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5 Wishes for the Production Design Emmys

By Daniel Walber.

The Emmys can be, for lack of a better word, boring. Television is in a "Golden Age," or so everyone says, but its Academy has a tendency to reward the same shows every year. This phenomenon doesn’t only happen at the top of the ticket, either. Game of Thrones has been as much of a mainstay in tech categories as Modern Family was in Best Comedy Series.

And so, rather than fully handicapping the five production design races, I’d like to share some more modest hopes for this year’s winners. Here are some selections from my favorite work in the category, regardless of the odds.

Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Contemporary or Fantasy Program (One Hour or More)

This is the Game of Thrones category, and it’ll probably stay that way. That said, I find the work on Penny Dreadful a lot more intriguing, at least for this season. 

 In just one episode, “Evil Spirits in Heavenly Places,” there are at least three sets worthy of recognition. The work so lavish that one wonders if it was canceled because it was too expensive...

The first is the basement of the wax museum, where the blind Lavinia Putney crafts the figures. There are contorted heads, just like the “Hall of Faces” in Game of Thrones, but the mood here is extended by limbs and hands. It’s horror deconstructed, as fascinating as it is unsettling.

On the surface, the wax museum is a world apart from the ladies’ atelier where Vanessa Ives and Victor Frankenstein shop shortly after. Take a step back, and you realize that both spaces are full of incomplete figures, headless mannequins that model the latest in Victorian fashion. The mood is almost imperceptibly extended even into the episode's less immediately creepy scenes.

The enormous table tennis parlor where Dorian Grey takes Angelique is as impressive as it is unexpected. It has all of the charm of Victorian amusement, the elaborate dressing up of pleasures that we now consider mundane. Who knew that ping-pong could be so breathtaking?


Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Period Program (One Hour or More)


Now that perennial winner Boardwalk Empire is gone, anything can happen in this category. I’d like to recommend something a bit less dour, though perhaps just as violent: Fargo. The color palette is so exactly of the ‘70s, with its wood panelling, dull oranges and omnipresent geometric prints. It’s a wonderful complement to the dark humor hidden in the set decoration.

For example, note the bread rack sitting behind Otto Gerhardt. All of the loaves look perfectly baked, risen to great sizes and browned with skill. This is a brutal crime family that cares deeply about carbs.

The pies in the diner look just as appetizing, shining examples of Americana that sit in a nice glass case just above the blood-covered floor.


Finally, I absolutely adore how quaintly Ed Blumquist hangs a single decorative oar beneath some saw blades in his garage.

Outstanding Production Design for a Narrative Program (Half-Hour or Less)

Silicon Valley won last year and it’ll probably win again. The tech-bro playland that is the redecorated Pied Piper office more than deserves it. But I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out my favorite comic design triumph of the last TV season. The second of the two episodes that Veep submitted for the award, “C*ntgate,” is a brilliant example of the very subtle work that the show’s designers have been doing since the beginning.
Look no further than Jonah’s congressional campaign signs. The first batch are utterly incompetent. Most of them are hand-done, presumably with sharpies. My favorite is this one, which looks like “Jon H. Ryan,” instead of “Jonah Ryan.”

Even when Dan takes over and the campaign is theoretically more professional, the signage is still ridiculous. Take a closer look at the one in this shot, which features Jonah wearing glasses and holding his hand to his ear to mime: “I’m listening!"

Much like the Burger of the Day puns on Bob's Burgers, many of the best Veep props are hidden in the background, waiting for the sharpest eyes to catch them. Look at the bookshelves behind Selina in this shot, from a scene in which her relationship collapses.

Outstanding Production Design for a Variety, Nonfiction, Reality or Reality-Competition Series

The same attention to detail is the icing on the cake of my favorite entry in this category, Drunk History. The first segment of the New Jersey features the first military balloon corps, a subject that obviously they didn’t have the budget to recreate exactly. And so instead, here are the balloons.

Here is a balloon over the Capital.
Every segment has this same charm. The Bone Wars story, featuring the battle between the founders of paleontology, offers up this adorable plastic model.
Lastly, the story of the discovery of cosmic microwave background yields this adorable model of the Holmdel Horn Antenna, here squeezed together with the human-sized stars of the segment.

