Not all TV scenes are created equal. The moment when a character finds her purpose, a show achieves its tone, a plot turns a corner — those are what we consider “key” scenes, the ones that turn a typical episode into an award-winner. So The Envelope sat down with the writers and producers from 12 Emmy-nominated episodes to talk about that one, very special moment that sings just a little louder than all the others. Here’s what they had to say:
In 2020, we were locked in our homes, afraid of the pandemic just outside, and we needed some serious escape. Thankfully, TV offered more options than we knew what to do with. So as the Television Academy undertakes the massive effort to figure out which traditional categories deserve recognition, our job was a bit more particular: to single out the deserving, underappreciated aspects of what our small screens had to offer. Here, then, we present the 2021 Envy Awards!
Lucia Aniello, Paul W. Downs and Jen Statsky, showrunners (and, in Downs’ case, costar) behind “Hacks,” HBO Max’s first season juggernaut that landed 15 Emmy nominations, are not, in fact, hacks. Far from it: Among them they share credits at such lauded shows as “Broad City,” “The Good Place” and “Parks and Recreation” for a start.
And as they proved with their new Jean Smart/Hannah Einbinder comedy about a veteran funny woman on the down slide who hires a Gen-Z “canceled” up-and-comer to help with her jokes, they share a unique insight into what “funny” means today. All three joined The Envelope via Zoom to explore how comedy has gotten more earnest — and far less binary.
For “Jeopardy!” fans, it’s been a season like no other. Since the loss of iconic veteran host Alex Trebek, who hosted the classic game show for 37 years, there has been no permanent host. Instead, an ongoing series of guests have taken the space behind the podium for weeks at a time.
And as the show tells TODAY, that is the plan: to continue until Friday, August 13, when the season ends and four weeks of reruns commence. In theory, a new host will be announced in time for the new season (here are some of the most likely candidates we considered before the guest host season began) — but so far, we don’t know who’s a front-runner.
Fran Lebowitz contains multitudes: author (with a decades-old writer’s block), journalist (Vanity Fair and Interview, et al.), occasional actor (“Law & Order,” “The Wolf of Wall Street”) and technology refusenik. But her sharp tongue and incisive wit and sheer New Yorkiness are what’s on glorious display in the seven-part Netflix documentary “Pretend It’s a City.”
Directed by friend (and possibly her biggest fan) Martin Scorsese, “City” gives her approximately 210 minutes to opine on everything from the subway system to money to clueless tourists — and it’s just not enough. Lebowitz spoke to The Envelope and dug into her bibliophilia, what gets Scorsese irritated and getting parodied on “Saturday Night Live.”
Derek DelGaudio is a man of many hats: magician, playwright and performer, storyteller, “rouletista” (a word from his Hulu show “Derek DelGaudio’s In & Of Itself,” directed by Frank Oz). But even as DelGaudio lays himself bare in his “Amoralman” memoir or in the personal histories featured in “Itself,” which ran on stage in L.A. and off-Broadway for 560 performances, describing his one-man show can be as elusive as the secret to making a gold brick disappear.
Having just returned to his home base in New York from the West Coast after shooting scenes for the Steven Soderbergh thriller “Kimi,” DelGaudio spoke with The Envelope to talk about identity, being seen and putting yourself outside the circle.
An actress sailing into her 40s traditionally doesn’t begin landing the most interesting roles of her career, but Sarah Paulson, 46, has bucked that trend. Able to play baby-faced vulnerable and calculating stoic — sometimes in the same scene — she’s been riveting in Netflix’s “Ratched,” which fills in the back story of Mildred Ratched, the harsh “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” nurse, an Oscar-winning role for Louise Fletcher in 1975.
Paulson, who won an Emmy for another Ryan Murphy-affiliated project (“American Crime Story: The People v. O.J. Simpson”) and who frequently appears in Murphy’s “American Horror Story,” spoke with The Envelope over a video call about emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic; taking advice from her partner, fellow actor Holland Taylor; and how she’d love to be hired for being funny — for once.
In spring 2020, those in the “black-ish” writers’ room faced a conundrum: To pandemic or not to pandemic? With the world heading toward lockdown and a next season that had to be written, would the Johnson family still feel the effects of what might be a passing phase, a brief blip that was old news by the time their shows began airing in the fall?
But quickly the choice — a decision made in writers’ rooms across Hollywood — became clear: They had to work the ever-changing real world into the “black-ish” universe. It was something they’d done before, but not to this extent. So with Courtney Lilly at the showrunning helm, they wrote a show that would air in September — but take place back at the start of the lockdown.
“We knew we would have to comment and address it in some way,” says Lilly. “We assumed that by the time we got to September or October we’d be in a different place — but then things started going viral again in December, and we were surprised in a negative way. We were disappointed that something we’d done months ago would still be relevant — was actually too relevant.”
Last year was a wild ride for everyone, but Phoebe Dynevor’s unique highs may have been more extreme than most: The show she’d just finished shooting pre-lockdown — Regency England-era “Bridgerton,” in which she stars as ambivalent, highly eligible Daphne — became a phenomenon as fans parsed it endlessly on social media, and some even created a musical.
Dynevor, 26, has been a pro performer since she was a teen (“The Village,” “Younger,” the upcoming feature “The Colour Room”) and comes from a showbiz family (Mom’s a vet of “Coronation Street,” Dad’s a screenwriter), but she says this level of fame takes some getting used to. She spoke with The Envelope via Zoom to discuss the start of Season 2, the importance of corsets to acting, and that scene that had so many viewers up in virtual arms.
In “The Good Lord Bird,” audiences may have learned something surprising about Frederick Douglass: namely that he apparently cohabitates with two women at the same time. Now, “Bird,” which tells the story of Harpers Ferry revolutionary John Brown through the eyes of a young Black man called Onion, does not purport to be a documentary. But can that actually be true?
“Frederick Douglass was a lot of fun,” says Mark Richard, who produced and co-adapted (with star Ethan Hawke) the novel by James McBride. “Did he have two women under his roof at one time? Probably not. But he was a little bit of a ladies’ man, and we had fun making fun — and maybe Onion is misremembering. Like it says on the chyron [ahead of each episode], ‘All of this is true. Most of it happened.’ And that’s how we navigated the series.”