The Americans finally made the cut in the top Drama Series categories. Critical favorite Mr. Robot did too, bringing USA Network to the party in a significant way for a change. Black-ish and Master Of None broke into the Comedy Series contest as well. But other than that in the Emmy Awards’ top two categories, things looked pretty much like they did last year in the list of Emmy nominations despite a spirited and expensive campaign on the part of cable, streamers and broadcast networks to shake up the field. (See my Facebook Live interview on the subject above.)
There were indeed many welcome new performer names sprinkled throughout the long list that hadn’t been there before — and that is nice to see. At least the TV Academy seems to be making an effort to plow through these shows, though it is not an easy task. But overall I was surprised at just how little today’s massive announcement of nominees in 113 categories for the 68th annual Emmy Awards didn’t surprise me — except in the Variety Talk Series category, which in its second year of existence as a stand-alone for “talk shows” (Variety Sketch series have their own category now, with a similar lineup as last year) shook things up and guaranteed a different kind of outcome in the category Comedy Central has controlled for well over a decade. That network is out of the running completely here with no love for new Daily Show host Trevor Noah or Nightly With Larry Wilmore, The Colbert Report‘s time slot replacement.
The really big loser this morning had to be Colbert, whose new CBS late-night show Late Show With Stephen Colbert drew no nominations despite prominent FYC banners lining the streets of Los Angeles. To add insult to injury for the host was the fact that, as I had expected, the show that follows his, Late Late Show With James Corden, landed three nominations including a key one in this category, breaking through as the only post-11:30 series to pull that off.
The category also thankfully welcomed back perennial bridesmaid Bill Maher’s Real Time in this election year, after going AWOL last year, as well as an oddball out-of-left-field choice in Crackle’s (yes, Crackle) Comedians In Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld. Is that even a talk show? Samantha Bee’s new show might have been a better choice and a nice statement for woefully underepresented female hosts, but it was not to Bee. Jimmy Fallon, John Oliver and this year’s Emmy host Jimmy Kimmel are the three returnees. But you have to think that the fact Corden, whose Tony hosting stint and Carpool Karaoke bits didn’t hurt his chances, is in and Colbert is out could have more of an effect beyond the Emmys (especially if he wins), and that maybe CBS has the wrong guy in the 11:30 slot? As a veteran producer and multiple Emmy winner told me this morning, “It is only a matter of time.” Hmmmmm.
The rest of the categories didn’t have anywhere near as dramatic a result as that one and largely went as expected. And even though nominations leader HBO was down a whopping 32 nods from last year, its 94 nominations were dominated by their Drama Series Game Of Thrones and Comedy Series Veep again this year, with respective totals of 23 and 17 nominations each making them by far the odds-on favorites to return to the victory circle when the Primetime Emmys are handed out September 18. With 22 nominations overall for The People Vs O.J. Simpson as well as 18 for Fargo, FX really dominates the uber-competitive Limited Series contest and helped that cable net place second to HBO in overall noms this year with 56, just two ahead of Netflix. AMC’s superb The Night Manager should not be counted out, even with fewer nominations at 12, particularly if the FX pair of Simpson and Fargo cancel each other out. Star Tom Hiddleston is likely to lose to All The Way’s Bryan Cranston, but co-stars Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman have an excellent shot in the supporting categories. Overall though, as far as Limited Series go, O.J. would seem to have the upper hand by the sheer weight of its showing.
As for FX though, the real sweet spot has to be the entrance of their usually overlooked gem The Americans into key Drama Series and Acting races for leads Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell after three previous shutouts. I think critics actually had a effect here. They shamed the Academy into voting for The Americans and virtually dared them not to. Critics should be very happy with the effect they have had on this year’s race. With so much to watch it helps to have champions for original programming getting that message across.
By the way that Drama Lead Actor race this year is a real barn burner with Bloodline’s Kyle Chandler, Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk, Ray Donovan’s Liev Schreiber, and Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek joining Rhys and House Of Cards‘ Spacey in the hunt for this Emmy. I can’t call a winner here — yet.
