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Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to return nomination ballots, is running a series called Emmy Watch, featuring highlight clips and interviews with actors, producers, and writers whom EW TV critic Ken Tucker has on his wish list for the nominations announcement on July 19.

Last year, FX’s Justified earned four acting Emmy nominations (including one win for supporting actress Margo Martindale). With writing that had us checking in with showrunner Graham Yost each week during season 3, isn’t it time the show break into the Best Drama category? “It would be delightful and we’d be incredibly happy, but I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again, I don’t think the competition in that category has ever been stiffer. I was talking to friends last night, and without breaking a sweat, you can name five shows that should be on that list: Homeland, Game of Thrones, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Good Wife. That’s just to start. Boardwalk Empire, on down the line, including us and Sons of Anarchy and a bunch of other things,” Yost says. “They never announce what show was in the sixth spot. Back when Boomtown didn’t get a nomination, I was told by someone at the Academy, ‘You know, we’re not supposed to talk about this, but suffice it to say you didn’t miss by much.’ So that could happen again. I try to be realistic…. For me, the reason you want success is that you get to keep doing the show. To be considered for something like the Emmy, that’s such wonderful icing.”

In our dreams, both Justified and SOA would get nominations. “We would all do a big dance, and [FX president] John Landgraf would lead us in the dance, a big conga line of gratitude,” Yost says. And if just Justified gets a nod, can we make that a Walton Goggins clog number? “I will guarantee you, we will get Walton to do a celebratory clog if we get a nomination.” Goggins, for the record, has promised the exclusive. But here are more reasons this show deserves its shot at Emmy.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You picked the season 3 finale “Slaughterhouse” as an episode voters should revisit. Why?

GRAHAM YOST: You know, I think it has a bunch of things: It has great performances by the three guys who got nominated for Critics’ Choice: Tim [Olyphant], Neal McDonough, and Jere Burns. Neal’s character [Quarles] went all over the place over the season, but there was something about that last episode [Laughs] with him asking, “Would you happen to have some Ibuprofen?” Jere Burns, the scene between Raylan [Olyphant] and Wynn Duffy [Burns] in the trailer when it looks like Raylan might shoot him — spectacular. And then Tim, all the stuff he did in the episode, and particularly that last scene between him and Winona [Natalie Zea], we were all proud of that. It was just a nice summation of this character, where he is and how deep the wounds go in his life. You feel for the guy. And then it had our crazy, crazy stuff — the big confrontation in the slaughterhouse and chopping off Quarles’ arm. It’s something that we get that little sort of teenage boyish giggle over. [Giggles] We chopped off his arm! It was fun to write and great to execute. There’s stuff that [episode director] Dean Parisot did in it that was just wonderful — Raylan balancing that salt shaker in the scene with Limehouse. I could go on about how brilliant we are. No. [Laughs] I enjoy watching most episodes, but that one I got a real kick out of.

I watched it when it aired, obviously, because we did our extensive postmortem interview discussing how all those great scenes you just described came together. But watching it again last night, not having to focus so heavily on the plot, it was somehow even more enjoyable.

Absolutely. Once the tension is removed, because you know what’s gonna happen, then you can just enjoy the playing of it.

The only complaint I heard about this episode was people missing Brad Paisley’s cover of “You’ll Never Leave Harlan,” which was featured at the end of the season 1 and season 2 finales.

Honestly, there was a couple other places we looked at putting it in, just on the radio while people were driving, so it was there as a check mark that this is part of our tradition. But on the other hand, we don’t want to be slaves to the tradition. I can guarantee you, you will hear that song again in the series. We love that song. We love Brad Paisley’s version. We’ve gotten various other covers of it by female artists that are spectacular. So it will rise again. It just didn’t fit for the last scene, because we didn’t have someone dying or going off for vengeance. It just didn’t play.

That last scene: Raylan tells Winona that his father Arlo (Raymond J. Barry) just saw a man in a hat and shot him, not knowing who it was, then puts his hat on and walks out. The look on Tim’s face…

That’s just Tim. You could walk through that whole episode, every scene he does something interesting. And it always feels grounded and real in this weird Elmore Leonard world that we have going. I mentioned the scene with Wynn Duffy, the scene with Limehouse when Raylan’s on a vengeance-fueled drive and pulls his gun and all these other guns are on him and he just gives up. Just scene after scene. The little bits with him and Arlo, with him and Boyd [Walton Goggins]. I never want to take it for granted or just expect it, but I gotta say, working on the show, it’s so much fun to see the cuts. It’s so much fun to see the cuts and go, “Well, that’s as good as you could ask for.” There is an actor who fully understands his part and enjoys it. He gets a kick out of playing Raylan Givens, and it shows.

