When I walked into the Television Academy’s Wolf Theatre for this morning’s Emmy nomination announcement, the first thing I saw on the wall were the words “Netflix Lobby.” Those naming rights for the prolific streamer take on double meaning on a day like this because they not only won the lobby, they also got a company-record 117 nominations.
Still, they had to cede back bragging rights of most noms they achieved last year over to perennial leader HBO, which today nabbed a company-record 137 thanks to Game of Thrones’ staggering and record-shattering 32 nods. But as the saying goes, “just wait until next year” when juggernaut series like GoT and Veep are not in the picture. And after Netflix lost rights to the beloved Friends to WarnerMedia’s streaming startup HBO Max, the rivalry can only get more intense and continue to play out at the Emmys.
If there is anything that pops out immediately from perusing this massive list of Emmy nominations, it is the unquestionable success of name recognition and big-money campaigns, something in which Netflix excels. Do you really think Netflix is going to let Bruce Springsteen (who appeared with Martin Scorsese at a heavily attended FYC event) or Beyoncé get by without delivering them boatloads of Emmy love? Netflix isn’t the only one, but it is quite apparent that the months-long effort to woo the some 24,000 eligible TV Academy voters (I am just one), often with the personal touch, pays off more times that it doesn’t.
George Clooney and Julia Roberts were among the most prominent on today’s snubbed list, but they were not exactly out shaking hands on the circuit since January, either. Sometimes it takes a little more effort even if you are a big movie star. Emmy does have her favorites, and as is increasingly the case they apparently aren’t on the broadcast networks that actually take turns broadcasting the Emmy show — thereby promoting their cable and streaming rivals who crushed them in the major nominations. If it weren’t for NBC’s This Is Us and The Good Place, it would be a virtual rout. Stealing talent and Emmys from the Big 4 is now sport for many who use success on Emmy Day to claim their keys to the kingdom and lure creative talent into their lair.
In talking to Academy chairman and CEO Frank Scherma and COO Maury McIntryre this morning, it is clear they put the best face on things, pointing out 58 noms for NBC alone (though that is down 20 from last year). And host network Fox is up a whopping two nods from 16 in 2018 to 18 in 2019. They are playing in a smaller sandbox, while Emmy’s real attraction is to a two-horse race between HBO and Netflix.
When a streaming show like Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale manages to get 11 nominations to grab the second-highest number of nods for a drama series (after GoT) even in a year when it isn’t eligible to compete for Outstanding Drama Series, tells you everything. Those noms came from benefiting by an obscure Emmy rule that allowed three extra episodes to compete from Season 2 at the 71st Emmy show that originally aired just outside of the 70th Emmys eligibility period. It says again that name recognition and being in the club (Handmaid’s took Outstanding Drama Series in its first season in 2017) can go a long way. Both Scherma and McIntryre, though point with pride at some of the shows that broke through for the first time, like two in the Outstanding Comedy Series category: Schitt’s Creek, after being largely shut out for most of its run on Pop TV, and Fleabag, a real breakthrough in its second and supposedly last season with 11 nominations. And the Academy’s press release lists 45 acting nominees who are all first-timers, from Sharp Objects’ Amy Adams to Fosse/Verdon’s Michelle Williams.
Still, it helps to be part of a heavily promoted show that breaks right as the campaign is in high gear. The timing Netflix chose for Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us was perfect and it benefited the entire cast, eight of whom were responsible for half the show’s huge 16-nomination haul. That show had a heavily publicized FYC event at the end of the campaign period June 9 just before ballots went out. It featured Oprah Winfrey interviewing the cast and the real exonerated quintet once known as the “Central Park Five.”
One actor not at that event and not nominated from that limited series was Emmy winner Felicity Huffman, who most recently has become better known for her involvement in the college bribery scandal. She played controversial prosecutor Linda Fairstein in When They See Us, but it is probably best that her name was the only one of the key actors in it not to be submitted for Emmy consideration. Her husband William H. Macy has been nominated the past five years in a row for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series for Shameless and was on the ballot again this year, but was not included among the nominees this time around. Draw your own conclusions.
Like When They See Us, it is good Emmy karma to be on Game of Thrones, This Is Us, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Ozark, Barry, Veep, Killing Eve and Saturday Night Live which are the kinds of shows you want your agent to get you booked on because the actor’s branch clearly has its favorites, and rewards cast members from them right down the line. I would have liked to have seen a little more variety in terms of who got nominated in those acting categories, but with the daunting and sheer numbers of shows on offer it is probably too much (make that impossible) to ask a voter to watch them all. So it really pays off for the most buzzed, campaigned, written-about and drilled-into-your-head must-see TV. It really does.
It also pays to have won an Oscar. This year’s Academy Award winners Mahershala Ali (True Detective) and Olivia Colman (Fleabag) got nominations, as did Nat Geo’s Documentary Feature winner Free Solo, which led all other docus with seven nominations even when it wasn’t eligible to compete in the Outstanding Docu category due to the fact that it played too long in movie theaters.
By the way, the Oscars themselves were nominated for eight Emmys, but there may be a sentimental factor in that race where they will compete against Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and The Jeffersons. At 96, Lear, to invoke the name of one of the Outstanding Television Movie nominees, really is still King Lear in becoming this season’s oldest nominee, a man who was in the first class of inductees into the Television Academy Hall of Fame and thankfully is still at it.