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Emmy Predictions: Best Limited Series — Was It ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ All Along?

Scott Frank's chess drama established itself as the frontrunner nearly a year ago — has anything changed?


“The Queen’s Gambit”

Phil Bray / Netflix

Last Year’s Winner: “Watchmen”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: Repeat winners aren’t the norm in Limited Series, and while they do happen (“American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson”/”Gianni Versace,” “Band of Brothers”/”The Pacific”), it’s more common to see networks go on hot streaks — albeit brief ones. Currently, HBO has won the Best Limited Series category in back-to-back years, first for “Chernobyl” and then for “Watchmen.” The premium cable giant has also won in three of the last four years and seven of the last 11. Its last win gave it more trophies for Best Limited Series than any other network in history, and yet HBO has still never won more than twice in a row. Only one network has: NBC, from 1986 – 1988.
Fun Fact: Speaking of repeats, only four series have earned more than two nominations in the Limited Series category: “Horatio Hornblower” and “Fargo” both have three, “American Horror Story” has four, and “Prime Suspect” is the all-time leader with five. (Seven more series have been nominated twice, including “Genius,” “Luther,” “American Crime,” and “American Crime Story.”)
Notable Ineligible Series: “American Crime Story: Impeachment” (the season did not air in time to be eligible); “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” (submitted as a Drama Series); “Lisey’s Story” (the season did not air in time to be eligible); “Loki” (the season did not air in time to be eligible)

At the bottom of this page are IndieWire Deputy TV Editor Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Limited 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 was held from June 17 through June 28 (with polls closing at 10 p.m. PT). Emmy nominations were announced Tuesday, July 13. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards were given out Saturday, September 11 and Sunday, September 12. The 73rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place Sunday, September 19. CBS is broadcasting the ceremony, which will also be available to stream on Paramount+.

The State of the Race

What a winding road it’s been. In the early days of Emmy season, the Limited Series race looked to be a snoozefest. “The Queen’s Gambit” hit in fall 2020 and blew everyone away. While plenty more series were coming, it seemed unlikely anything with similar awards-friendly trappings (period sets and costumes, outstanding performances, an underdog story) could also capture the zeitgeist, and plenty were predicting a showdown between the Netflix hit and HBO’s summer sensation, “I May Destroy You.” But then “WandaVision” hit and the conversation shifted, “Mare of Easttown” premiered and got everyone chatting (in a DelCo accent, of course), and “The Underground Railroad” debuted to nearly unprecedented praise.

Whatever program wins Best Limited Series in 2021, it earned the title.

So who’s the favorite? Sadly, it doesn’t seem to be “The Underground Railroad.” Barry Jenkins’ masterpiece didn’t get any support from the acting branch (none of its superb cast members were nominated) and it went zero-for-five at the Creative Arts Emmys. Perhaps Jenkins can surprise on Sunday with a Best Director win, but without widespread support across the TV Academy’s voting body, Limited Series seems out of reach.

“I May Destroy You” is in a similar boat. While six of its nine nominations are in Primetime Emmy categories (including two acting nods) and the HBO drama already won an Emmy for Music Supervision, four of its nine nods have Michaela Coel’s name attached — voters seem much more interested in honoring her than the show overall, which could bode well for a Writing award, but isn’t the typical path to winning Best Limited Series. Again, programs need support from as many branches as possible, and the buzz seems to lie elsewhere. (Again, again: This is a downright shame. Coel and Jenkins, two extremely talented Black creators, should not be the odds-on favorites to lose. Their limited series aren’t just two of the best this year, but two of the best ever made.)

That leaves three nominees, all of which have a strong case for the favorite. “Mare of Easttown” hit in the spring (very awards friendly timing), benefited from a weekly release (which helps sustain momentum), and features a bonafide movie star in the lead role. (Kate Winslet, please make more television.) With HBO’s backing and a well-received finale, this murder-mystery could linger in voters’ minds, and its 16 nominations shows lots of voters were watching.

Still, “WandaVision” has 23 nominations and may have helped alter the future of television. The Disney+ superhero story has already won three Emmys during the Creative Arts ceremonies, and while its January-through-March release is a tad early for typical awards fodder, clearly Emmy members haven’t forgotten about it. Also of note: The so-called “superhero bias” that MCU fans contend hurts Marvel movies at the Oscars isn’t a factor here. “WandaVision” has the third-most nominations of any program at the Emmys, only one shy of “The Crown” and “The Mandalorian,” both of which have been building their fanbases much longer. It’s part of the club now.

And yet, all that still may not be enough to take down the “Queen.” After all these months of speculating, of gauging who’s up and who’s down, the Netflix chess drama reasserted its dominance at the Creative Arts Emmys, snagging nine wins to lead the pack — including head-to-head victories over each of the other Best Limited Series nominees. (“The Queen’s Gambit” even won for Cinematography, which many expected to be “Small Axe” and “The Underground Railroad’s” best shot at gold.) Anything could still happen. Every show has a shot at the top prize. But it seems like the one we always thought would be hard to top, is, in fact, the one to beat.

Power Rankings:

  1. “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix)
  2. “WandaVision” (Disney+)
  3. “Mare of Easttown” (HBO)
  4. “I May Destroy You” (HBO)
  5. “The Underground Railroad” (Amazon Prime Video)

Will Win: “The Queen’s Gambit”
Could Win: “WandaVision” or “Mare of Easttown”
Should Win: “The Underground Railroad”

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