My 10 Takeaways From the 70th Annual Emmy Award Nominations
This morning, The Handmaids Tale’s Samira Wiley and The Blacklist’s Ryan Eggold joined Television Academy Chairman Hayma Washington to announce the nominations for the 70th Annual Emmy Awards. Well, they announced the nominations in the major categories. Had they announced the nominees in all 122 (!!) categories, the press conference would likely still be going on as I write this.
Game of Thrones returned to eligibility this year after missing the 2017 cutoffs and, as expected, led the nominations with 22. The show was followed closely by fellow HBO drama Westworld and NBC’s venerable sketch series Saturday Night Live, each with 21, and last year’s Outstanding Drama Series winner The Handmaid’s Tale, with 20. The most nominated comedy series was Atlanta (16 nominations), the most nominated limited series was The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story (18 nominations), the most nominated live variety special was Jesus Christ Superstar: Live in Concert (13 nominations), and the most nominated reality series were RuPaul’s Drag Race and The Voice (10 nominations each).
I won’t rehash the nominees below as you can simply click here to access them, along with an absolutely unfathomable amount of facts and figures. I will, however, recap my 10 takeaways from this year’s nominees.
1.) The Emmys have officially revamped their reputation. Up until very recently, the Emmys were heavily criticized for being stagnant, predictable, and unadventurous. Each year, critics would deride them for failing to nominate new and bold series in favor of continuing to nominate aging shows and selecting big names and industry favorites over lesser known talent. It’s hard to look at this year’s nominees and argue that this still holds true. Of the 15 series nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series, 9 are in their first or second season. The Academy has fully embraced new platforms, with 6 of the 15 series nominees coming from streaming services (compared to only 2 from the broadcast networks). Oscar winners like Al Pacino, Jane Fonda, Nicole Kidman, and Rita Moreno lost out on nods to far less established actors like Jesse Plemons, Issa Rae, Adina Porter, and Zazie Beetz. You may still think the Academy made the wrong choices, but they didn’t make the wrong choices because they were lazily rubber stamping prior nominees.
2.) Despite their fresh picks, the nominations are still fairly easy to predict. Yesterday, I posted my predictions in the key comedy and drama categories and I did fairly well. 79% of my predicted nominees became actual nominees this morning and I even got all 7 nominees in the Drama Series category correct. My accuracy was not because I am particularly prescient or “in the know.” Rather, the Academy still tends to follow the lead of precursors like the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards, and Critics Choice Awards. Nevertheless, I made three significant errors, detailed in numbers 3 to 5 below.
3.) I overestimated the Academy’s embrace of revivals. Not realizing that the Academy had fully embraced innovation (see #1), I expected several more nominations for revived series. The only one that did well was Curb Your Enthusiasm. (Note: Curb isn’t technically a revival since the series never officially ended; nevertheless its prior season aired over 6 years ago, so it felt like a revival.) Showtime’s revival of Twin Peaks didn’t score any nominations outside the technical categories (not even for star Kyle MacLachlan or Emmy favorite Laura Dern). Netflix’s revival of Arrested Development didn’t score any nominations at all, even technical ones. ABC’s blockbuster revival of Roseanne, which was abruptly canceled due to the star’s racism, only scored a single major nomination — for Laurie Metcalf (who is having a banner year after scoring her first Oscar nomination and her second Tony.) Nowhere did I miscalculate more than with Will & Grace. In my opinion, the revival produced some of the best and most consistent work of the entire series. That, combined with the Academy’s deep love of the show (it received 83 nominations and 16 wins during its original 8-season run) and the ensemble’s hardcore campaigning, led me to anticipate several major nominations. It only scored one for Megan Mullally in Outstanding Supporting Actress.
4.) I underestimated the Academy’s continued love of HBO. I knew Game of Thrones would come back in a big way for its penultimate season. The series won the top trophy in 2016 and 2017 and was already the most nominated drama series in TV history before this morning. What I didn’t expect was Westworld to do so well in its second season. With the show increasingly dividing critics and fans and HBO’s advertising money having to be split with Game of Thrones, I expected its nomination tally to dwindle. Nevertheless it scored 21 nominations (only one less than last year). Interestingly, Westworld’s Jeffrey Wright (nominated last year) and Ed Harris (not nominated last year) were able to make the jump from supporting to lead and get nominated, while Game of Thrones’s Emilia Clarke (three times nominated) and Kit Harrington (one time nominated) were not. I also significantly underestimated Barry. Despite its critical acclaim, I expected it only to scrape together a few nominations given its fairly recent premiere and the incredibly crowded competition in the comedy categories. Nevertheless it scored an eye-popping 13 nominations, including in Outstanding Comedy Series. You simply can never underestimate the HBO machine, despite the fact that the internet was all atwitter today regarding the fact that Netflix surpassed them for the most nominations this year.
