By Jill Serjeant
(Reuters) - It is election year in America and television has risen to the challenge, producing a range of award-worthy politically-themed shows - and the more outrageous, the better.
The Emmy awards, the highest honors in television, have embraced politics across the spectrum, from scheming drama series like "House of Cards," historical re-examinations such as the Lyndon B. Johnson film "All the Way," and spoofs of the 2016 U.S. presidential candidates on "Saturday Night Live."
White House comedy series "Veep" and Netflix presidential drama "House of Cards" are among the top contenders when the Emmys are handed out in Los Angeles on Sunday after an extraordinary year in U.S. politics where truth has often proved stranger than fiction.
"Both 'House of Cards' and 'Veep,' compared to some of the things that we are hearing on an almost daily basis, seem almost restrained at times," said Robert Thompson, pop culture professor at Syracuse University.
While "House of Cards," which got a total of 13 Emmy nominations this year, depicts the back-stabbing, ruthless nature of Washington politics, "Veep,", which has 17 nods, delights in mocking its ambitions and screw-ups.
Both are a far cry from the idealism of the acclaimed political TV series "The West Wing" in the early 2000s, and instead reflect a deep cynicism toward national politics, Thompson said.
Despite its popularity, "House of Cards" has yet to win a major Emmy, but this year both Kevin Spacey's manipulative President Frank Underwood and Robin Wright's devious first lady are among the front runners for acting trophies.
"By the end of the series, Robin Wright's character emerges as vice president after she bullies Spacey to get her on the campaign ticket. She got a promotion on the show and she will likely get a boost in her career," said Tom O'Neil, editor of awards prediction site Goldderby.com.
Awards pundits say there's little doubt about "Veep" winning a second comedy series Emmy and Julia Louis-Dreyfus taking home a fifth Emmy in a row for her turn as the vainglorious Selina Meyer, who, like Underwood, was grasping for re-election in the latest season.
Thompson said that in the current U.S. election season "somehow a comedy seems so much more relevant because it seems more able to suggest the completely unexpected, you-have-to laugh-or-you'd-cry nature of what is going on."
Elsewhere, the November elections again provided plenty of material for sketch show "Saturday Night Live," where comedian Larry David was nominated for his spot-on impressions of Senator Bernie Sanders and Kate McKinnon got a nod for playing Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton.
Political shows "Scandal," about a philandering American president and his mistress, and "Madam Secretary," about a female U.S. Secretary of State battling to balance international diplomacy with raising a family, don't figure in the Emmy awards this year.
But HBO film "All the Way" won eight nominations, including for Bryan Cranston's performance as the late President Lyndon B. Johnson, while Kerry Washington was recognized for playing Anita Hill in "Confirmation," the HBO dramatization of the 1991 Clarence Thomas Supreme Court nomination hearings and sexual harassment allegations.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Marguerita Choy)