Jewish entertainers well-represented at Emmy Awards

Jeffrey Tambor is nominated for the Emmy for lead actor, comedy series, for  ‘Transparent.’

By Nate Bloom

The Tribe at the Emmys

The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast live on CBS at 7 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 17. Stephen Colbert will host. The Creative Arts Emmys are awarded on Sept. 16 (FXX cable, 8 p.m., taped). The Creative Emmy categories include guest actor on a series, documentaries, reality and animated shows, and all the technical awards. I’ll mention a few Jewish “Creative” nominees near the end of this column.  Here are the confirmed Jewish Primetime Emmy nominees.

Acting Categories:  Lead actor, comedy series: JEFFREY TAMBOR, 73, “Transparent”; Lead actress, comedy series: PAMELA ADLON, 51, “Better Things” and TRACEE ELLIS ROSS, 44, “Black-ish” (Ross’s father is Jewish; her mother is famous African-American singer Diana Ross); Note: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, a nominee in this category, had one Jewish grandparent (paternal grandpa) and she’s said repeatedly “I’m not Jewish”; Lead actor, drama series: LIEV SCHREIBER, 49, “Ray Donovan”;  Lead actress, drama series: EVAN RACHEL WOOD, 29, “West World”;  Supporting actor, drama: MANDY PATINKIN, 64, “Homeland”; Supporting actress, comedy series: VANESSA BAYER, 35, “Saturday Night Live” and JUDITH LIGHT, 68, “Transparent”; Supporting actress, limited series/movie: JACKIE HOFFMAN, 56, “Feud: Bette and Joan”. 

Directing and writing awards. First, the directors: Comedy series: DAVID MANDEL, 47, “Veep”. Mandel has written for many series, including “Seinfeld.” He wrote 10 “Seinfeld” episodes, including the famous “Bizarro Jerry” episode, which he says is his favorite; Director, limited series, or movie or special: GLENN WEISS, 55, the Oscars ceremony; Director, variety series: JEREMY KONNER, 37, “Drunk History”. Konner is also the co-creator of this series; Writing, comedy series: Mandel, “Veep”; Writing, drama series: JOE WEISBERG, 56, “The Americans”. A former CIA officer, Weisberg created “The Americans,” a series about two KGB agents posing as Americans in the 1980s. Writing, limited series: JAFFE COHEN, 60ish, co-writer, “Feud: “Bette and Joan” and RICHARD PRICE, 67, co-writer, “The Night Of.”  (The directing and writing awards cite one particular episode, which I have omitted here). 

Five series are nominated for outstanding writing, variety series (“Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” “Late Night with Seth Meyers,” “Saturday Night Live,” and “Late Night with Stephen Colbert”). The writing staffs for these series are all pretty big. But noted here are the ‘confirmed’ Jewish head writers: JO MILLER, 51, “Samantha Bee”. Miller has a Yale B.A. in Medieval Jewish history and as a Fulbright scholar she did considerable post-grad work in the same field; and JAY KATSIR, 35, “Stephen Colbert.” Katsir, the son of an Israeli father, is a Princeton grad. He attended Young Judaea camps and spent a year in Israel on a Young Judaea Year Course after graduating from high school; and SARAH SCHNEIDER, 33. Schneider, one of four “SNL” co-head writers, tweeted this in 2010:  “The Jewish equivalent of finding out Santa’s not real is learning that Fiddler has a sad ending.” By the way, Seth Meyers’ isn’t Jewish (his paternal grandpa was). However, in 2013 he married attorney ALEXI ASHE, 34, in a Jewish ceremony.

