EXCLUSIVE: Stories Behind the Emmy-Nominated Episodes You Need to Watch

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While the nominees may be anxious to hear their names called
on Sunday, Sept. 18, when the Primetime Emmy Awards are handed out live from
Los Angeles’ Microsoft Theater, fans still may need to catch up on up some of
the finest hours of TV.

With the weekend ahead of us, there’s still time to go back
and watch the episodes that earned recognition from the Television Academy. But
what’s worth watching? How about a marathon of these eight stellar episodes? ET
went behind the scenes to learn about how they came together.

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“Mother,” Veep

HBO

Dale Stern, a longtime first assistant director on the HBO
comedy
, finally put his foot down and got to direct his first episode, which
not only earned him his first Emmy nomination but also earned Julia
Louis-Dreyfus
her fifth consecutive acting nomination for playing Selina Meyer,
plus nominations for writing and editing. In the season five episode, Meyer’s
mother is on her deathbed as the president comes to terms with letting go. “There's
a scene where the doctor leaves her alone to say her final words to her mother
before they pull the plug. She can't find the words to say it, so she reverts
back to the greeting card that Ben gave Ken. It was this ridiculous thing,”
Stern says. “I could tell she was just going to deliver the goods that day. I
fought with my DP to get the camera really close to her, inches away from her
face … The range that she possesses is just mindboggling, from trying to find
these words and then she breaks into hysterical laughing.” 

“Kimmy Gives Up,” Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Netflix

When you combine the forces of composer Jeff Richmond (husband
to Kimmy Schmidt co-creator Tina Fey)
and Tituss Burgess, magic is bound to happen, as is the case with this
music-filled episode that earned Burgess his second Emmy nomination for
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. “Obviously theater is
something that is very close to me and I know it very well. Any opportunity to
visit that on camera, I welcome it,” he says, adding that it’s a “luxury” to
work with someone like Richmond. “This
man is a genius. I don't know how he cranks out some of these songs. They are
so in the center of what they are. If it's a '20s song, there's not a hint of
1930s … We speak the same language, so things move real quickly when him and I
get together.” 

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“Flicky-Flicky
Thump-Thump,” Transparent

Amazon

The second episode of Transparent’s
second season proved to be a showcase of talent for Judith Light and Melora
Hardin
, who were both nominated this year. For Light, who plays matriarch
Shelly Pfefferman, it saw the 67-year-old actress getting pleasured in a
bathtub
by her ex-partner Maura Pfefferman (Jeffrey Tambor). “The thing about it was
Jeffrey and I really needed to spend time talking to each other about what we
were both nervous and afraid of,” she says, crediting both Tambor and creator
Jill Soloway for creating a comfortable space in which to film. “When I
first read it, I was very nervous. I said to Jill, ‘I'm terrified.’ She just
heard me and she just let me talk.” In an entirely different scene, Hardin, who
plays Sarah Pfefferman’s (Amy Landecker) ex-wife Tammy Cashman, it was a
meltdown to top all meltdowns as she raged through a party, tossing their
uneaten wedding cake in a pool. “I completely remember the moment where I was
like, ‘That was fantastic. You just got yourself an Emmy nomination.’ We're
going to do it again,” Soloway says. “What I tried to do as a director
there is to not get a performance out of a person, but instead make the party
feel real and let Melora stay in connection with her tool, which is her body
and her voice, and keep a crucible of safety around her so she knows to go
there. Then she did go there.”

“Battle of the
Bastards,” Game of Thrones

HBO

The showdown between Jon Snow (Kit Harington) and Ramsay
Bolton (Iwan Rheon) in “Battle of the Bastards,” season six’s penultimate
episode, proved to be quite popular, easily besting the series’ previous battle
episodes and earning both director Miguel Sapochnik and Harington their first
career Emmy nominations as well as a writing nomination for series creators
David Benioff and D.B. Weiss. But filming the episode proved to be quite
challenging. Plagued by “acts of god and a lot of rain” while filming in
Ireland, the production was in danger of not completing the episode on time. However,
Sapochnik says he was able to improvise a solution to capture the battle’s most
dramatic moment: burying Snow alive in a stampede of his men. “It’s rare for
filmmaking on that scale to get to follow its nose and improvise,” he says. “I
was really pleased with the way it came out, and when David and Dan saw it and
liked it, and then the audience saw it and responded so well, it was very
gratifying.” Of course, the moment also happened to be Harington’s biggest
fear. “When I told Kit, he lit up,” the director continues. “I thought to
myself, ‘This idea has legs!’”

