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Emmy Predictions: Best Drama Series — A Battle of (Aptly) Epic Proportions

With a slew of 2020 nominees out of the running, the pressure is on for series — new and old — to land a spot in the Best Drama race.

"Bridgerton"

“Bridgerton”

Liam Daniel / ©Netflix / Courtesy Everett Collection

Last Year’s Winner: “Succession”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: HBO drama series have won the top prize for three years running, but with “Succession” and “Game of Thrones” out of the picture, can the WarnerMedia awards giant find yet another successor?
Fun Fact: If the Streaming Revolution took place as Netflix rose to power, than we’re in the middle of the Streaming Resurgence now. Just look at the slow rise, plateau, and then rebound of streaming shows in the Best Drama Series race. After Netflix landed its first nomination in the category in 2013, Hulu joined the fray in 2017 to boost the total streaming nominees to four (out of seven). In 2018, it fell to three nominees, and 2019 dropped again to just two. But last year, with the arrival of Disney+ and Apple TV+, streaming nominees hit an all-time high of five nominees (out of eight). The question now becomes if that’s the new peak or the new standard.
Notable Ineligible Series: “Succession” (Season 3 is not expected to be eligible); “Stranger Things” (Season 4 is not expected to be eligible); “Better Call Saul” (Season 6 is not expected to be eligible); “Killing Eve” (Season 4 will not be eligible); “Ozark” (Season 4 is not expected to be eligible)

At the bottom of this page are IndieWire Deputy TV Editor 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. Voting for the 2021 Emmys will be held from June 17 through June 28 (with polls closing at 10 p.m. PT). Emmy nominations will be announced Tuesday, July 13. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out in September, at a date (or dates) to be announced. The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place Sunday, September 19. CBS is broadcasting the ceremony.

The State of the Race

If you read the ineligible series listed above, then you know what’s coming: turnover. The pandemic may not have disrupted television to the same extreme it did film, but production shutdowns have certainly made their mark on the Emmy race. Five of last year’s eight nominees are not expected to contend in 2021, leaving a mass of openings — and a huge opportunity for, well, just about everyone.

Let’s start with previous Best Drama Series nominees. “The Crown” has never won the top prize, so look for Netflix to try to maximize the series’ nomination tally in order to maintain its frontrunner status here. “The Mandalorian,” which some expected to win this category last year, looks to be its biggest competition (so far), and the Disney+ action-driven dazzler should be able to go toe-to-toe with the period drama in total nominations. Costumes, visual effects, design, editing, and so many more craft categories should be dominated by these two glossy dramas (though actors should favor “The Crown”), and each extra nod for one or the other will tip the scales for Best Drama Series accordingly.

OK, OK. I’m getting ahead of myself, especially when the only other returning 2020 nominee is also a previous winner. Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” looks to bounce back in Season 4, after snagging its fewest nominations yet in 2020, which was still a very respectable 10. It’ll need more momentum than that if it hopes to keep pace in a Best Drama Series race that’s got a few more veterans in the running. NBC’s “This Is Us” is looking for a return to glory after missing out in this category for the first time last year, and “Pose” would like to end on a high note in its final season. (Ryan Murphy’s FX drama made the cut for Season 1, but fell out of the Drama Series category in Season 2.)

So what about the newcomers? Despite (or perhaps because of) its snubbing at the Golden Globes, “Bridgerton” seems like a winter awards favorite that should be able to sustain interest through Emmy season. Those costumes, that cast, and the power of Shonda should all help boost its awareness to TV Academy voters. HBO, meanwhile, will be leaning heavily on two well-received freshmen series with across-the-board awards potential. “Lovecraft Country” could do well not only with actors (Jurnee Smollett, Jonathan Majors, and Aunjanue Ellis are all big-time contenders), but in the VFX, cinematography, and more craft categories as well. “Perry Mason,” one of the most beautiful TV series I’ve ever seen, should be in the running in all the same categories (though for a very different story), and it could curry enough favor from various branches to net a Best Drama Series nomination.

Apple TV+, which couldn’t quite crack in last year with “The Morning Show,” will try again with Justin Theroux’s “The Mosquito Coast” (as well as “For All Mankind” Season 2 and “Servant” Season 2, though those may be tougher sells). Starz has the outstanding “P-Valley,” which has been unjustly overlooked far too often on the Winter TV Awards circuit. (Bravo to the Music Supervisor’s Guild for being the only guild to recognize this too-hidden gem.) Meanwhile, Paramount Network’s high-rated “Yellowstone” is hoping there’s enough room this year for Kevin Costner’s aging cowboy; “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness” is hoping to transition out of the Limited Series race (where it was nominated in 2018); and “In Treatment” is hoping a decade off the air plus a new therapist is enough to get the groundbreaking HBO drama its first series nomination.

But the 2021 campaign is still in the early stages. As the road to the Emmys becomes clearer, we’ll update our top contenders accordingly. For now, it’s still anyone’s race.

Predicted Nominees:

  1. “The Crown” (Netflix)
  2. “The Mandalorian” (Disney+)
  3. “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
  4. “This Is Us” (NBC)
  5. “Bridgerton” (Netflix)
  6. “Lovecraft Country” (HBO)
  7. “Perry Mason” (HBO)
  8. “The Boys” (Amazon Prime)

Contenders: “In Treatment,” “Pose,” “P-Valley,” “The Mosquito Coast,” “Ratched,” “Yellowstone,” “The Alienist: Angel of Darkness,” “Industry”

In a Perfect World: “We Are Who We Are,” “All Creatures Great and Small,” “Billions”

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