STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
McConaughey or Cranston? "Orange Is The New Black" or "Modern Family?" The question of which actors and programs will emerge at the top of the TV industry gets answered tonight as NBC airs the 66th prime time Emmy Awards. And here to help us sort through all the nominees and possible winners, NPR TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thanks for joining us as always.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Always fun to come by.
INSKEEP: So what contests are you looking at tonight?
DEGGANS: Well, there's a few contests that highlight really crucial changes in the TV industry. So let's take a look at the best comedy series category. Now, "Modern Family" has dominated here; it's won the award over the last four years. And it's one of the best examples of comedy on the broadcast networks. But this is the first year that it faces off against Netflix's "Orange Is The New Black," which is a show that's an example of everything that's changing television. So...
INSKEEP: What makes "Orange Is The New Black" different than a broadcast show like "Modern Family"?
DEGGANS: Well, you know, "Orange" is the new wave of television. It's distributed online; it's almost as much of a drama as a comedy; it's focused on a diverse cast of women inside a women's prison - including the first transgender actress to be nominated for an Emmy. And if it somehow manages to beat "Modern Family," that would be a powerful statement about what people who vote on the awards think about where TV is headed next.
INSKEEP: So it's a matter of, are people on a show on Netflix - have a sort of chance to be in the big leagues with a show like "Modern Family"?
DEGGANS: Exactly. And the fact that Netflix might rise to that level in comedy - which is normally where broadcasters do really well - that's significant.
INSKEEP: OK, let's talk about drama. What are you seeing there?
DEGGANS: Well, here we've got a lot of great shows nominated. We've got "Downton Abbey." We've got "House Of Cards." We've got "Madmen." I think "Game Of Thrones" is a big contender here, but the real conflict may be between "Breaking Bad" and HBO's "True Detective."
Now, "Breaking Bad" gets my vote for wrapping up last year with one of the best endings we've seen on a series ever on television. But "True Detective" got buzz, and that's largely because of a great performance from movie star Matthew McConaughey. And some people in the TV industry are crying foul. I mean, they're saying because McConaughey never intended to do more than one season of this show, it should be more an anthology miniseries than a series. But shows like "True Detective" and "American Horror Story," they are redefining what a series really is.
INSKEEP: Well, and, Eric, the same conflict over whether an anthology miniseries can go up against a series and whether that's fair is going to come up in the best actor category for drama as well, right?
DEGGANS: Yeah, for sure. Matthew McConaughey, who was on "True Detective," is up against "Breaking Bad's" Bryan Cranston, along with Jeff Daniels, Kevin Spacey and even his castmate on "True Detective," Woody Harrelson. But the smart money says McConaughey's star power is going to take this category. Now, Bryan Cranston has done such a good job for so many seasons, and this is his last shot at winning an Emmy for "Breaking Bad," so I'm still in his corner on this one.
INSKEEP: You're in his corner, OK. Well, it does look like the Emmy has a chance to make history in the best actress race for a drama. Explain why.
DEGGANS: Sure. So "Scandal" star Kerry Washington is up for this award. And she's facing off against past winners and big mains like Claire Danes from "Homeland" and Julianna Margulies from "The Good Wife." But - and this was hard for me to believe until I looked it up - no black woman has ever won this award before. So Kerry Washington, who's already made history as the first black woman to star in a network TV series since the '70s, could make even more history if she wins this category tonight.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's TV critic Eric Deggans. Eric, thanks a lot.
DEGGANS: Always a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.