5.) I need to accept the Academy’s obsession with Saturday Night Live. A few years ago, the Academy decided to allow Saturday Night Live cast members and guest hosts to compete in the Comedy Series acting categories as opposed to the very limited variety performer category. It was an imperfect solution to a clear problem. It wasn’t a big deal at first. There were a few wins, mostly in guest categories with the likes of Tina Fey, Betty White, and Justin Timberlake winning for their iconic turns as hosts. But then with the show’s uptick in buzz and quality with the 2016 presidential election, their Emmy presence exploded. Last year the show won 4 of the 6 comedy acting categories (Alec Baldwin and Kate McKinnon in supporting and Dave Chapelle and Melissa McCarthy in guest). Despite becoming significantly less funny, less sharp, and less buzzy this season (its 43rd), it extended its astronomical run with another 21 nominations this year, including 9 (!) acting nominations. It’s not that I think there aren’t several talented actors as regulars and guest hosts on the series; quite the contrary. But I have trouble accepting the Academy’s repeated tendency to award broad impersonations in short skits over nuanced work in ongoing series. Nevertheless, it appears that my campaign is a futile one.
6.) The amazing slate of new programs in the 2016–2017 season were not “One Season Wonders.” Last year, 6 of the 14 nominations in the Outstanding Drama and Comedy Series categories went to brand new shows — Atlanta, The Handmaid’s Tale, This is Us, Westworld, Stranger Things, and The Crown. All 6 of them repeated this year in the top categories and scored an impressive array of supporting nominations. One clear notion from this morning is that 2016–2017 will be a year to remember regarding the emergence of brilliant new shows and the Emmys uncharacteristically quick embrace of them.
7.) Increasing inclusivity is apparent (at least in the major categories). Of the 15 Outstanding Drama and Comedy series nominees, 2 feature predominantly non-white casts and 6 others feature fairly diverse casts. That’s still not a great number, but it’s a vast improvement over the past. The Academy also nominated several people of color in the individual acting categories. For example, Killing Eve’s Sandra Oh became the first woman of Asian descent to be nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, this year is the first time in history that two black women were nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy (Black-ish’s Tracie Ellis Ross and Insecure’s Issa Rae), and more than one person of color is nominated in 12 of the 16 acting categories. Again, these numbers are far from perfect, but a huge improvement over the past. And interestingly, shows hit by sexual harassment scandals were nowhere to be found in the nominations. Perennial favorite Transparent didn’t score a single nomination, nor did Jeffrey Tambor’s other series Arrested Development or HBO’s acclaimed James Franco vehicle The Deuce.(It should also be noted that despite the increased inclusivity, women and people of color are still highly underrepresented in the writing and directing categories, as well as other technical categories.)
8.) This year’s nominations brought several milestones... In addition to those already mentioned above, several other milestones were achieved this morning. With its 8th nomination for Outstanding Comedy Series, Curb Your Enthusiasm becomes one of only 6 shows to ever score 8 or more nominations in the category (Cheers and M*A*S*H scored 11, All in the Family scored 9, and Curb now ties Modern Family and Frasier with 8). Interestingly, Curb got in while Modern Family got snubbed for the first time in this category. (Although it still has Frasier tied for most wins in the category — 5). Saturday Night Live creator/producer Lorne Michaels extends his lead of the most Emmy nominated individual in history with his 82nd nomination, while Saturday Night Live extend its lead as the most nominated series of all time with 252 nominations (over 43 seasons). Game of Thrones has now tallied 129 nominations, surpassing ER’s long-held record of 124 to become the most nominated drama series of all time. Likewise the astonishing nomination counts of several well-known figures further increased this morning — Tina Fey (43), Larry David (26), Lily Tomlin (25), Heidi Klum (22), Alec Baldwin (19), Carl Reiner (17), Ted Danson (16), Bryan Cranston (15), Allison Janney (14), and Bill Hader (14).
9.) …and Emmy night could bring a few more milestones. This year, Netflix or Amazon could win their first Outstanding Series trophy (Hulu became the first streaming service to do so by claiming Outstanding Drama Series for The Handmaid’s Tale last year.) Should Allison Janney pick up the Lead Actress trophy for Mom she will tie Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Cloris Leachman for the distinction of having the most acting Emmys among all performers. (She is currently tied with the legendary Ed Asner and Mary Tyler Moore.) And perhaps most interestingly, should John Legend win the Emmy for the live production of Jesus Christ Superstar, he will become only the 13th individuals to have won a competitive Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.
10.) I have a lot of shows to catch up before the Emmys air on September 17th. Thankfully, as the Academy continues to increase its embrace of newer series and those that air on streaming services and cable channels, catching up on the nominated shows is much easier. Of the 15 nominees in the Drama and Comedy Series category, 13 have 13 or less episodes in their most recent season and 11 have 10 or less episodes. Still, in this era of peak TV it’s truly impossible to see everything and — given that fact — you can’t blame the Academy for not getting it perfect.