LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:
Tomorrow is the last day members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences can vote on winners for the Emmy Awards. And this year, they'll choose from an unusual number of first-time nominees. NPR's TV critic, Eric Deggans, talked to some of these first-timers to find out what getting on the big list says about the new shape of the TV industry.
ERIC DEGGANS, BYLINE: Ask Constance Zimmer what it means to get her first Emmy nomination this year with an acting career that stretches back to the mid-'90s, and she might surprise you.
CONSTANCE ZIMMER: See, you're going to make me cry. I, like - my husband keeps saying, get all your crying out before you get on camera (laughter).
DEGGANS: That reaction is surprising because Zimmer has built a long career playing tough, unsentimental women on series like Marvel's "Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D." and "House Of Cards." But the role that earned Zimmer her first Emmy nomination as best supporting actress in a drama was caustic reality TV producer Quinn King on Lifetime's "UnREAL."
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "UNREAL")
ZIMMER: (As Quinn King) Let's go, people. Protect the wifeys (ph) Anna and Grace, and starve our villain, Britney, until she is mean like a pit bull. You get cash bonuses...
It's a true kind of milestone for me. And the fact that it's a milestone when I'm over 40 - they are writing more characters for women in television after their 40s 'cause that's when we really know what is going on.
DEGGANS: Years ago, there were so few quality roles, especially for women, Emmy voters often nominated the same people time and again. "Murphy Brown" star Candice Bergen famously stopped entering after winning five Emmys as best comedy actress. But this year, the TV academy has handed first-time nominations to experienced performers like Martin Mull, Keri Russell, "Mr. Robot" star Rami Malek and Zimmer. She credits the explosion of shows across broadcast cable and streaming for the change.
ZIMMER: There's so many more, you know, venues where you can be seen. You know, someone like Rami Malek, he's probably been working for years. But it's like you get that one part that gets enough buzz, that gets enough eyeballs, that people go, oh, this is incredible.
RAMI MALEK: Yeah, I'm glad I got it at the right time.
DEGGANS: That's Rami Malek, who appeared in TV shows like "24" and "The Pacific" before nabbing his first nomination this year as best actor in a drama on "Mr. Robot." Malek says great acting isn't always about big performances like the classic courtroom confrontation in "A Few Good Men."
MALEK: It's just an authenticity that sucks you into his world. It makes you almost forget what you're watching, that you're sitting in a theater or sitting on your couch. It's like a transcendent experience.
DEGGANS: Oscar winner Cuba Gooding Jr. got his first Emmy nod this year. He's nominated for best actor in a miniseries or movie playing O.J. Simpson in FX's anthology series, "American Crime Story." He says TV increasingly fills a role once held by a low-budget independent films where directors writers and actors stretch themselves creatively before moving up to big-budget movies.
CUBA GOODING JR.: Well, now you have those same scripts, but they're not sacrificing production values. They're going - and they're not, you know, truncated to a two-and-a-half-hour tale. They're eight hours. They're 10 hours. And you have the finances to get it right.
DEGGANS: Aziz Ansari earned first-time Emmy nods this year as an actor, director and writer for his series, "Master Of None," on Netflix. Although the show's praised for its depiction of non-white immigrants and their children, Ansari says the episode where his character struggles in a relationship with his live-in girlfriend was also a high point.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "MASTER OF NONE")
NOEL WELLS: (As Rachel) You think that I'm living in your place.
AZIZ ANSARI: (As Dev) No.
WELLS: (As Rachel) Fine, you know what? I'll clean up the floor. Great. You know what? I'll be your maid. Oh, sorry, sir, you're here? I heard you want the floor clean.
ANSARI: (As Dev) Whatever accent you were just doing is very offensive. So you're a racist boo and a dirty boo.
WELLS: (As Rachel) Oh my god.
ANSARI: A lot of times there's a focus on the diversity and the cultural aspects of it. But the romantic arcs in our season, I think I'd put it up against anything. And we did have white people on our show that did a great job (laughter).
DEGGANS: Emmy winners will be announced on September 18. If more than a few newcomers convert their nominations into wins, it'll be an important sign that TV's establishment has recognized a fresh crop of trailblazers in television's new golden age. I'm Eric Deggans.
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