Outstanding Production Design for a Variety, Nonfiction, Reality or Reality-Competition Special

This is an odd category. The nominated shows include for one awards show, two live musicals, a theatrically released documentary and Lemonade. Obviously the award should go to Lemonade, a film designed with a sense of color that outdoes everything else nominated in any of these categories.

Just look at it.

The Creative Arts Emmys (honoring craft categories and guest acting and the like) are held on September 10th and 11th. The Televised Emmy Awards (with the major acting and best series prizes) will be held on September 18th.

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Reader Comments (15)

I'm happy to peruse your article but can you please remind the reader when the hell the Emmys occur? It's not the national holiday that most fans of this site honor. This is an area where bloggers could behave more like journalists.

September 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMikey67

Mikey: I just googled it for you. September 18th.

September 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Just wanted to add, good god, Lemonade is beautiful.

September 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterMike in Canada

Is there going to be a best supporting actress in a drama serie conversation? I really need to hear about Maisie Williams' chances to win the Emmy.

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNadir

@Nadir: If anyone from GOT wins, it will be Headey. Though Williams surprised me by even getting the nomination (not that it was undeserved -- indeed, she should have been nominated for Season 2 -- but Emmy voters nominate somebody that young maybe once in a blue moon).

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSean C.

@Sean C.: It comes to my mind when Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson were regular nominees for Grey's Anatomy and suddenly Katherine Heigl came one season and won the gold. If they would'd have wanted to give the Emmy to Headey they would've done it already (she's been better in previous seasons). Williams must be young but Arya is the character who have had most changes during the whole serie, and this season she has become from a blind girl without a name to a fucking girl with a name seeking for revenge. Maybe voters were waiting for the right time to nominate Williams and that right time comes with an Emmy, like Heigl. But besides that, am I the only one excited - almost highed - by her performance this season?

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNadir

Maisie Williams nom comes two seasons too late and her submission is that godawful episode where she is chased across Bravos, I doubt she has a strong chance to win for that.

Williams is better than Emilia Clarke (a genuinely bad actress), but still not deserving of a nomination (not for season 6, at least. She was more deserving in seasons 2 and 4). The only actor from GoT deserving of a nomination for season 6 was Lena Headey (not even Peter Dinklage, he has had two useless seasons back to back).

Headey should have won for season 5, though, her all time best.

I'd break the seasons this way (all supporting, unless otherwise stated):

Season 1: Peter Dinklage, win; Michelle Fairley, nom; Conleth Hill, nom;

Season 2: Maisie Williams, nom; Charles Dance, win (guest);

Season 3: Nikolaj Coster Waldau, nom; Gwendolyn Christie, nom; Michelle Fairley, nom (maybe win for Red Wedding episode); David Bradley, nom (guest);

Season 4: Charles Dance, win; Lena Headey, nom; Peter Dinklage, nom; Maisie Williams, nom, Pedro Pascal, win (guest); Diana Rigg, nom (guest);

Season 5: Lena Headey, win; Stephen Dillane, nom; Jonathan Price, nom (guest);

Season 6: Lena Headey, nom.

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

This was a good read, as usual. Penny Dreadful should win easily over GoT, but it won't.

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

I think it's super disrespectful to discuss acting races in a post about Production Design.

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

@ Peggy Sue - Sorry, my bad! I usually stick to topic. =\

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCarmen Sandiego

@ Peggy Soue: Sorry, got carried away -_-U

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterNadir

Mikey67 - thanks for the note that's constructive criticism. i shall add it to the post
Sept 10-11 is the Creative Arts Emmys (two day event which honor categories like this as well as guest acting)
Sept 18th is the televised Emmy Awards

September 8, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Daniel -- this gave me a whole new appreciation (not that i needed it really) of how gorgeous Penny Dreadful was. Season 2 was the peak as well especially in terms of production design. my favorite set in the whole series was Madame Kali's inner chamber with her voodoo doll constructions.

I guess i should watch Lemonade.

September 8, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Nadir - I am still upset that Sandra Oh didn't win that season.

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne

Lemonade it's visually a bit too New Age for me, but the songs are fantastic.

September 8, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

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