Netflix, whose 21 pounds of DVD screeners and expansive campaign paid off with an increase in nominations for them this year from 34 to 54, continues to show Emmy growth. But now they need some wins. Maybe Spacey and his co-star Robin Wright for a change in Drama Series lead acting categories?
In the intense battle of the network live musicals between Fox’s Grease Live! and NBC’s The Wiz Live!, the clear winner was Grease with 10 nominations including Outstanding Special Class Program against Oscars, Tony, Golden Globes and Super Bowl Halftime shows. It just may win and also has a chance for Director of a Variety Special for Thomas Kail, who just picked up a Tony for helming Hamilton. Producers of The Wiz, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron — who, with the help of NBC’s enthusiasm for the form, brought back the live musical to the networks — have to be disappointed that their best reviewed effort to date did not make the cut in Special Class programs (though did get six noms in lesser categories). Adding to that the Oscars, which was the first one they didn’t produce in three years, did get in.
There are all sorts of heartbreak Emmy stories like that as this was the most intense Emmy season campaign I have seen — ever. Still name recognition always seems to help with Emmy voters (I am one of 20,000 TV Academy members who do have a ballot). Although John Travolta got mixed critical notices for his stint as Robert Shapiro in the O.J. Limited Series, he did land his first-ever Emmy nomination probably just because he is John Travolta and the show was so widely seen.
Places where you really see the same-old same-old are in the Guest Star acting categories where past winners and Academy actors branch favorites are in the running for the umpteenth time including Bob Newhart, Bradley Whitford, Michael J. Fox, Hank Azaria, Christine Baranski, Margo Martindale, Allison Janney, Ellen Burstyn and Laurie Metcalf (in both Guest Drama and Guest Comedy as well as Lead Comedy Actress for HBO’s Getting On). Add to that six Saturday Night Live guest hosts and five actors from House Of Cards and you have an area where it is very hard to break into unless you have an instantly familiar name and/or show you are guesting on. It might be time to change how Guest Actors are nominated — perhaps a dedicated committee who actually look at all the submissions would be a better way to go.
Burstyn, one of those five nominated for House Of Cards, has become a bit of an Emmy fixture since famously once being nominated for virtually a 14-second role. Voters simply checked her name off on the ballot. It led to a rule change about the required amount of screen time before you can be eligible for a nomination.
As I speculated a few weeks ago, it did come to fruition that the song “Til It Happens To You” from the documentary The Hunting Ground made awards history today becoming the first ever to be nominated for an Oscar, a Grammy and an Emmy in the same year. Unlike the other two contests, only Diane Warren is eligible to win the Emmy as TV Academy music branch rules deep-sixed Lady Gaga’s contribution to the writing of the song she so powerfully sang in the movie and on the Oscar show. Gaga personally didn’t have a good day, as her Golden Globe-winning American Horror Story: Hotel acting role was among those snubbed.
I can say that at this morning’s nomination announcement, Academy chairman Bruce Rosenblum, COO Maury McIntyre and Emmy show producer Don Mischer were thrilled with the wide breadth of the nominations as well as the diversity represented. It is clear, at least in terms of representation of African Americans nominated, that the TV Academy will not be a target of the same kind of #OscarsSoWhite protests that plagued the Motion Picture Academy the past two years. Bottom line is there are more opportunities across the board in TV, especially for actors, and the Television Academy has recognized the work in a very big way. The fresh blood we saw creep into the race today was admirable, which should make for a good show.
At this morning’s announcement though, one person summed up the reality of getting excited over all these endless categories. “I’m just hoping Tom Hiddleston shows up on the red carpet with Taylor Swift,” she said.
ABC airs the Emmys on Sunday, September 18. The Creative Arts Emmys are being handed out over the course of two nights for the first time September 10-11 and will air later in a combined broadcast on FXX.