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The Emmy’s Limited Series Acting Categories Present an Intriguing Numbers Game — TV Podcast

No one has any idea what's happening, and we couldn't be happier about it.

Watchmen HBO

Neither pandemic, nor lockdown, nor social upheaval, nor second-wave pandemic stays the Emmy Awards from its originally scheduled completion of the 2020 ceremony — or so it would appear from a series of announcements shared this week.

On Monday, the Television Academy announced adjusted plans for the Creative Arts Emmy Awards which will forgo in-person ceremonies for virtual events spanning several nights in September, in addition to cancelling any and all Governors Balls that typically accompany both the Creative Arts and Primetime Emmy Awards. On Tuesday, ABC announced the Primetime awards would proceed as scheduled on September 20, with late-night host Jimmy Kimmel returning to emcee, in whatever way, shape, and form the ceremony took place — be it virtual, live, tape-delayed, in a closet, in a bathtub, or at an overcrowded Orange County beach while surrounded by people who refuse to wear masks. Hopefully, it will not be the latter.

And while Emmy season continues apace, it’s anything but business as usual for TV awards prognosticators. If divining potential Emmy nominees in the best of times is interpreting industry buzz and reading tea leaves, then 2020 is the year that all the bees died and everyone started drinking whisky instead.

But the Emmys are happening, come hell or high water, and in anticipation (and maybe trepidation) IndieWire’s television podcast “Millions of Screens” is kicking off its category-by-category breakdown of the Primetime Emmy Awards’ most vital categories.

First up for analysis are the absolutely brutal acting categories for TV movies and limited series. These are likely some of the most contentious competitions in the entire Emmy slate, not only because of how many high-quality productions the year offered, but also because of how many outstanding performances each of those productions created.

Take, for example, HBO’s “Watchmen,” a limited series inspired by the comic book of the same name, which offered audiences an opportunity to deconstruct the violence and racism built into the backbone of American history. While Regina King is a lock for limited series actress and Jean Smart is virtually guaranteed a nomination for supporting actress, there are so many other players that will be in direct competition with each other, including Tim Blake Nelson, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, and Louis Gossett Jr. all competing for Supporting Actor.

MRS. AMERICA -- "Betty" --Episode 4 (Airs April 22) Pictured: Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly. CR: Sabrina Lantos/FX

Cate Blanchett in “Mrs. America”

Sabrina Lantos / FX

Or FX’s “Mrs. America,” where Cate Blanchett transformed herself into vile opponent of the Equal Rights Amendment Phyllis Schlafly and finds herself situated as King’s greatest competition in the Best Actress category. Beyond Blanchett, every other woman in the show’s murderers row of actresses falls into Supporting Actress, which means the likes of Rose Byrne, Margo Martindale, Sarah Paulson, Uzo Aduba, and Tracey Ullman are all in direct competition with each other, as well as the entirety of the supporting actress field.

It’s a similar issue faced by Netflix and Ryan Murphy’s star-studded alternate history “Hollywood,” where Jim Parsons, Joe Mantello, Darren Criss, and Dylan McDermott are all jockeying for position in Supporting Actor.

Here’s why this matters: Last year we talked about the overwhelming ballot that Emmy members face when trying to register their voting preferences, in huge part due to the continuing demands of Peak TV. In response, it appeared that voters ended up voting, not necessarily for what they loved, but more for what they’ve seen. “Game of Thrones” got 32 nominations, likely because Emmy voters knew exactly what a “Game of Thrones” episode was, even if they didn’t actually love the underwhelming final season.

Last year I posited that Emmy voting worked on a three-prong system: People watched it. People talked about it. People always vote for it.

Because of conditions beyond anyone’s control, the concept of people talking about TV shows seems largely a thing of the past. It’s hard to create buzz without FYC events and industry chatter, and it’s hard to have industry chatter when the industry is shuttered. That leaves two prongs: People watched it. People always vote for it.

Because we’re dealing with limited series and TV movies, none of them have an established history with the Academy because they’re all one-and-done. So that leaves one prong: People watched it.


Merritt Wever and Toni Collette in “Unbelievable”

Beth Dubber/Netflix

What that means for these limited series categories specifically is that if voters watch one series, but skip another, you could see an entire category populated by performances from “Mrs. America.” Or if voters were enamored with Netflix’s “Unbelievable” and skipped Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere,” then the former could see double nods in actress, as opposed to double nods for the latter.

Welcome to the ultimate downfall of the streaming revolution, in which we don’t how many people are watching what, and boy is it about to show. No matter what your awards pundit of choice will try to tell you, most of us are flying blind. The best we can do is look at what the TV Academy has done before, what networks have done before, what actors have done before, and try to extrapolate all of that into something that makes sense, while also keeping in mind that 2020 is unlike any other year in human history, so all bets are off.

As difficult as that makes my job, it’s a wonderful opportunity for the TV Academy to throw off the burdens of history and remake their awards into something that better reflects the high-quality programming consistently being produced in corners not always recognized by the mainstream. Last year’s celebration of “Fleabag” was a great start, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

To hear a full breakdown of the limited series and TV movie acting categories, make sure to tune in to this week’s episode of “Millions of Screens” with TV Awards Editor Libby Hill, TV Deputy Editor Ben Travers, and Creative Producer Leo Garcia. We’re still faithfully abiding by California’s social distancing recommendations, so this week’s episode was recorded from the comfort of everyone’s respective Los Angeles-area apartments, and we’re again offering viewers a video-version of the podcast, as embedded above.

Plus, don’t miss the latest, greatest news from the frontline about Quibi, the little streaming service that couldn’t.

Millions of Screens” is available on AnchorApple PodcastsBreakerGoogle PodcastsSpotify, and Stitcher. You can subscribe here or via RSS. Share your feedback with the crew on Twitter or sound off in the comments. Review the show on iTunes and be sure to let us know if you’d like to hear the gang address specific issues in upcoming editions of “Millions of Screens.” Check out the rest of IndieWire’s podcasts on iTunes right here.

This episode of “Millions of Screens” was produced by Leonardo Adrian Garcia.

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