As 'Game of Thrones' Returns, Emmy Contenders Alter Strategies

"Everyone from HBO to Netflix to Hulu to Amazon has to be looking at their slates, thinking, 'Where do you place your strongest bets?'" says one awards strategist.
Helen Sloan/HBO
Is Hulu holding off on 'The Handmaid’s Tale' third-season premiere to avoid competing with HBO’s 'Game of Thrones' ?

"It's hard to fight the dragons." That's how one awards strategist sees Hulu's Feb. 11 move to push Emmy heavyweight The Handmaid's Tale's third-season premiere to June and out of consideration for the 2019 race. It's just the latest production or scheduling delay set to open up plenty of room in the drama race for new nominees — and a big boost for HBO's three-time champ Game of Thrones, returning April 14.

Of 2018's Emmy-nominated dramas, only Thrones and NBC's This Is Us will be eligible in 2019. Netflix's Stranger Things, last seen in October 2017, isn't back until July; HBO doesn't even resume production on Westworld until March, and The Crown won't be back on Netflix until the second half of 2019. And 2017 limited series winner Big Little Lies, shifting to drama series in its return, doesn't bow until after the TV Academy's window of eligibility closes June 1, thereby avoiding awkward conflicts for HBO.

"I don't know that it's people avoiding Game of Thrones; it's a confluence of events," says Hulu senior vp originals Craig Erwich, who saw Handmaid's become the first streaming original to win best drama in 2017 — when Thrones sat out. "Shows have become so much more bespoke, and the craftsmanship so much higher, that they take so much longer."

While the upcoming cycle of Handmaid's is out of the 2019 Emmy race, a handful of season two "hanging episodes" that aired last July — including three with guest star Bradley Whitford — are eligible for categories judged by episodic submissions, thanks to a TV Academy rule change.

Potential new beneficiaries of these vacancies include HBO's Succession, BBC America's Killing Eve, Amazon's Homecoming, FX's Pose and CBS All Access' The Good Fight. Still, going up against HBO's formidable exiting flagship is changing the Emmy plan for schedulers.

As the strategist working on several drama campaigns notes, the FYC chess game gets more nuanced every year: "Everyone from HBO to Netflix to Hulu to Amazon has to be looking at their slates, thinking, 'Where do you place your strongest bets?'"

This story first appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.