Emmys: 9 Wide-Open Races Poised to Shake Up This Year's Noms

5:30 AM 5/26/2016

by Michael O'Connell

If TV's potential nominees sound like candidates in another (less important) national election, here's why: Nine categories are wide open thanks to brash upstarts, former sure things that are no longer and more.

AMERICAN HORROR STORY - Room Service- Lady Gaga -H 2016
Doug Hyun/FX

On the eve of Emmy nomination voting, which starts June 13, there is a refreshing air of possibility for this year's race. After an Oscar race that resulted in a mostly predictable winner's circle, TV's top honor (scheduled to be handed out Sept. 18 on ABC) currently isn't poised to have too many repeat victors.

As any programmer will breathlessly remind anyone who asks, there is more content than ever, translating to a record number of eligible nominees. Somewhere in the vicinity of 400 scripted series and north of 750 unscripted programs technically are in the running. Some trophies offer more cachet than others — with all due respect to the Creative Arts honors, now handed out during two (two!) separate events — and categories for many of the most coveted are primed for a shake-up, thanks either to vacated slots (so long, Mad Men), surging new blood (late-night's crowded talk landscape) or voters' ever unpredictable tastes (outstanding drama, perennial wild card).

To prepare for the rigorous months ahead, THR has identified the nine most open races and the contenders currently courting buzz.

  • Drama Series

    Emmy's most prestigious kudo also is its most unpredictable: There hasn't been anything close to a sure thing since the height of Mad Men's four-year winning streak. Previous trophy-holders Game of Thrones and Homeland both are in play this year, as are past nominees Better Call Saul, House of Cards, Orange Is the New Black and Downton Abbey. New hopefuls are myriad, with Mr. Robot, UnREAL, Horace and Pete and The Leftovers all eyeing slots.

  • Limited Series

    No category has heated up more in recent years than this one. Driven by a surge in anthology series — which circumvent the drama category with rotating casts and characters — this year sees undeniable fire from The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story and the second go of FX darling Fargo, which won three key awards during its last year of eligibility. American Horror Story, American Crime and other non-American shows like Show Me a Hero crowd this race.

  • Lead Actor in a Drama

    Jon Hamm finally got his due for the last season of Mad Men, but this year, no past winner in this category even is eligible — at least not for a role which previously netted him a trophy. The wide-open door for new blood could be good news for perennial House of Cards nominee Kevin Spacey, Billions' Paul Giamatti or Damian Lewis (honored for Homeland in 2012), Mr. Robot's Rami Malek, Better Call Saul's Bob Odenkirk, Bloodline's Kyle Chandler or even Ray Donovan star Liev Schreiber.

  • Lead Actress in a Drama

    Reigning winner Viola Davis has to admit How to Get Away With Murder doesn't have the same steam this year. With Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss gone, the category still will see some returning nominees in Claire Danes (Homeland), Taraji P. Henson (Empire), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black) and Robin Wright (House of Cards). Past winner Julianna Margulies has one last shot for The Good Wife, while Outlander's Caitriona Balfe and Jessica Jones' Krysten Ritter have buzz. It's also time for critic fave Keri Russell of The Americans.

  • Variety Talk Series

    An unprecedented period of turnover and expansion on the late-night landscape has led to this: a year when neither a Jon Stewart-hosted Daily Show nor The Colbert Report — which together have dominated the category, going undefeated over the past 13 years — is eligible. Vying for the baton in this new era are broadcast stalwarts Jimmy Kimmel, Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert (now sitting in David Letterman's vacated host chair), after-hours favorites Seth Meyers and James Corden, new Comedy Central blood Larry Wilmore and Trevor Noah, HBO darling John Oliver (Last Week Tonight), and the most recent newcomers: Samantha Bee (TBS' Full Frontal) and Chelsea Handler (Netflix's Chelsea).

  • Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie

    The crowded limited landscape (along with the endurance of prestige telepics) means this race is stacked: People v. O.J. standout Courtney B. Vance is considered a lock for a nom, and the Emmys have a proven affection for five-time winner Bryan Cranston (LBJ in All the Way). Brit Tom Hiddleston drew raves for The Night Manager, and Show Me a Hero star Oscar Isaac's profile has grown since that low-budget indie, Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

  • Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie

    This group is beyond eclectic this year. Many scoffed at Lady Gaga's Globe win for American Horror Story: Hotel, but TV Academy voters are hardly above the thrall of star power. Sarah Paulson was called a sure thing halfway into her People v. O.J. run as Marcia Clark, but anything goes — especially with Kerry Washington (Confirmation), Anika Noni Rose (Roots), Kirsten Dunst (Fargo) and Felicity Huffman (American Crime) in the mix. Hell, Broad City's Ilana Glazer is a contender for Time Traveling Bong.

  • Lead Actress in a Comedy

    If Julia Louis-Dreyfus wins again for Veep, it will be her fifth straight win for the series. It's almost absurd to think she'll get it again, but she and the show are beloved. The category will have new blood, so don't be surprised if Rachel Bloom (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend), Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish) or 2015 nom snub Ellie Kemper (Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) fill vacancies left by Amy Poehler (Parks and Recreation), Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie) and Lisa Kudrow (The Comeback).

  • Reality Competition

    Emmy history favors The Amazing Race, which interrupted The Voice's would-be streak when it reclaimed the Emmy in 2014. But Race isn't on CBS' fall schedule, which could mean three wins in four years for The Voice or an opening for American Idol, ignored since 2011 but with one last shot. Top Chef, Project Runway, So You Think You Can Dance and Dancing With the Stars all still are in the mix. And long-ignored The Bachelor could rise above its guilty-pleasure status.