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The Emmys for “best series” in various categories goes to the series’ producers, of whom there are many. My practice is to note which of the “best” series have a Jewish creator or co-creator. Best Comedy series: STEVEN LEVITAN, 55, co-creator, “Modern Family” and JOHN ALTSCHULER/DAVE KRINSKY, both 54, co-creators, with Mike Judge, of “Silicon Valley”; Best Drama Series: PETER MORGAN, 54, “The Crown” (which he wrote) and DAN FOGELMAN, 38, “This is Us”; Best Limited Series: Jaffee Cohen, co-creator, “Feud: Bette and Joan” and Price, co-creator, “The Night Of” and NOAH PINK, 35ish, co-creator, “Genius.” Pink is a Canadian Jew from Nova Scotia; Best Variety Sketch Series: BILLY EICHNER, 37, creator and star of “Billy on the Street” and Jeremy Konner, co-creator, “Drunk History” and CARRIE BROWNSTEIN, 42, co-creator and co-star of “Portlandia” and LORNE MICHAELS, 72, creator of “Saturday Night Live.” Best TV movie: BARRY LEVINSON, 75, “Wizard of Lies”. Levinson, the film’s director, is nominated as the film’s producer. 

It seems to be a record year for nominations for non-Jewish thespians playing real life Jews. Robert DeNiro, who played BERNIE MADOFF in “Wizard of Lies,” vies with Geoffrey Rush, who played ALBERT EINSTEIN in “Genius,” for the lead actor Emmy in a limited series. Stanley Tucci who played JACK L. WARNER (of Warner Bros. fame)  in “Feud” is nominated for supporting actor, limited series; and Michelle Pfeiffer, who played RUTH MADOFF opposite DeNiro, is up for supporting actress, limited series. Rush has already won an Oscar for playing a Jew (pianist DAVID HELFGOTT, now 70, in “Shine”) and an Emmy for playing the late actor PETER SELLERS (whose mother was Jewish). 

Now for the Creative Emmys corner: HANK AZARIA, 53, guest actor, drama, “Ray Donovan.” (Ben Mendelsohn, a nominee in this category, is the “same Jewish ancestry story” as Seth Meyers); the late CARRIE FISHER, guest actress, comedy, “Catastrophe”;  SARAH SILVERMAN, 46, best variety special, “A Speck of Dust”; MINDY STERLING, 64, best known for playing “Frau Farbissina” in the “Austin Powers” movies, is nominated for best actress in short form shows (one a web series); FISHER STEVENS, 53, best director, non-fiction program (AKA, a documentary)—“Bright Lights Starring Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.” He competes in this category with EZRA EDELMAN, 43, “O.J.: Made in America.” Besides his acting nomination, Liev Schreiber is twice-nominated for his narration of two different documentaries. 


Bonus Notes 

Personally, I hope that Liev Schreiber wins. He should have been nominated before this—“Ray Donovan” is now in its 5th season. Schreiber was raised by his Jewish mother and grandfather (his father isn’t Jewish).  He absorbed Jewish culture by being raised on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. He has come to identify strongly as Jewish in his adult years, even though his youthful exposure to religious Judaism was limited to attending a Pesach seder with his Reform, socialist grandfather. His career is marked by Jewish film projects (including “Everything is Illuminated” and “Defiance”). He’s visited Israel with his two sons and he’s acted as a spokesman for the Jewish National Fund. 

People ask me: Evan Rachel Wood—Jewish? Well, every time she is in a movie or award-nominated I am a bit torn about listing her. She was born in North Carolina to parents both involved in the local theater community. Her mother converted to Judaism, but its unclear if it was before Rachel’s birth (her father isn’t Jewish). In 1996, when she was 9, her parents split-up and she moved to Los Angeles with her mother. In 2003, when she was 16, she referred to herself as “Jewish.”  More recently, she has taken the standard celebrity line–“I’m spiritual”– when asked about religion. I suspect we’ll have to wait until she plays a Jewish part, or perhaps marries a Jewish guy—until she opens up about anything Jewish. 

The Emmys aren’t as international as the Oscars. Still, there’s some diversity in the nominees. Noah Pink and Lorne Michaels are from Canada (Michaels was actually born on an Israeli kibbutz, but his parents moved to Canada when he was an infant.) Peter Morgan (“The Crown”) is a Brit.  Tracee Ellis Ross and Ezra Edelman are Americans of inter-racial background.