Last Year’s Winner: “Game of Thrones”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: The outgoing HBO drama champ won the last two trophies for Best Drama Series, four of the last five, and went four-for-four in its final seasons.
Fun Fact: Though streaming services are all the rage in 2020, they’ve been on the decline in the drama series race. After peaking with four nominees in 2017, streaming nominees from Netflix, and Hulu dropped to three in 2018, and two in 2019 — cable channels, including perennial titan HBO, remain the most dominant player, though Apple TV+ and Disney+ will look to fray, if not completely cut off, the TV Academy’s cable cord this year.
Notable Ineligible Series: “Game of Thrones” (ended), “Bodyguard” (Season 2 has not premiered), “House of Cards” (ended)
At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Drama Series. This article will be updated throughout the season, along with all our predictions, so make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest news from the 2020 race. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13. The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place at the Microsoft Theater in downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, September 20. ABC is broadcasting the ceremony.
The State of the Race
With “Game of Thrones” over, a new game has begun — and there are a lot of contenders for the throne. Chief among them are Netflix’s beloved awards magnet “The Crown” and HBO’s chosen successor “Succession,” both of which performed well with the guilds (and the Globes) during their late 2019/early 2020 awards season. Both appear to be locks for a nomination, and both networks are likely already making Phase Two plans to help push their respective No. 1 boys over the top.
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Then there are the drama contenders that should feel pretty confidant about getting nominated, but still can’t slack off in a competitive year. AMC’s “Better Call Saul” snagged a spot in the race last year (after sitting out 2018) and remains a critical favorite with lots of fans in the Academy; Netflix’s “Ozark” should be able to build off of its two Emmy wins and increased nomination tally from 2019; “Westworld” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” are on a bit shakier ground, but their positive history and adoration across branches should help each in securing another Best Drama Series nomination.
Of those six, at least five should make up the final nomination tally — so who’s fighting for those last two spots? “This Is Us” remains strong, after earning nine nominations last year (including Best Drama Series) and delivering a solid Season 4 for consideration in 2020. Apple TV+ has mounted an impressive campaign for “The Morning Show,” earning three Golden Globe nominations, including Best Drama Series. Though it fell short of an ensemble nomination at the SAG Awards — and was blanked by the Writer’s Guild and DGA — Apple’s star-studded first foray into original programming will be making noise on the awards circuit from now until July, if not longer.
Star Reese Witherspoon will also be campaigning on behalf of “Big Little Lies,” which moves from a limited series over to drama for its second season. Whether voters will stick by it after a qualitative dip — or remember it, almost a year since it premiered — looks like its biggest challenges. Netflix’s “Stranger Things 3” will face a similar challenge, in that both of its first two seasons were nominated for Best Drama Series, but it’s been a long time since the third entry debuted. Another past nominee, “Killing Eve,” won’t have to worry about being forgotten — Season 3 debuts April 26 — but it will have to fight off a bit of bad buzz for its second season.
That still leaves “Hunters” and “The Mandalorian.” Amazon Prime Video is looking for its first Best Drama Series nomination, and it’s hoping Al Pacino’s debut TV role (as a Nazi hunter) will get them there. (“Homecoming” is also returning for a second go at the Emmys, though it’s an uphill battle after Season 1 was unjustly kept out of the race.) Disney+ wants to snag their first nomination, too, in their first trip to the dance. While its live-action “Star Wars” series is more of a commercial play than an awards grab, what matters more than anything at the Emmys is being seen — and “The Mandalorian” was very well-watched. There’s also the late-arriving sci-fi series “Snowpiercer,” which was ineligible until the TV Academy shifted its qualifying dates and TNT moved up the series premiere. Now, the adaptation of Bong Joon Ho’s 2013 film has a shot at awards glory the same year the director walked away with four Oscars.
Finally, there are the group of underdogs who deserve a nomination based purely on merit. “Pose” remains an excellent series for FX, while Netflix’s “Mindhunter” only got better in Season 2; “Mr. Robot” closed out strong, as did “The New Pope” (and possibly “Homeland”); “Sex Education” probably belongs in the comedy categories, but the TV Academy chose to put it in drama and it’s certainly good enough to compete there. Similarly, Amazon Prime Video’s “Undone” is an animated half-hour series, but remains as deep, moving, and tense as any drama out there. As the race moves forward, we’ll see if any of these great programs can build buzz through word-of-mouth — right now, anything can happen.
1. “Succession” (HBO)
2. “The Crown” (Netflix)
3. “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
4. “Ozark” (Netflix)
5. “Westworld” (HBO)
6. “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
7. “The Morning Show” (Apple TV+)
Spoilers: “Killing Eve,” “This Is Us,” “Hunters,” “Big Little Lies,” “Stranger Things,” “Pose,” “The Mandalorian,” “Homeland”
In a Perfect World: “Mindhunter,” “Euphoria,” “Mr. Robot,” “The New Pope,” “Sex Education,” “Undone”