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Emmys: Why did 'True Detective,' Matthew McConaughey get shut out?

Woody Harrelson, left, and Matthew McConaughey in HBO's

Woody Harrelson, left, and Matthew McConaughey in HBO's "True Detective." Credit: HBO / Jim Bridges

What the heck happened to “True Detective” and Matthew McConaughey last night?

Five Emmys for the show -- but not one of the huge ones. Matthew McConaughey, the surest bet for anything last night -- outstanding actor/drama would have done, nicely, I'm sure he and HBO think -- was just another beautiful face in the crowd, as it turns out.

Unfair, maybe, but Bryan Cranston did win, and there's certainly nothing unfair about that.

Nevertheless, this is a puzzle and puzzles demand solutions, particularly as HBO put its vast marketing muscle behind "Detective" and its worthy leads. Naturally, I have theories as opposed to solutions. Maybe one of them is even the right one:

Each of these applies mostly to the show, which wasn't considered a lock for best drama, and to McConaughey as well.

1.) HBO overreached. "Detective" stood a better chance in the miniseries category as opposed to the insanely competitive best drama one, where each nominee had entrenched interests among Emmy voters -- interests not about to be shaken by this arriviste. Mc, likewise, would have been a cinch for the mini/movie award.

2.) Voters just weren't sure -- and when in doubt, vote for the incumbent.

3.) "Bad" deserved this win and so did Cranston. Hey, that's novel! No it's not. The Emmys do get this right now and then.

4.) The so-called plagiarism charges stuck. Arriving in the middle of the voting process, as they did, some voters were doubtful. "Why vote for a plagiarist?!" some may have thought, thoughtlessly. In fact, the charges were unfair, and "Detective" writer Nic Pizzolatto had said that he had been inspired by Thomas Ligotti for the Rust Cohle character. Nothing wrong with that. But doubt -- even when it's grossly unfair -- has a way of seeding.

5.) The poorly-drawn-female characters charge stuck. This was first raised, I believe, in the pages of the New Yorker, and is cited whenever or wherever the merits of "Detective" are raised. PIzzolatto was angered by them -- but all the anger in the world can't dissipate an argument, and in fact often has the opposite effect.

6.) Emmys hate buzz. Remember how Lou Grant "hates spunk?" Emmys hate buzz. They hate it with all of their fiber -- for Emmy voters are traditionalists to the core, who eschew the vagaries of popular taste, as it ebbs and flows according to the dictates of a hundred million fandudes, with their Twitter accounts, blogs, Facebook pages, Instagrams and other assorted means to express their passion. Or at least voters like to think that -- that their role is to separate the chaff from the proverbial wheat stalk, and to bestow the One True Award on the One True Show.

Mostly, they like to think this isn't the People's Choice Awards. THEY are the pros. What does the riff raff know? Buzz shows that go into the Emmys with a head of steam -- often a projection of TV writers, who are fans themselves -- can oftentimes find themselves beheaded by the end of the night.

7.) "Detective" and McConaughey were too much of a sure bet. This is a subset of 6.) with some variations. Sure Bets very often are Sure Bets with the Emmys -- but brand-new buzz-worthy shows that are deemed Sure Bets usually aren't.

8.) Emmy voters were simply too familiar with "True Detective" and Rust Cohle. I leave this theory to last because I think there's some counterintuitive logic to it.

Consider: Everyone in this industry watched "Detective" because they pretty much felt they had to, if only not to sound like a blithering idiot at their local watering hole or some cocktail party, where someone -- maybe their next employer -- was bound to ask them, "well, what did you think ...?" They didn't need the requisite single episode to make a judgment about "Detective" -- many were already intimately familiar with it.

But such familiarity doesn't always work to a nominee's favor, because voters are then as familiar with its faults as its virtues. An obvious example here -- the finale, which some viewers loved, others hated. (I was disappointed. Not this kind of ending ... again.) Or maybe some voters didn't like Rust's gaseous ruminations on the Meaning of Life in the 17-years-fast-forward scenes.

Who knows! Or perhaps HBO,"Detective" and McConaughey should turn to Ligotti for solace and guidance on this Emmy matter. Quoth he: 

“It has always seemed to me that my existence consisted purely and exclusively of nothing but the most outrageous nonsense.”

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