It feels like Emmy season has already been going on for months – and it technically has, thanks to For Your Consideration events, which started in the spring, but now will pick up in intensity and frequency. For now it’s truly showtime: Phase One ballots have been sent to the more than 20,000 members of the Television Academy, and voting is underway.
After all the screenings, campaigning and coverage, it’s now up to the voters to decide. The ultimate category nominations will be revealed on Thursday, July 13, at the Television Academy’s Saban Theatre in North Hollywood. (And then we’re on to the final competition!)
But before the first round of voting ends on June 26, here are some of this year’s burning questions inside the Primetime Emmy race:
Who will benefit from the “Game of Thrones” vacuum?
Due to a change in the show’s production calendar, HBO’s “Game of Thrones” doesn’t return for Season 7 until Sunday, July 16. That ends the show’s streak of two consecutive wins (2015 and 2016) – and is the first time since “The Sopranos” in 2005 that an incumbent winner was still an active show, yet had to skip the following year’s competition due to timing.
That opens the door not only in the Outstanding Drama race, but also makes room for other shows in key directing, writing, acting and crafts categories.
Also clearing the drama deck is “Downton Abbey,” which had been nominated for the past five years, but ended its run.
Such a change comes as Emmy voters grapple with so many viable new shows chomping at a chance at nomination. The drama category could see massive turnover this year, with new shows including “The Crown,” “This Is Us,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Westworld,” “Stranger Things,” “The Good Fight,” “American Gods,” “Legion” and “Queen Sugar” all in the hunt. But that leads us to…
Can “This Is Us” finally put the broadcast networks back into the race?
The last outstanding drama Emmy winner to come from a broadcast network — and air more than 13 episodes in a season — was “24” in 2006. Even 10 years ago, the majority of nominees came from the broadcast world. But HBO’s “The Sopranos” (which first won in 2004) changed everything, and there’s been no looking back.
With so many premium series coming from cable and streaming, the broadcast networks will likely never dominate the outstanding drama category again. But what’s more damning is they’re struggling to get any recognition in the marquee category at all. The traditional broadcast networks have been completely shut out since 2011. (PBS’ “Downton Abbey” was the one holdout from the world of over-the-air TV.)
That’s why this year, “This Is Us” may be all of broadcast TV’s best hope in staying relevant. The primetime phenomenon even has a good chance of winning the whole thing, if the cable and streaming shows manage to cancel each other out. The show is a rare megahit, averaging a 4.8 rating last season – making it the top-rated new series among adults 18-49, as well as the top-rated broadcast drama overall in the demo.
NBC Entertainment president Jennifer Salke said she’s heard that her colleagues at other networks are being berated by their bosses, wondering where their version of “This Is Us” resides. “These are magical shows,” she said. “Shows like this are once-in-a-lifetime things. They’re highlights for your highlight reel.”
How will Donald Trump impact this year’s Emmy Awards?
As IndieWire previously examined, the Variety Talk category might be flipped this year by the popularity and rise of shows that have focused their attentions on headlines – “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert,” “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee,” “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” and “Late Night with Seth Meyers.”
Of those shows, only “Last Week Tonight” was nominated last year (it ultimately won). But shows seem to know where voters might be leaning this year: “Full Frontal’s” Emmy screener mailer was designed to look like a Russian surveillance tape of Trump.
But it’s not only the Variety Talk category that might be impacted. In drama, FX’s “The Americans” made headlines this weekend by taking out For Your Consideration ads in several major newspapers featuring a Russian flag draped over the Washington monument. “The Russians Are Here,” the ad said – clearly a reference to both the show’s central conceit and today’s top headlines.
Shows with jarringly relevant themes may also get a boost from the headlines – most notably, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale.” That show feels so eerily prescient that the ATX Television Festival this weekend, FX programming president Nick Grad jokingly asked Hulu’s head of content Craig Erwich whether he was submitting the show in the drama or documentary category.
“It set the bar for us in terms of quality,” Erwich said of “Handmaid’s Tale.” “We’re seeing us talked about in a very special way.”
And then there’s the depiction of Trump himself. Alec Baldwin appeared so frequently on “Saturday Night Live” this past season that he is eligible to compete in the outstanding supporting actor in a comedy category – and he’s considered a frontrunner. That’s an acceptance speech that could be bigly.
Will Millie Bobby Brown be the first minor nominated for a major acting Emmy since 2001?
Talk about reverse ageism: No actor under the age of 18 has been nominated for an Emmy since 2001, when “Malcolm in the Middle” star Frankie Muniz competed in the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy category. Others who have been nominated through the years include Claire Danes (“My So-Called Life”), Sara Gilbert (“Roseanne”), Fred Savage (“The Wonder Years”), Kristy McNichol (“Family”), Melissa Sue Anderson (“Little House on the Prairie”) and Patty Duke (“The Patty Duke Show”).
But viewers have been captivated by Netflix’s “Stranger Things” and its young ensemble cast – particularly 13-year-old Millie Bobby Brown, as the mysterious Eleven (a role she filmed, coincidentally, when she was actually 11).
And what’s more, Brown could benefit from competing in the supporting actress in a drama category, where there will be major turnover this year – thanks to the aforementioned missing “Game of Thrones” and the end of “Downton Abbey.” Of last year’s nominees, only “UnReal’s” Constance Zimmer and “The Affair’s” Maura Tierney are eligible to return, and neither are shoo-ins.
Will the expanded Emmy categories in “short-form” categories nominate more digital-native content this year?
The Television Academy didn’t make any huge rule changes this year, but the organization greatly expanded efforts to honor short-form programming last year – series of 15 minutes or less, and comprised of at least six episodes. The idea came out of looking to honor more digital projects; yet ultimately, the categories gravitated toward linear projects featuring well-known talent, and shorts produced by traditional networks.
The first Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama category, for example, came down to Adult Swim’s “Childrens Hospital,” AMC’s “Fear the Walking Dead: Flight 462,” Comedy Central’s “Hack into Broad City,” Lifetime’s “UnReal: The Auditions,” and YouTube’s “Her Story” – the only non-network brand extension entry.
“It’s exciting that the TV Academy is acknowledging the change in the way people consume content,” said New Form CEO Kathleen Grace, who’s a part of the TV Academy’s new digital committee. “That short form is something that is high-quality storytelling and unique to its own platform. That’s everything from YouTube Red to Snapchat. I think last year they expanded and digital natives, I was bummed out to see most of the winners wound up being ancillary content from TV shows. I’m optimistic with the formation of the digital committee we’ll work on educating the TV Academy and Emmy voters that there’s a new style of storytelling.”