In a truly remarkable, record-breaking development, no fewer than five of the seven shows nominated for Outstanding Drama Series this year are not just first timers, but series in their very first season. Part of this can be attributed to the absence of the victor of the past two years, Game of Thrones, which started to air its latest season after the eligibility window closed.
But what it really points to is the extraordinary quality of this year’s new output of dramas, as well as the emergence of cash-rich streaming services like Netflix and Hulu (Amazon is sitting this one out), which between them have four nominees. In terms of holdovers, Netflix’s House of Cards is on its fifth consecutive try for the gold, and AMC’s Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul is nominated for the third time here. This Is Us, meanwhile, becomes the first commercial broadcast network show nominated in this category since 2011’s nod for The Good Wife.
Better Call Saul
With eight nominations again this year, this series has been riding the goodwill of its multiple Emmy winning predecessor Breaking Bad, but has sufficiently delivered the quality in a prequel that had a lot to prove, and continues to prove it. As it gets closer to merging with the show that inspired it, the ambition in the sharp writing and direction just seems to accelerate. Of the two shows returning to the category this year, this one has the best shot of finally landing a win.
Netflix’s hit drama about the early days of Queen Elizabeth’s reign has won acclaim, SAG and Golden Globe awards and a spot as the successor in the category to another British staple, Downton Abbey. The only problem with that is Downton never won here. The Crown’s across the board loss at the BAFTA Television Awards also was an unexpected setback but Emmy voters I talk to seem to love it. Will this be the first Netflix show to crack a major category win?
The Handmaid’s Tale
Like The Crown, this powerful, dark and much talked-about series has 13 nominations and has put Hulu in the hunt for the first time. The dystopian setting and treatment of women seems uncannily timely as it emerged just about the same time as the Trump administration and has drawn parallels. Might that help its cause here? Certainly a recent Television Critics Association award in the same category won’t hurt its profile.
House of Cards
Netflix got this D.C.-based series in the race early and has seen it land a Drama Series nomination for each of its five seasons. As events in the real D.C. started to eclipse the storyline of Francis Underwood as played by Kevin Spacey, it was thought that maybe its time had come and gone, but with seven nominations it seems there is still life left in the show, at least as far as Emmy voters are concerned. A victory now, though, seems like a long shot.
Another Netflix entry, this inventive and out-there series from the Duffer Brothers and 21 Laps caught on immediately, even with only one season so far. Though it falls into a genre not often honored in this category, the success of Game of Thrones proves the times are changing, and 18 nominations—second highest in this race—only confirms that. With SAG and PGA wins under its belt it is a real contender.
This Is Us
This ensemble family drama crossing several decades is the first broadcast network series to crack the code of the Drama category since The Good Wife did it for CBS in 2011. Can NBC save the day for the nets? With 10 nominations it is an impressive haul, but with none of them for writing or directing, a win seems a bit challenging, at least in the first season.
HBO’s new series adaptation of the Michael Crichton novel and movie tied Saturday Night Live for the most nominations of any other program this year. So with 22 noms, Westworld is suddenly one to beat as this recognition crosses across numerous branches and represents a wide range of support. Though HBO doesn’t have Game of Thrones to bank on, it looks like they may have the next best thing.
PETE’S PICK: The Crown