Emmys: Hollywood Reporter TV Critics Debate Highs and Lows of the 2019 Nominations

Game of Thrones - Season Eight, Series Finale - Episode Six - Image16- Publicity-H 2019
Courtesy of HBO

Daniel Fienberg: So remember how last year everybody was freaking out on Emmy nomination morning because it seemed like Netflix had usurped HBO and become the ruler of all things television? Or something? Well, it looks like HBO's back, piling up a whopping 137 nominations to Netflix's 117, with Game of Thrones, Chernobyl and Barry among the big leaders (but with Veep rather far down the list with only nine nominations, including comedy series). Where do you want to start our discussion, Tim? Perhaps let's start with your general mood looking over the nods. Happy? Angry? Confused?

Tim Goodman: Oh, definitely confused. I mean, there's a lot to be happy about, to be angry about — typical Emmy stuff — but I'd love to see the pending police investigation on the Pop thing with Schitt's Creek. That just doesn't happen organically, sorry. 

DF: Every once in a while you can feel when a show has momentum and you really could tell that with Schitt's Creek, which also got TCA Award nominations for the first time this year. I'm not the biggest Schitt's Creek fan, but I'm reasonably amused to see those nominations right up until I also see that Better Things and Ramy and Baskets received a combined total of zero nominations. So let's start with comedy. Other than Schitt's Creek, what jumps out at you?

TG: Rage? I mean, momentum is fine and all and I'm not mad at Schitt's Creek at all (I'm just saying I'd put some yellow tape around the voting scene), but back when you and I did our back-and-forth about potential nominees, one thing we agreed on was that so many comedies were ripe to get nominations and therefore also to be snubbed. Better Things and Ramy and sure Baskets, Shrill, Kidding, PEN15. I wish Sex Education was put in the comedy category where it belonged, but — jumping around here — I'd say beyond the Schitt's Creek stuff, the thing that stands out to me is the lack of attention for Succession and how many surprise nominees from otherwise well-represented series snuck in (Barry, Fleabag, etc). I guess that could be used against me and my 10-nominations-in-every-category yearly rant, but I think this year is definitely an outlier thing. Plus, it could just as easily be used as an argument for 10 per category. I mean, if the TV Academy is going to go bonkers and love every single eligible person in a series that's getting a lot of attention, more slots at least theoretically increases the chances for Pamela Adlon or Ramy, etc. 

DF: I'm amazed it took you two whole responses to get to the need for 10 nominees per category. You are, of course, still correct. Let's stick to comedy for a few seconds. I'm overjoyed with all of the recognition for Fleabag, which felt like the kind of show that could have received one acting nomination for Phoebe Waller-Bridge and we'd have been totally satisfied. Instead, it's nominated for writing and directing and cinematography and editing and Sian Clifford and Olivia Colman and Fiona Shaw and Kristin Scott Thomas. But not Andrew Scott? What's up with that?

TG: The Andrew Scott exclusion is arguably as stunning as the Schitt's Creek inclusion (yes, I'm going to keep doing that). But seriously, 95 percent of the reason that viewers liked that (less than believable) priest storyline is because Scott is so damned good, so damned sexy-priest magnetic and so perfectly able to channel the flaw-quality that makes Fleabag work. It makes no sense he's missing. And yes, I apologize that it took me a full two responses to get in the 10-nominees-per-category rant. And yet, I'm pleased that the drum is being beaten. Is it even worth talking about the Sex Education misplaced category thing costing Netflix so many potential nominees, or should we both just pose stone-faced with a picture of Better Things behind us? Or is it time to move on to what happened to Succession?

DF: I wish I understood what happened with Better Things. Pamela Adlon has been a regular nominee in the acting category, but voters have ignored her meticulous and assured direction and her sensitive writing in the past, but this year? Nothing? No. Way to not recognize one of the better things on TV, voters. Sigh. Sorry. I'm also a bit disappointed by the lack of directing nod for Natasha Lyonne, nominated as both writer and star of Russian Doll. She should have joined Bill Hader in that triple-threat category. You mentioned Succession, and I'm gonna say that I'm relieved it was nominated at all in the outstanding drama series category. Throw in a well-deserved casting nomination and a "Look, movie guy does TV!" directing nomination for Adam McKay, that's not so bad at all. Or, rather, that could be worse!

TG: I could spend some time in shock that Julia Roberts wasn't nominated for Homecoming or that Sam Esmail didn't get a directing nomination for that, but I'm worried that you're worried it will devolve into the 10-nominations-in-every-category rant. I will say this though — doesn't it seem like this year lots of people from well-liked shows got nominated at the exclusion of others who were better than dark-horse candidates? That might be our trend this year. My early takeaway is that there wasn't enough love to go around and there was maybe too much love for a handful of shows?

