BY CYNTHIA LITTLETON
“Mr. Robot” and “Better Call Saul” have gained important endorsements going into Emmy season by winning key votes from the scribe tribe.
USA’s “Mr. Robot” prevailed at the Writers Guild Awards in the race for best series, topping “Better Call Saul” (which premiered last year after the eligibility window for the 2015 WGA kudos). But AMC’s “Saul” won the episodic drama category over stiff competition from “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” “The Good Wife,” “Narcos” and “The Leftovers.”
“Mr. Robot” already has plenty of momentum coming off of its Golden Globe award for best drama series, among other kudos. But the guild vote codifies its standing as an influential series in the creative community. And the fact that “Mr. Robot” creator/showrunner Sam Esmail was on hand to accept the statuette at the WGA East ceremony at the Edison Ballroom in Midtown Manhattan, rather than at the WGA West gathering in Century City, underscores the prominence of New York as a production hub amid the incredible boom in scripted series.
“Saul’s’ win in the episodic category, for episode “Uno” penned by series co-creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould, signals that writers see it as a worthy successor to its predecessor, “Breaking Bad.” “Breaking Bad” was such a WGA darling during its run that in 2013 it grabbed no less than four of the six slots in the episodic drama race.
On the series side, writers gave a final-season farewell nod to AMC’s “Mad Men” rather than a second kudo for “Mr. Robot,” or a nod to a show that is widely seen as overlooked when it comes to awards hardware, FX’s “The Americans.”
The comedy series win went to another seasoned campaigner, HBO’s “Veep,” rather than the newer shows that were also up in the category. That list included HBO’s “Silicon Valley,” which won the episodic comedy category for episode “Sand Hill Shuffle” by Clay Tarver; Amazon’s “Transparent,” Comedy Central’s “Broad City” and Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.”
The WGA’s long-form TV winners were both predictable and unpredictable. “Fargo” took the adapted win, edging out the widely praised HBO miniseries “Show Me a Hero,” by writer’s-writers David Simon and William Zorzi. Simon and Zorzi were even singled out earlier in the Writers Guild of America East ceremony as “inspirations” by Tom McCarthy as he collected his win for original screenplay for “Spotlight.”
The long-form TV original went to the low-profile historical miniseries “Saints and Sinners,” which aired on National Geographic Channel.
On the talk-variety front, HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” scored its first win for comedy-variety talk series after 10 nominations. Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer” was rewarded for its inventiveness with the sketch comedy win over Comedy Central’s “Key and Peele” and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” For comedy-variety special, Jimmy Kimmel’s 10th annual “After the Oscars Special” logged a surprising win over the cavalcade of stars who turned out for “Saturday Night Live’s” 40th anniversary telecast last year.
Another honoree at the WGA East ceremony brought a unique perspective on the nature of working as a writer. Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., received the guild’s Evelyn F. Burkey Award, which recognizes those who bring “honor and dignity” to writers.
Franken, an original member of the “Saturday Night Live” writing staff, spoke of his pride in serving in elected office since 2008 and the satisfaction of being able to make an impact in the lives of everyday people by championing legislation on everything from health care to net neutrality. He called himself a “proud warrior” fighting media consolidation, and he touted his stance as the lone voice in the Senate actively opposing the Comcast-Time Warner Cable merger.
But Franken admitted that a times he misses the “camaraderie” that comes with working on a TV show. “There’s nothing more fun that writing comedy with really hilarious people. That doesn’t happen in the U.S. Senate,” Franken said. “I miss you. Who knows, someday I may be back.”