Emmy Nominations: Redemption for Some, A Cold Shoulder for Others (Analysis)

THR's awards analyst dissects the nominees, the snubs, the stats and the unprecedented diversity.
KC BAILEY/NETFLIX
Aziz and Shoukath Ansari in 'Master of None'

The 68th Emmy nominations were unveiled today. For the 16th year in a row, HBO led all networks with 94 nominations across 113 categories, far ahead of FX's 56 and Netflix's 54, as well as all of the broadcast networks, but fewer than in recent years — last year, it had 126. That is probably more a reflection of the rising tide of quality work across the medium than it is a sign of a decline by the leading cable outlet, although HBO did hit a major speed bump this year with Vinyl, which was expected to be its next great Emmy powerhouse.

Once again, Game of Thrones led the way for HBO and the entire field, this time with 23 noms, one more than FX's limited series The People v. O.J. Simpson. Clearly, Thrones wasn't hurt by the fact that some of its best episodes were released after voting had already begun. Thrones and O.J., which each scored a formidable six acting noms and many others in technical categories, are the heavy frontrunners for best drama series and best limited series, respectively.

The morning brought redemption for a number of shows and individuals that were snubbed last year. FX's critically beloved The Americans finally broke through and, for its fourth season, bagged its first drama series, actor (Matthew Rhys) and actress (Keri Russell) noms. (Somewhere, the late publicist Murray Weissman is smiling.) Thomas Middleditch got his first nom for actor in a comedy series for HBO's third season of Silicon Valley. Ellie Kemper got her first nom for actress in a comedy series for Netflix's second season of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. And Maggie Smith returned to contention, after a year off, in the supporting actress in a drama series category for the sixth and final season of PBS' Downton Abbey.

But there was surprisingly little love for the highest-profile shows that have gone off the air over the past year. Sure, Downton landed noms for drama series and Smith, but nothing else of note. Meanwhile, CBS' The Good Wife, the last best hope for broadcast drama series, got neither a series nor a single acting nom — not for past winner Julianna Margulies, Alan Cumming or Christine Baranski — outside of guest mentions for Michael J. Fox and Carrie Preston. And Fox's American Idol failed to register in the reality-competition race (although Ryan Seacrest is nominated for reality host for the first time since 2013). So much for sentiment.

Other past favorites were given a cold shoulder as well. Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, which was nominated first as a comedy and then as a drama in past years, didn't get a drama nom this time around, and none of its stars — not even two-time winner Uzo Aduba — were recognized. CBS' The Big Bang Theory got nothing. And Stephen Colbert, whose former late-night show The Colbert Report won the best variety talk prize in two of the past three years, wasn't even nominated for his new CBS berth, Late Night With Stephen Colbert.

Some talent, though, can do no wrong in the eyes of the TV Academy. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler made history by becoming the first performers ever co-nominated in a guest acting category, thanks to their co-hosting of an episode of NBC's Saturday Night Live; that perennial contender also made a strong showing this year, with 16 total noms, including variety sketch series (which it lost last year to Inside Amy Schumer but is likely to win this year) and noms for four other hosts: Larry David, Tracy Morgan, Melissa McCarthy and Amy Schumer.

That was one of the few bright spots for the Peacock Network and the Big Four broadcast networks overall. For the second year in a row, they accounted for only two of the 14 slots for series nominations (ABC's Modern Family, for the seventh time, and Black-ish, for the first). Technically, PBS and The CW also count as broadcast networks. The best hope of the former, Downton, delivered, but the best hope of the latter, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, came up short in both the comedy series and actress categories, with Golden Globe winner Rachel Bloom failing to get a nom.

(Speaking of which, today makes it very hard for the Globes to argue that they have any bearing on the Emmys: Of the nine Globe winners that were eligible for this year's Emmys, six — Amazon's comedy series Mozart in the Jungle and its star Gael Garcia Bernal, Bloom, Oscar Isaac for HBO's Show Me a Hero, Lady Gaga for American Horror Story: Hotel and Christian Slater for USA's Mr. Robot — didn't even get nominated.)

Many TV Academy members clearly have fallen out of love with broadcast programming, which used to dominate the Emmys, and have strongly gravitated toward not only cable but also streaming. Streaming from independent websites, however, may still be a bridge too far for most, as Louis C.K.'s Horace & Pete, which the Emmy winner distributed via his personal website LouisCK.net, landed only one nom, for drama guest actress Laurie Metcalf (the MVP of the day, in that she also landed unexpected noms for comedy actress, for HBO's Getting On, and comedy guest actress, for The Big Bang Theory).

Last year, only three of the 14 series noms were claimed by rookie shows. This year, that figure fell to two, Mr. Robot and Netflix comedy Master of None, which also bagged lead acting noms for their nonwhite stars, Rami Malek and Aziz Ansari. They, along with Black-ish, a nominee for comedy series and its leads Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, were part of a historic wave of diversity that puts the Motion Picture Academy to shame. A total of 21 acting noms went to nonwhite performers, including last year's drama actress winner Viola Davis for ABC's How to Get Away With Murder, Taraji P. Henson for Fox's Empire, Keegan-Michael Key for Comedy Central's Key & Peele, Andre Braugher for Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Tituss Burgess for Kimmy Schmidt, Niecy Nash for Getting On and Cuba Gooding Jr., Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown for The People v. O.J. Simpson.

Other minority groups who were recognized included: disabled people (A&E's unstructured reality series nominee Born This Way), gays (Viceland's unstructured reality series nominee Gaycation With Ellen Page) and drag queens (RuPaul of Logo's RuPaul's Drag Race landed his first-ever nom for reality host), if not trans people (E!'s I Am Cait came up short).

There were also some noteworthy noms in more obscure categories. Beyonce is a variety special nominee for HBO's Lemonade. Alan Menken is poised to become just the 13th member of the exclusive EGOT club — an E shy of the grand slam, he is an original music and lyrics nominee for ABC's canceled Galavant. "Til It Happens to You," the Lady Gaga/Diane Warren anthem from the doc The Hunting Ground, becomes the first song ever nominated for an Oscar, Grammy and Emmy. And The People v. O.J. Simpson director John Singleton becomes the first black man ever nominated for a directing Oscar and Emmy.

Additionally, Netflix cult favorites Making a Murderer and Chef's Table are both documentary or nonfiction series nominees. Three of this year's five Oscar-nominated docs — The Orchard's Cartel Land and Netflix's Winter on Fire and What Happened, Miss Simone? — are nominees, the first two for exceptional merit in documentary filmmaking and the third for documentary or nonfiction special. The first-ever short-form nominations — honoring YouTube series and the like — are out and include a couple of familiar names: Rob Corddry and Lou Diamond Phillips, who's up for actor in a short-form comedy or drama. And, somewhat surprisingly, a special class program nom went to Fox's Grease: Live but not to NBC's The Wiz Live!, which came from the people who revived the live musical format in the first place.

Go figure.

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