Emmys: Weighing the Odds in the Lead Actor Races

11:30 AM 8/13/2019

by Scott Feinberg

The categories for best male performer in comedy and drama series see some of TV's (and awards-season's) most familiar faces vying against new stars and one late bloomer.

'Better Call Saul,' 'Black Monday' and 'Game of Thrones'
'Better Call Saul,' 'Black Monday' and 'Game of Thrones'
Courtesy of AMC, Showtime and HBO

  • Anthony Anderson

    'Black-ish' (ABC)

    Ron Tom/ABC

    This likable character actor has now been nominated for all five seasons of Kenya Barris’ show — the only traditional sitcom and one of only two network series represented in this category — on which he plays Dre, an ad exec with a wild and crazy family.

    On the other hand.... The show’s ratings have plummeted, it boasts only one other nomination this year (for costumes), and it would be unusual for an actor to win for the first time this far into a show’s run.

  • Don Cheadle

    'Black Monday' (Showtime)

    Michael Levine/SHOWTIME

    After five seasons on Showtime’s House of Lies, four of which brought him a nom, this veteran returned to the network — and is nominated again for his work on its rookie show about a bumbling Wall Street firm in the year leading up to the Black Monday stock market crash of 1987 — his ninth overall nom. (He has yet to win.) The series was recently renewed for a second season.

    On the other hand... This is his show’s only nomination. All his fellow nominees hail from shows with multiple.

  • Ted Danson

    'The Good Place' (NBC)

    Colleen Hayes/NBC

    This 71-year-old TV icon has landed his second consecutive nom for his work as Michael on NBC’s critically adored show (he missed for its first season), his record-extending 13th in this category and his 17th overall. (He’s won twice, for Cheers.) His is one of five total noms for the show, another being its first-ever series nod. He also snagged a Critics’ Choice nom this year.

    On the other hand... It’s disconcerting that none of his series-regular co-stars were able to muster a nom.

  • Michael Douglas

    'The Kominsky Method' (Netflix)

    Mike Yarish/Netflix

    For his portrayal of a has-been actor turned acting coach on this rookie Netflix show — his first work on series TV since The Streets of San Francisco in the ’70s — the 74-year-old, this category’s oldest nominee, landed the sixth nom of his career. (He has one win, for the 2013 HBO movie Behind the Candelabra.) He already won a Globe and received a Critics’ Choice nom this  year.

    On the other hand... His show, which won the comedy Golden Globe, was shockingly denied a series nom.

  • Bill Hader

    'Barry' (HBO)

    Courtesy of HBO

    Last year’s surprise winner returns to contention — and also is nominated for producing, directing and writing on his show’s second season, which snagged 17 noms, more than any other show repped in this category. This year, he also won a Critics’ Choice Award and scored Globe and TCA noms (he was the sole male nominee for comedy achievement at the latter).

    On the other hand... It is possible that voters will want to give someone else a shot at the spotlight this year.

  • Eugene Levy

    'Schitt's Creek' (Pop TV)

    Courtesy of PopTV

    Fans of Pop’s LOL show about a family that loses everything but finds love are cheering its fifth-season breakthrough, which yielded its first-ever noms — not only for this bushy-eyebrowed funnyman’s portrayal of patriarch Johnny Rose, but also for best comedy (he’s nominated as a producer, too) and best actress in a comedy (Catherine O’Hara). People like to get behind a little engine that  could.

    On the other hand... Pop does not have the resources to mount a major campaign.

  • Jason Bateman

    'Ozark' (Netflix)

    Jessica Miglio/Netflix

    The second season of Netflix’s dark drama brought Bateman his fourth acting nom, second directing nom and first producing nom — any one of which, should it pan out, would mark his first win. For his portrayal of a suburban husband and father whose poor decisions jeopardize his family’s safety, he already has won a SAG Award and scored a Golden Globe nom this year. Expect a big Netflix push.

    On the other hand... The season dropped Aug. 31, almost an entire year ago.

  • Sterling K. Brown

    'This Is Us' (NBC)

    Ron Batzdorff/NBC

    This is the fourth consecutive year that Brown is in contention — he won for FX’s The People v. O.J. Simpson, then won for the first season of the NBC hit, lost for its second and is now up for its third. (No other nominee had to act in more episodes than the top-rated drama’s 18.) He already got a SAG Award nomination this year.

    On the other hand... Facing co-star Milo Ventimiglia complicates things — Brown beat him two years ago, but both lost last year.

  • Kit Harington

    'Game of Thrones' (HBO)

    Helen Sloan/HBO

    Jon Snow himself is nominated in the leading category for the first time (he landed a supporting nom in 2016), one of 32 noms (a single-season record) for the final run of HBO’s most popular show ever. His most recent episode dropped May 19, more recently than any fellow  nominee’s.

    On the other hand... The final season, comprising a category-low six episodes, was divisive. And no Thrones lead has ever won (Peter Dinklage has won in supporting three times). 

  • Bob Odenkirk

    'Better Call Saul' (AMC)

    Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television

    Jimmy becomes Saul in the fourth season of this Breaking Bad prequel, which features a parking garage scene that could clinch an acting win for him (and also brought him a producing nom). Between writing, music, producing and acting, he has accrued 15 career noms; his two wins both came for writing more than 25 years ago. He landed Critics’ Choice and SAG noms this year.

    On the other hand... The season wrapped way back on Oct.  8. And the show has never won in any category.

  • Billy Porter

    'Pose' (FX)

    JoJo Whilden/FX

    The Tony and Grammy winner could move a step closer to an EGOT for his work on Ryan Murphy’s landmark FX show, the second season of which is rolling out now. The category’s only first-time nominee, he already landed Globe and Critics’ Choice noms and was the only male up for individual achievement in drama at the TCA Awards.

    On the other hand... His show wrapped its season July 22, 2018, longer ago than any other nominee’s. Its six noms are fewer than any other nominee’s.

  • Milo Ventimiglia

    'This Is Us' (NBC)

    Ron Batzdorff/NBC

    We now know the answer to the question “How did Jack die?" But viewers still care to know how he lived, as demonstrated by the popularity of the time-hopping show’s third season, which has brought Ventimiglia his third nom in this category after a season that saw his character flash back to the Vietnam War. He also landed a Critics’ Choice nom this year.

    On the other hand... He couldn’t beat co-star Brown for seasons one or two, when the show was even hotter.

    This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.