DF: Is that your way of saying that it's ridiculous that Ozark got as many nominations as it did? I'm incredibly pleased and relieved that the Ozark momentum made room for Julia Garner, but otherwise that's a silly pile of nominees for a mediocre, underlit show that, if nothing else, wasn't nominated for cinematography. But speaking of underlit shows, look at all those nominations for Game of Thrones! Thirty-two overall! Basically everybody from the supporting cast! It's hard for me to know who I'd remove from the group of Maisie Williams, Sophie Turner, Lena Headey and Gwendoline Christie to make room for Rhea Seehorn, but come on! How is it possible she's never been nominated for Better Call Saul? At least Michael McKean got a make-good guest actor nomination when he should have won supporting actor in drama last year.

TG: I know that Ozark is your whipping boy, but I like that show more than you do. As for the underlit Game of Thrones, one thing it did accomplish was to get me to tune my TV better. Beyond that, yeah, wow, that's a lot of nominations. Not unexpected in this finale year, but we are definitely seeing a trend with the everybody-in nomination stamp.

DF: There's no question that it feels like there were more shows with 10 or 20 nominations and fewer with five or 10, so that leaves us with no Pose acting nominees other than Billy Porter and no Succession acting nominees at all. It also makes it harder for a show to pop with a single big nomination, which makes the Robin Wright and Viola Davis lead actress nominations feel more like outliers than they might have been a few years ago, when you also reasonably could have expected a J.K. Simmons nomination for Counterpart. Ha! I got there before you did.

TG: I tried not to even mention Simmons, Counterpart or Patriot for fear that tearing the scab off would really, really hurt, so thanks, Dan! Yeah, excess nominations, if we can call it that, definitely hurt Julia Roberts and the Succession cast and all the way down the line. It's always dangerous to rely on the TV Academy to be somewhere in the 75-80 percent on-the-ball category, as it were, but I'm wondering if you think there was a dereliction of duty in all the en masse nominations and not spreading it out further. You and I and all the other critics (and viewers!) can certainly attest to how hard it is to stay up to date on hundreds of new shows, but I'm worried that if this pattern repeats next year it's just doing a real disservice to the breadth of offerings (you know, since voters are tapping into the depth in a sense). Thoughts? I always want the TV Academy to do better, but in fairness it has had, in the last five years, a not terrible record, but there's always worry. 

DF: I dunno from "dereliction of duty," but I definitely think that a key nomination for Ramy Youssef — writing or directing — would have been great. Louie Anderson's a former winner for Baskets, but I wonder if that made his nomination feel like it might have been "complacency" so voters skipped it. I love the single writing nomination for Pen15. There are fewer of those that I felt the drama fields were missing because, and I've said this before, the drama side of the Emmys this year was so weak that they opted to give 11 nominations for the piecemeal three episodes of The Handmaid's Tale. In contrast, the movie/miniseries category was so packed that you had technical marvels like The Haunting of Hill House getting snubbed entirely. It didn't deserve 15 or 20 nominations, but for editing, cinematography and production design, it should have been a monster. And it was not.

TG: Well, yes, I'm a "spread the wealth" advocate. You know, there's a way to do that. OK, never mind. Any last sighs on what got left out, even if it was maybe a dream scenario — like, perhaps, Lodge 49, What We Do in the Shadows, Catastrophe, Little Drummer Girl? Those are but a few of mine. 

DF: Florence Pugh absolutely should have been nominated for Little Drummer Girl. She got hurt by smart — also semi-inaccurate — categorizations for When They See Us. Aunjanue Ellis and Niecy Nash are both completely supporting performers in that miniseries, but if you position those two as leads (and they both get nominations), then you get to make room for a Marsha Stephanie Blake, who's great in When They See Us, as supporting. Ditto with Vera Farmiga, who presumably got the supporting actress nomination Felicity Huffman would have gotten except for outside factors. So that's four actress nominations for When They See Us instead of only one or two. There are a lot of movie/miniseries supporting players who should have been nominated, including Eric Lange for Escape at Dannemora, Norbert Leo Butz for Fosse/Verdon and Eliza Scanlen for Sharp Objects. Too much good work!

TG: Yeah, I wonder, again, how that can be addressed and fixed. But on a positive note, good people did in fact get nominated, and I can always just watch and appreciate the other stuff by myself and send out supportive tweets to those involved. Staying positive, Dan!