One of my favorite parts of our weekly postmortems was hearing how much the cast, particularly Tim (who’s also a producer on the show), contributes lines and other ideas.

We’re really lucky because everyone’s pulling in the same direction. We’re not all going, “No, the show should be more this or more that.” Everyone gets the drill: It’s Elmore Leonard, and that’s why we’re here — to do that peculiar dark, funny, exciting thing that Elmore does. In our best weeks we come close, I don’t think we ever surpass. But that’s our great gift, that we’re all going the same way. It just wouldn’t work if it was anything other than that.

Give me two examples of that in the finale.

At one point, we thought of wrapping up Quarles at the end of the second to last episode and having it more of a Raylan vs. Arlo finale, but it was Tim who said, “Once we dispatch Quarles, then the air goes out of the balloon.” He was right. We restructured it. Let’s just make going after Arlo the last act of the last episode. And the thing about Raylan returning the gun used to kill Gary to Quarles: That would surface in a script and then go away, surface and go away. There was actually a point where we thought, Well, we’re just not gonna address it. I’m pretty sure again it was Tim who came up with the idea: What if he has Quarles take both guns off him but only ask for one back? As he says, “You can keep that one.” That was just a nice way to wrap it up.

Looking ahead, what can you tease about next season?

Let’s go back to “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive.” Our concern about using that song at the end of every season is that it becomes expected, and then it loses its novelty, and then worse, it loses its emotional impact. Similarly, let’s say scenes between Raylan and Boyd. We’ve done so many of them: Raylan comes in hot and knocks Boyd around to get the information, or Boyd comes to Raylan, or Ava comes to Raylan on behalf of Boyd. We might pull back from that in the next season — for a while, not the whole season. We don’t want to repeat ourselves. And we always have goals that we want to include Art [Nick Searcy], Tim Gutterson [Jacob Pitts], and Rachel Brooks [Erica Tazel] more in the stories. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, but I think those characters are fun with Raylan. Obviously Art is, but there’s stuff that’s emerged with Tim and Raylan, and Rachel and Raylan, that’s just fun to watch. And Tim’s always one who just says, “What about this episode, it’s me and Gutterson on the road, or me and Rachel, or let’s get Art out of the office and chitchat in the car.” So we’re all headed in that direction.

Is there any movement on getting Justified fan Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) to guest on the show? I’ve read that you’d actually thought of him for Harlan Roulette-playing Dixie Mafia member Glen Fogle in an early season 3 episode, but scheduling didn’t work out. Then you got Pruitt Taylor Vince, who was brilliant.

It would have been great, but we got Pruitt Taylor Vince. How lucky are we? God, he’s so good. And that’s one of the great characters that the writers have come up with. That was just great work by Dave Andron and the room. After I said that [Stonestreet wanted to guest on the show], I got concerned that I shouldn’t have. But I got an email from Eric saying, “No, it’s great. People have been emailing me saying, ‘Do it, do it, do it.'” We’ll work on that.

Let’s end talking about the creation of great villains, which is something the show has become known for.

That’s something we have to take a long hard look at: Do we want to be a villain of the year show? Is there another way to approach that? We’re gonna think long and hard about, because again, it’s like using “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive” — if it becomes expected, then it can start to be ho-hum. “Oh, the villain this year has a peg leg and a parrot on his shoulder.” What makes a good villain: Elmore makes great villains. He made Boyd such a great villain that we kept him alive [when he died in the short story the pilot was based on] and he’s now a part of the DNA of the show. Mags [Martindale] was a great villain because she was different. I think one of the most flattering things that I’ve read online is people saying, “Well, a female villain is not that original. Here are all the other examples.” It’s like, “That’s wonderful! That fact that anyone even thought for a second it was original enough for there to be backlash is terrific. Then we really did a good job.” Mags was such a lovable villain that we wanted Quarles to be someone who the audience would think “That guy’s gotta die. Something horrible has to happen to him.” It was fun to create that kind of bad guy. The rules of Elmore on a memorable villain are to make them interesting, let them be able to speak well and interestingly, and remember they’ve got their reasons for doing what they’re doing. That’s a good place to start, and then try to come up with something specific about the man or the woman that makes them feel like a real person.

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