Emmys: Limited Series Wide Open as 'Game of Thrones,' 'Veep' Enjoy Frontrunner Status

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The HBO shows, which both aired series finales in May, are likely heading for a smooth path to the podium in the drama and comedy categories, while other outlets are setting their sights on openings in other categories.

It's going to take more than some complicated cultural critiques to throw off Game of Thrones' Emmy odds. Having wrapped a divisive final season, the three-time best drama winner is still the runaway favorite to take top honors yet again at the 2019 awards.

With swan-song momentum also in the corner of HBO neighbor Veep and its star, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, both favored in comedy races, awards strategists are more focused than ever on securing spots for nominees (not potential winners) ahead of the June 24 voting deadline — while desperately looking to crack the open races that remain. Fortunately for them, the most appealing of those categories also happens to be the one furthest from any kind of consensus.

"Limited series is the only open race," observes one veteran Emmy flack, noting that the three-year run of favorites — The People v. O.J. Simpson (2016), Big Little Lies (2017) and The Assassination of Gianni Versace (2018) — has ended with a big question mark. Further opened by the latest version of FX's American Horror Story being recategorized as a drama series by the TV Academy board, top players in the crowded field include Escape at Dannemora (Showtime), Sharp Objects (HBO), Fosse/Verdon (FX), A Very English Scandal (Amazon), Catch-22 (Hulu), When They See Us (Netflix) and The Hot Zone (Nat Geo). The latter two are making a well-timed play, dropping all episodes in the week leading up to the eligibility deadline of May 31.

"Playing in this space allows us to punch above our weight," says National Geographic Global Networks president Courteney Monroe, who enjoyed record Emmy nominations for the network's previous limited series — iterations of its Genius anthology. With scripted still new to the network, Monroe says limited series inherently offer more room for attention, awards or otherwise: "You don't have to be FX, HBO or Netflix."

Limited obviously isn't the lone marquee race that's wide open. The only significant favorites in acting are Louis-Dreyfus for comedy and Dannemora's Patricia Arquette. "There are a lot of prime victories to be had despite any kind of Game of Thrones inevitability," says a top awards strategist. "That show has never done well with actors, except Peter Dinklage."

Comedy appears to offer more welcoming waters, with first-timers Russian Doll (Netflix) and Shrill (Hulu) being positioned for a battle that will likely include 2018 winner The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon), Barry (HBO), Golden Globes breakout The Kominsky Method (Netflix) and, of course, Veep. But don't expect success for shows putting all their proverbial eggs into one category or performance, cautions another strategist: "You can't have a contender if it doesn't contend in everything."

As for the honor of just being nominated, a lot of past drama contenders have cleared the way for new blood to battle Thrones. Hulu's third season of The Handmaid's Tale (a 2017 Emmy victor) was conspicuously scheduled for just days after the Academy's eligibility window. Even HBO knows what a force it's created — that is to say, there's a reason why Big Little Lies, now a drama series, is holding for June. Among those hoping to join Thrones and the only other potential returning nominee, NBC's This Is Us, are Killing Eve (BBC America), Homecoming (Amazon), Succession (HBO), Pose (FX), Bodyguard (Netflix), The Good Fight (CBS All Access) and Ozark (Netflix).

But the fact that any list of contenders, in any category, must be heavily abbreviated also says a lot about how much the Emmy race has changed in recent years. Sums up Monroe, "If I spent time thinking about the competition for Emmy attention in the scripted space, I would jump off the roof of a building."

This story first appeared in the May 22 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.