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’s a fierce fight for the throne. Chief among them are Netflix’s budding awards darling “Ozark” 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 shows are tied for the most nominations of any drama series (18 each), and both networks are in the thick of Phase Two plans aimed at pushing their respective No. 1 boys over the top.
And yet, the program with the most post-nominations heat is the one very few experts thought would still be burning at all. “The Mandalorian” shocked (some) experts by landing a spot on the Best Drama Series list — pushing out “Big Little Lies,” “Westworld,” “Pose,” or “The Morning Show” — and now Disney+ has a real shot at winning. With 15 nominations under its belt, the “Star Wars” spinoff series will rely on the TV Academy’s craft voters to cast plenty of No. 1 ballots — and it already won seven Creative Arts Emmys — considering its only acting nominations are in the Guest and Voice-Over categories. (That being said, Giancarlo Esposito and Taika Waititi are well-respected, and plenty of other “Mandalorian” cast members can get out the vote.)
On the flip side, “Better Call Saul” had an unexpectedly rough nominations’ day. The long-time favorite still made its way into the Best Drama Series race, but stars Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, and Rhea Seehorn were all left out of their categories. In a resurgent year for “Breaking Bad” alums that saw Netflix release “El Camino” and AMC’s “Better Call Saul” air one of its most critically acclaimed seasons to date, only seven nominations for the latter program feels like a particularly odd oversight.
Similar hang-ups could prove sticking points for the other Best Drama contenders. Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” landed 10 nominations, despite not airing a new season in over a year, but lead actress Elisabeth Moss was surprisingly excluded from the Best Actress race. It would be strange for a series that relies so heavily upon its star to win in the year she wasn’t even nominated. Netflix’s “Stranger Things” fell to a series-low eight nominations, with David Harbour and Millie Bobby Brown (both two-time nominees) kept from their respective acting races. Could it possibly muster enough support to make a run at the title? Early in the race, it seems unlikely. There’s a better case for “Killing Eve,” which also has eight nominations, but spread over multiple acting categories as well as crafts like Costumes, Production Design, and Music Supervision. Reviews (especially toward the Season 3 finale) might be the biggest obstacle to overcome, but never underestimate the people’s love for Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh.
What’s left? Just “The Crown,” which is an intriguing case on its own. Despite the cast turnover between seasons, Peter Morgan’s drama landed 13 nominations in 2020 — the exact same total it pulled for Seasons 1 and 2. Consistency in the face of such intense competition is impressive, and a baker’s dozen nomination total is a good, solid number. Not only does “The Crown” have its expected craft nominations (Production Design, Music, Costumes), but it’s still a contender in Lead Actress, Supporting Actress, Directing, and Writing. As usual, “The Crown” appeals to every branch of the TV Academy. Season 2 also won more Emmys than Season 1, setting it on a positive trajectory for Season 3… and yet, here is where consistency becomes a double-edged sword. If there was, in fact, surging support for “The Crown,” wouldn’t it have landed more nominations (like “Ozark” did)? Given that’s not the case, it seems safer to assume voters still like it, respect it, but aren’t ready to rank “The Crown” No. 1 on their Best Drama ballot en masse.
But the campaign is still in the early stages. As narratives are established and the road to Emmy becomes clearer, we’ll see how things shift. For now, it looks like a three-way race. Let the games begin.
Power Ranking Nominees:
1. “Succession” (HBO)
2. “The Mandalorian” (Disney+)
3. “Ozark” (Netflix)
4. “The Crown” (Netflix)
5. “Killing Eve” (BBC America)
6. “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
7. “Better Call Saul” (AMC)
8. “Stranger Things” (Netflix)
Will Win: “Succession”
Could Win: “The Mandalorian”
Should Win: “Succession”