The Television Academy should be proud in many ways of its nominations for the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards, a diverse list to be sure that includes 37 different programs receiving five or more nominations, including such great newcomers as Hacks and Ted Lasso, and an impressive 45 first-time performer nominees including Mj Rodriguez, up for Lead Actress in a Drama Series for Pose, making her the first transgender performer ever in a lead acting category. Diverse casts in shows such as I May Destroy You, Bridgerton, The Boys, the canceled Lovecraft Country and Pose, This Is Us, Black-ish, The Underground Railroad and more show the TV Academy is ever-increasingly recognizing changes in the industry — however slow it can seem — and the world around us. I will get to Hamilton’s 12 nominations imminently.
Emmy Nominations: 'The Crown', 'The Mandalorian' Top List; HBO/HBO Max Edges Netflix For Top Spot - Full List Of Nominees
But as usual, the Emmy nominations can’t help but be a mixed bag, combining some exciting new programming that voters (I am a longtime member of the Television Academy and one of them) recognized, along with the same old-same old (The Amazing Race again?) that members seem to check off in their sleep while filling out ballots.
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But … seven acting nominations, and 12 overall, for the aforementioned Hamilton? Let’s face it, Hamilton was simply recorded — however artfully by director Thomas Kail — as a permanent record of the original Broadway cast five years ago, and in fact was not even designed as a “television” event but initially was picked up by Disney for a price tag of $75 million and a planned full-blown theatrical release. Certainly that landmark cast was an early triumph for colorblind casting, but it is really the purview of the Emmys? That original release plan and intention was only derailed by the pandemic and clearly as a motivation on the part of Disney to rack up subscribers for its new streaming service, Disney+. With confusion reigning over just what this should be categorized as in previous awards shows like the Golden Globes, where it competed for Best Motion Picture Comedy or Musical, or at SAG or Critics Choice, where it was considered in TV categories, the Television Academy should have been more forceful in where it was placed (or just stick it in Special Merit categories).
That is especially true since the Academy recently has become radicalized in the documentary categories, where if you even entertained the idea of qualifying for Oscars, it meant you would not be eligible for Emmys going forward, a long-overdue move in protecting true television creators. The fact that most of these actors, if not all of them, were either Tony winners or nominees all those years ago for the very same performances would seem to be unfair to the likes of non-nominated actors such as Jeff Daniels, Brendan Gleeson, Bryan Cranston, Donald Sutherland, and oh my Good Lord Bird Ethan Hawke. He probably would have won for Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie but alas was not even nominated, while Hamilton’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tony Winner Leslie Odom Jr. both were. It just doesn’t seem right somehow. What’s to keep every big show on Broadway from doing the same thing going forward — not adapting their shows for TV but simply shooting it while everyone’s still in costume?
With all congratulations to the eight nominees in Comedy and Drama Series — a set number now to expand eligibility in those marquee categories, even if you would be hard-pressed to actually come up with eight in either category, this season at least — the real competition and deserving programs are increasingly in the Limited Series category, which the Television Academy stubbornly caps with only five nominees. This year especially that meant there would be plenty of “snubs” and it seems a shame. Although The Queen’s Gambit, The Underground Railroad, I May Destroy You, Mare of Easttown, and Marvel’s WandaVision deservedly made the cut (the latter likely because, in addition to being a more populist Marvel entry, it was also a canny tribute to the glories of TV’s earlier days, a plus for the large swath of older voters), the list of those left out likely would have comprised the whole category in any other year, and then some.
Such acclaimed and popular shows as The Undoing, Fargo, Your Honor, It’s a Sin, The Comey Rule, The Good Lord Bird, A Teacher, Halston, Genius: Aretha and more fell by the wayside. But perhaps the biggest snub of all, Steve McQueen’s towering anthology of five different but connected films called Small Axe, was a big miss for Amazon despite furious campaigning on its behalf. The LA Film Critics even named the collective Small Axe Best Picture of the Year, but McQueen and Amazon always considered it a TV creature and campaigned big time for Emmys. In the end, it wound up with an embarrassing single nomination (Cinematography), and that might be because the TV Academy always has had trouble wrapping its head around anthologies, and in this case five distinct movies under an umbrella title. Perhaps they should have been entered separately in the more sparse, once-impressive Television Movie category, where voters rewarded Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square as one of five nominees (including two — Sylvie’s Love and Uncle Frank- – that were pickups by Amazon from the Sundance Film Festival but campaigned for Emmys rather than Oscars). Certainly Small Axe films including Mangrove, Red, White and Blue and Lovers Rock could have filled out the category once upon a time before the TV Academy changed the rules again for anthologies like Black Mirror, which initially had success as separate TV Movie entries.
To basically snub such a monumental achievement as Small Axe is sad. As a former member of the Television Academy Board of Governors, I would suggest that there is work still to be done in refining the Limited Series, TV Movie and Anthology requirements, not only in their marquee categories but also in terms of who should be eligible among performers, a gray area made even grayer by Hamilton’s domination. Wanna bet a lot of voters didn’t even watch the Disney+ version of Hamilton but simply checked it off based on their memory of seeing this cast originally on Broadway?
The Emmys are always a daunting administrative task and cannot possibly please everyone. Campaigning seemed like it was at a fever pitch this year, bigger than ever especially among the streamers, which are out for Emmy credibility in building their brands and their fight against Netflix. The combining and bundling of numbers, what the TV Academy lists as “per platform” in its official nomination counts, also is eye-opening. Netflix stands alone at a terrific 129 nominations, but HBO and HBO Max decided to combine and squeaked out a straight streamer victory with one more nomination at 130. However, Disney’s monolithic approach adding to a leading 146 nominations is only possible because they include ABC, FX, Hulu, NatGeo, Freeform and Disney+ all as one. ViacomCBS has a whopping seven platforms under its umbrella total of 54 nominations, a rather paltry sum for the Emmys’ host network this year, CBS — which, like the other four broadcast networks, pretty much can’t even remember the days when they were the only game in town. With all the corporate shenanigans and buying and selling (look for Discovery’s noms to be under WarnerMedia’s next year), a day not too far off in the future will have just one corporate entity responsible for all Emmy nominations. Don’t laugh.
Let me finally give a shout-out to the TV Academy for at least finally putting a nail in the coffin of its previous snobbery where “popular” entertainments were pretty much relegated to crafts categories. Among the significant nominees in the three marquee categories of Outstanding Comedy, Drama and Limited Series this year are The Mandalorian, tying The Crown with a leading 24 nominations; Shonda Rhimes’ Bridgerton; YouTube’s Cobra Kai; Netflix’s Emily in Paris (yes I voted for it); and WandaVision, among others. Between WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Marvel alone got 28 nominations. Perhaps these shows can help bring back the audience to the Emmy broadcast itself, which is coming off its lowest-rated ceremony ever. Those ratings were due in part to the pandemic, so let’s hope gathering in person again boosts the interest in the show.
But I have to admit that last September’s Jimmy Kimmel-hosted Emmys was a huge success creatively, fun and clever and enormously challenging to bring off, about which the Academy still should be very proud. If Emmys were eligible for Emmys themselves — they aren’t — that would have been one I would have voted for. Instead, among the nominees in that Variety Live Special category are the dreadful 2021 Oscars, a show that should have taken a few cues from the Emmys, but didn’t.
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