The writer-actor-directors could hit the Emmy jackpot TV’s comedy auteurs
By Lynn Elber
AP Television Writer
When Emmy Award nominations are announced Thursday, multiple champagne toasts may be in order for a multitasking troupe of sitcom stars.
Aziz Ansari, Donald Glover and Issa Rae are among those who lead shows they also created or co-created, write and sometimes even direct, and who could reap a welcome embarrassment of Emmy riches.
They are TV’s comedy auteurs, with people of color and women well-represented in their top ranks. While it took the industry decades and new platforms like streaming to give them opportunities, the TV academy isn’t wasting time in granting deserved recognition.
As with its big-screen sibling, the Oscars, the Emmys are under pressure to give diversity its due, said Tom O’Neil, author of “The Emmys” and editor of Gold Derby, an awards handicapping website.
“The Emmys need to demonstrate that they’re relevant in a modern, rainbow-spanned world,” O’Neil said. “If they fail, then liberal Hollywood looks like all talk, no sincere action.”
“Master of None” is the brainchild of Ansari, the South Carolina-born son of immigrants from India, and Alan Yang, his Asian-American creative partner. Glover’s “Atlanta” and Rae’s “Insecure” reflect their perspectives as African-Americans.
Netflix’s sophomore “Master of None” already boasts a 2016 Emmy for Ansari and Yang for best writing, as well as nods that year for best comedy series and for Ansari as actor and director.
FX’s “Atlanta” and HBO’s “Insecure” are in their first year of competition, with Glover already the winner of a Golden Globe in January for best comedy actor and Rae earning a Globes nomination as best actress.
The matriarch of this expanding auteur family, Lena Dunham’s “Girls,” is in the running for its sixth and final season on HBO.
The Emmy Awards are set to air Sept. 17 on CBS with host Stephen Colbert.
“Definitely, ‘Girls’ was really influential,” said Yang. “When was the last time a female creator in her mid-20s got to make her own HBO show? That doesn’t happen. You might have a 25-year-old star, but to have that person also be creator and director and writer, it showed it could work.”
While the series was pivotal for the multi-talented Dunham and other women hoping to follow her, it drew fire for its all-white lead cast. Ethnicity remains TV’s bigger hurdle, as it has from the medium’s early days.
Getting Ansari cast in “Master of None” wasn’t an issue, Yang said, given his credentials as a writer, a stand-up comedian and an actor on TV sitcoms, including “Scrubs” and “Parks & Recreation.”
Put his experience together with that of Yang, an executive producer on shows including “Parks & Recreation,” and “Master” proved to be “one of the easier sells,” he said.
The current welcome mat for diversity was the result, first, of lobbying by civil rights group dismayed by the predominantly white casts on broadcast networks, which now boast inclusive shows such as ABC’s sitcom “black-ish” and NBC’s drama “This is Us,” both Emmy front-runners.
But it took the expansion of cable and streaming to give more opportunities to more unique voices. Among them: Comedy Central’s “Broad City” from Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson; Tig Notaro’s “One Mississippi” and Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag,” both on Amazon.