It appears to be Netflix’s world and we are all just living in it. With an all-time record 160 nominations this year, the basic belief that streamers have become a source of comfort and entertainment during the pandemic and the sheer volume of content on Netflix with an astounding 52 different shows landing at least one nomination clearly paid off for the Television Academy membership. It is clear that once voters visited the service they stayed for more. By contrast, runner-up (and perennial leader) HBO managed 107 noms for just 21 different shows garnering at least a single nod.
Volume pays off, and the way the nascent Oscar season seems to be shaping up, that philosophy could well finally also prevail with the Motion Picture Academy as Netflix , at this point, has by far the largest number of potential nominated movies (sight unseen, of course).
Unlike the Oscars or Tonys, the Emmys, which will air its primetime edition September 20 on ABC, is the one awards show least likely to be hurt by COVID-19 outbreaks. With everyone stuck at home, what else are you going to do but watch TV, with the public and Academy members both in the same boat? Judging by the breadth of today’s nominations, that is exactly what the 23,000 or so eligible voters (I am one of them) have done. Thus I expected to see perhaps a wider swath of new blood among the major nominated programs, but a first glance at the endless list of nominees largely looks pretty much like the same players for the most part — with some glaring exceptions.
In Drama Series, only Disney+’s overachiever The Mandalorian with 15 overall nods broke through in ways that weren’t totally expected, but the Academy completely ignored the new streamer’s non-Star Wars content like Encore and Togo, which were both highly deserving but probably not viewed by voters. Instead of the beautifully made Togo, the still-challenged TV Movie category went for Netflix comfort food like Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings and a Kimmy Schmidt rehash. While Mandalorion repped Disney+’s major haul, another new streamer , Apple TV+ got off to an impressive start after just nine months by placing six shows in the running in various categories including eight nods for the heavily campaigned The Morning Show including five for acting, which the service says is a record for a first year streamer in the thesps categories.
In the Comedy Series category, the real head-turner was the emergence out of nowhere of FX’s What We Do In the Shadows with eight nods including an impressive three for writing alone. HBO’s Insecure thankfully also finally broke through, as did Netflix crowd fave Dead to Me, so there is new blood there. For a second year, Schitt’s Creek from Pop TV had a real breakthrough, this time with a towering 15 noms and probably co-frontrunner status with Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which nabbed 20 noms to lead its march to repeating its big win from its first season two years ago.
Ironically Schitt’s ascension has been unquestionably helped by its appearance on Netflix with past seasons, enabling it to be seen more widely in much the same way that happened when Breaking Bad started showing up on the streamer. And for all of the glory Netflix is feeling today, it still should be noted that it has yet to win in any of the three marquee categories of Drama, Comedy or Limited Series. Considering the stiff competition in all of them from HBO (noms leader Watchmen in Limited Series), Amazon (winner in Comedy the past two years) and Pop TV (getting the credit for Schitt’s as the sentimental favorite in its final season), it looks like an uphill climb to break into the winners circle this time as well.
Netflix has had a lock on Television Movie with its anthology series interloper Black Mirror, but new rules eliminated that show from consideration there. Still, Netflix managed to get four of the five nominees for TV Movie this year, but wouldn’t it be ironic if frontrunner Bad Education took the prize for HBO instead? Drama Series where Netflix has perennials Stranger Things, The Crown and the surging Ozark, the latter could again be its best bet, but HBO’s Succession is considered the one to beat. That will be a real horse race though, and don’t count out Ozark coming up on the outside.
Overall, this looks to be a very competitive year, and that is due in part to new TV Academy rules that have expanded the field of nominees for Drama and Comedy series to eight each. Howeve,r the other new rules that only expand additional categories based on the number of submissions may have been partly responsible for the large number of “snubs” in acting categories. How else can you explain the absence of Bob Odenkirk, in his best season yet for Better Call Saul, getting aced out of contention for the first time — an absolute shocker in a category that still had six nominees. Steve Carell snuck in for The Morning Show, even as that Apple TV+ contender was shut out of one of the eight slots in Drama Series (where at least AMC landed a nod for Saul). And don’t get me started on poor Rhea Seehorn from Saul, inexplicably passed over again. What do Emmy voters have against her?
Actually, the Drama Series actress race was where the real surprises landed, with no nods for past winners like Viola Davis in her last season of How to Get Away With Murder, Elisabeth Moss coming back to the race with The Handmaid’s Tale after a year off and Big LIttle Lies’ Nicole Kidman but instead a real long-shot bid from Zendaya in last summer’s presumed forgotten Euphoria. Wow. Clearly it was not forgotten. Now that is the way to shake things up, Emmys. And what can we say about Reese Witherspoon? She managed what might be an Emmy record, overlooked for three different shows — Big Little Lies, The Morning Show and Little Fires Everywhere — as many of her co-stars in all three were nominated. Poor Reese will just have to be comforted by her Oscar.
And speaking of Oscars, it sure didn’t hurt past Academy Award winners Octavia Spencer, Cate Blanchett and Regina King, who will all be duking it out for Actress in a Limited Series or Movie, with the edge perhaps to Blanchett for the superlative Mrs. America (but don’t count out King, who seems to win every time she is Emmy nominated). I have to say I was stunned another Oscar winner, Russell Crowe, was passed over for his brilliant Roger Ailes in The Loudest Voice in Limited Series or Movie Actor, where relative newcomers Jeremy Pope in Hollywood and Paul Mescal in Normal People did score nods. Perhaps people just couldn’t bring themselves to acknowledge the despicable Ailes in any form? John Lithgow missed out on an Oscar nomination for his Ailes in Bombshell.
In terms of diversity, the Television Academy had a real opportunity this year to come to the table, and it appears to me that they really did. Particularly in the acting races, where by my raw count at least 36 actors of color were honored with nominations today. That is a step in the right direction by any standard that should only add credence to the industry’s moves going forward in leveling the playing field for actors of color. It is still a work in progress, but this is encouraging.
Bottom line: Did the Television Academy’s moves toward not just leveling the playing field this year with increased nominations but widening it too pay off in ways it had hoped? Yes and no. With the ever-increasing levels of content on TV, why not expand it even more? Let’s see 10 nominations for Drama and Comedy, and even more for Limited Series, which had so many worthy contenders sadly overlooked. Let’s also see 10 nominations in acting categories. There is room in this sandbox. This year is a good start, but never will Emmy voters again probably have as much time to sample new and worthy programming than they did this year, and while it is always nice to again see fine work from familiar contenders year after year, the real mission should be to make sure we don’t overlook brilliance from those without the big campaign budgets and name recognition that still predictably dominates this year’s list of those going for the gold.
As for the show itself, I have great hopes that doing a virtual Emmys fronted by Jimmy Kimmel will reinvigorate a ceremony coming off its lowest ratings ever last year. Kimmel, nominated again this year for Variety Talk Series and his collaboration with Norman Lear in Variety Live Special, is the perfect vaccine against a tired format in need of a shakeup. Can’t wait to see what he does with it, not only as host but also as an executive producer. However, this morning’s “virtual” announcement of nominees with host Leslie Jones and presenters Josh Gad, Tatiana Maslany, and Laverne Cox was an unmitigated disaster — completely disorganized. Let’s hope this is not what the presumed virtual Emmys themselves will be looking like on September 20.
Be sure to check out our special Emmy nominations edition of Deadline’s TV Talk Podcast with insight from me and Deadline’s senior editor and TV critic Dominic Patten.
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