Emmys' Acting Races Poised for Shake-Up Amid Glut of Ensemble Shows

JoJo Whilden/SHOWTIME; Courtesy of Academy of Television Arts & Sciences; Ron Batzdorff/NBC; HBO

This year, awards hopefuls are finding themselves competing against more of their co-stars within certain categories.

The 2017 Emmys opened for submissions March 20, beginning the awards race in earnest. With a glut of ensemble vehicles, many strategists say this year has the pool of actors not only submitting earlier but also competing against more of their co-stars within certain categories.

Take NBC's This Is Us, considered broadcast's best shot at cracking the drama race: Mandy Moore and Milo Ventimiglia will vie in lead categories, as will co-star (and 2016 People v. O.J. Emmy winner) Sterling K. Brown. Chrissy Metz, Justin Hartley and Ron Cephas Jones all going for supporting.

Hopefuls from HBO's A-list limited entry Big Little Lies may bring even more intrashow battles. Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman and Shailene Woodley all plan to submit as lead, a category where Feud stars Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange already look likely. The race between Big Little Lies' male players is even more crowded. Adam Scott, Alexander Skarsgard, Jeffrey Nordling and James Tupper are all being submitted for supporting player. (Laura Dern and Zoe Kravitz are said to be targeting supporting in the actress race.) Notes one campaign strategist of the many potential conflicts, "The more you have these big ensembles, the harder it is to break these individuals out."

The surge of scripted television has, unsurprisingly, created a surge in submitted actors — but the tallies are daunting. The TV Academy notes that 2016 brought record-high submissions, with a total 2,108 performances submitted across all lead, supporting and guest races. That number represents a nearly 70 percent jump in just five years — only 1,249 were submitted in 2011. The volume is such that several publicists say they've cautioned some clients against making the trouble, especially if they aren't members of the Academy. Emmy submissions for non-members come at $225 a pop, while all members get two freebies each year.

Industry growth has forced some returning shows to reconsider their tactics. Showtime, for one, will pitch Homeland's Rupert Friend as drama lead, instead of supporting, where he previously competed with Mandy Patinkin. (Initially, Friend was nominated in 2013 for his Homeland work in the guest race, but he's seen his screen time climb in subsequent years.)

"It's ultimately up to the showrunners," says Showtime programming president Gary Levine, noting that they now reassess where submissions belong each year. "But we have our opinions about where we like to put people."

Showtime knows something about category switches. Shameless, an hourlong show, famously switched from drama to comedy in 2014. Star William H. Macy has since been nominated in comedy lead annually, proving that a little vigilance can pay off.

A version of this story first appeared in the March 29 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

comments powered by Disqus