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“Parents,” Master of None

Netflix

Not confined to the conventions of a traditional half-hour
comedy, co-creators Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang made it their mission to push the
limits of what their Netflix series could be. “When we were writing the show,
Alan and I were thinking to ourselves, ‘Who knows if we'll get a second season
or if we'll ever get an opportunity like this [again],’” Ansari says.
“Basically, Netflix is letting us do what we want and we have such creative
freedom, let's really take advantage of that and do something crazy.” The
result was standout episodes like “Indians on TV” and “Parents,” the latter of
which, about Dev (Ansari) and his best friend (Kelvin Yu) reconnecting with their
first-generation immigrant parents, earned Ansari a nomination for acting and
directing while earning both him and Yang a nomination for writing. “We knew
that if we were able to pull that story off correctly, it would communicate
this emotion that we knew that we felt as children of immigrants,” Yang says of
the episode, which was first conceived while they were walking around New York
City, coming to the realization of how tiny their problems are compared to
their parents’ own struggles. “It's kind of a love letter to our parents and our
way of saying we're starting to appreciate all the sacrifices that they made --
and that emotion is very real and very genuine.”

“Hope,” Black-ish

ABC

While there were several standout episodes from this past
season of Black-ish, none had the
impact of “Hope,” which earned Anthony Anderson his second Emmy nomination for
playing patriarch Andre “Dre” Johnson Sr. The episode dealt with police
brutality in the wake of real-life incidents that have divided America and
launched the Black Lives Matter movement. In it, a tearful Dre gives a speech
to wife Rainbow "Bow" Johnson (Tracee Ellis Ross, who is nominated
for another episode) about the fear that he, and many others, had of President
Barack Obama being assassinated during his inauguration. “It was a sentiment
that Anthony Anderson felt,” the actor says, who managed to land the scene in
two takes, the second of which was used in the final episode. “It was so
powerful and so moving to me. It had an effect on the work, on the character.” What
audiences didn’t see were tears running down Ross’ face as she stood off-screen
while Anderson filmed his takes. “We hold each other in those moments, so he
has the room to do all the things he does the same way he does for me,” she
says. “I was right there with him, crying.”

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“The Race Card,” The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime
Story

FX

The FX anthology crime series earned 22 nominations,
including one for John Singleton -- the Oscar-nominated director of Boyz n the Hood -- for his work behind
the camera on “The Race Card.” Sterling K. Brown, a first-time nominee for his portrayal of prosecutor Christopher Darden, says it was a
powerful episode from script to air. “Not only having John as the director, but
that episode being written by Joe Robert Cole [writer of Marvel’s Black Pantherand nominee for scripting
this episode], I feel like there was a level of sensitivity to things that were
being dealt with,” Brown says of the courtroom scenes that dealt with the use
of the N-word. “It made me feel comfortable during the shooting, being in the
hands of someone who had dealt with these very combustible issues in his own
personal work. It gave me, as an actor, a sense of comfort knowing that people
were going to be paying attention to the details -- and nothing was going to be
glossed over.”

“Episode 1,” Catastrophe

Amazon

Admittedly, the pilot episode, which co-creators and stars Rob
Delaney and Sharon Horgan
are nominated for writing, is “quite chunky. I mean
there's a lot going on in it and I think it ended up like that because it was
originally two scripts,” Horgan says of the episode, which sets up the series
about two people forced to fall in love after she gets pregnant. “[It] was a
real challenge, but it was a good idea that worked out because you get the
setup of the relationship. Then you also get to see them fully kind of having
made the decision to get on with their lives. Hopefully it ended up a lot more
satisfying and denser,” she says. Despite those challenges, “we had fun doing
it,” Delaney says.

The 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will air live on Sunday, Sept. 18 at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT on ABC.

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