a voice, you know what I mean? It’s not just me — it’s me, it’s my friends, it’s my daughters,” whose views are represented on the show, which this season tackles, among other things, the teenage Max’s relationship with a much older man.
“My daughters feel represented, and they always say, ‘Mom, I’m the Frankie, admit it.’ And I’m like, ‘No, you’re not. I have a middle daughter in the show. You’re not the Frankie. Especially not now. It’s changed dramatically from Season 1 to Season 2. Now they can’t walk around in ownership of like every single thing.”
69th Primetime Emmy Awards. 8 p.m. Sunday, CBS.
Black-ish. 9 p.m. Tuesday, ABC.
Better Things. 10 p.m. Thursday, FX.