Emmys: Netflix and HBO Set to Compete on Equal Footing

THR's awards columnist breaks down Thursday's nominations announcement, explaining how we got the nominees that we did and what to expect next.
Courtesy Photo
From left: Claire Foy, 'The Crown'; Jeff Daniels, 'Godless'; Evan Rachel Wood, 'Westworld'; Peter Dinklage, 'Game of Thrones'

We are living at a time when there are more than 500 scripted shows on TV and more than 23,000 members of the Television Academy tasked with judging them, so it shouldn't come as a surprise that Thursday's announcement of the 70th Emmys nominations sent a lot of messages that are difficult to interpret.

Does this year mark a changing of the guard from the cable era to the streaming era? Perhaps. The streamer Netflix, with 112 noms (up from 91 a year ago), edged out the pay cable service HBO, with 108 noms (down from 111 last year), following 17 years in which HBO led the field. Netflix's strong showing, which includes noms in all four major program categories — The Crown and Stranger Things for best drama series, GLOW and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt for best comedy series, Godless for best limited series and Black Mirror: USS Callister for best TV movie — comes just as HBO is facing an uncertain future following parent company Time Warner's acquisition by AT&T, and warnings of major changes ahead from its new overseers.

But it seems highly premature to start writing off HBO. It landed more major program noms than anyone else — Game of Thrones and Westworld for best drama series, Barry, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Silicon Valley for best comedy series and Fahrenheit 451, Paterno and The Tale for best TV movie. And it is behind the two most nominated scripted series overall, Game of Thrones (22 noms, a year after sitting out of the race) and Westworld (21 noms, a year after leading the field). Those shows are expected to battle streamer Hulu's The Handmaid's Tale for best drama series, which Handmaid's won last year — unless, that is, voters feel a little sentimental and decide to acknowledge FX's The Americans with a first series win for its final season.

FX, which is too often overlooked in these sorts of discussions, remains a force to be reckoned with, thanks to strong showings by The Americans (four noms), as well as limited series The Assassination of Gianni Versace (18 noms, fifth best) and comedy series Atlanta (16 noms, sixth best). Both Versace and Atlanta are considered as likely to win their categories as any show. Atlanta's stiffest competition probably comes from Amazon Prime's The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the most nominated rookie program, which landed 14 noms, and another new show, the aforementioned Barry, which landed just one nom fewer. (Maisel's leading lady, Rachel Brosnahan, having already won a Golden Globe and Critics' Choice Award, looks hard to beat in the best actress in a comedy series race, while Barry's supporting actor Henry Winkler, the TV icon best known for Happy Days, seems poised to finally take home his first-ever Emmy.)

The Big Four traditional broadcast networks, meanwhile — CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox — remain against the ropes, accounting for only one of the seven drama series noms (NBC's This Is Us) and only one of the eight comedy series noms (ABC's Black-ish). NBC still finished third among all content providers in total noms, with 78 (up from 63 last year), thanks largely to Saturday Night Live's 21 (tied for second among all shows), and despite a poor showing by its rebooted comedy series Will & Grace, which registered only one nom of note (Megan Mullally for best supporting actress). There was also a bit of a fall off for This Is Us in its second season — while it still landed its drama series nom and two noms for best actor (Sterling K. Brown, last year's winner, and Milo Ventimigila, a nominee last year), its lead actress Mandy Moore, supporting actor Justin Hartley and supporting actress Chrissy Metz all came up short. But the Peacock Network did break through with a lead actor in a comedy series nom for The Good Place's Ted Danson.

The other broadcast networks were far behind NBC on the nominations leaderboard — CBS landed 34 (up from 29 last year), ABC registered 31 (down from 36 last year) and Fox bagged just 16 (down from 20 last year). Meanwhile, punching above their weight were National Geographic with 17 (propelled by seven noms for limited series Genius: Picasso); VH1 with a network-record 12 (on the back of an impressive 10 noms for reality-competition program RuPaul's Drag Race) and CNN (led by six noms for the late Anthony Bourdain's informational series Parts Unknown, which will go head-to-head with David Letterman's new Netflix series My Next Guest Needs No Introduction).

The most competitive category heading into the announcement, in my estimation, was best variety talk series, which pits all of late night's hosts — of which there is now an unprecedented number — against one another. In the end, five of last year's six nominees were returned to the running — HBO's two-time defending winner John Oliver (Last Week Tonight), CBS's Stephen Colbert (The Late Show) and James Corden (The Late Late Show), ABC's Jimmy Kimmel (Jimmy Kimmel Live!), and TBS' Samantha Bee (Full Frontal). But for only the second time in 14 years, HBO's Bill Maher (Real Time) was bounced. The fact that Maher didn't make the cut was not nearly as unexpected as who bounced him: not NBC's Jimmy Fallon (who last month apologized for the incident that probably sunk his chances last year) or Seth Meyers (who hoped to follow a writing nom last year with a series nom this year), but rather Comedy Central's Trevor Noah, the youngest of the top-tier late-night hosts, whose show now returns to competition in a category it dominated during Jon Stewart's reign. Oliver, however, remains the one to beat.

ABC's comedy series Roseanne, the season's highest-rated show, was, of course, canceled following a racist tweet by its namesake star, Roseanne Barr — but, to the TV Academy's credit, this was not held against its standout performer Laurie Metcalf, who landed a best supporting actress nom. Other far-from-assured noms went to SNL's Kenan Thompson for best supporting actor in a comedy series (marking his first-ever acting nom, for his record 15th season as a castmember) and Aidy Bryant and Leslie Jones for best supporting actress in a comedy series (alongside co-star and two-time defending winner Kate McKinnon); the stars of two BBC America shows for best actress in a drama series, past winner Tatiana Maslany, for the final season of Orphan Black, and Sandra Oh for Killing Eve (making her the first actress of Asian descent to land a nom in the category); Westworld's Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright for best actor in a drama series, a year after they were entered as supporting performers (and only Wright was nominated); The Crown's Vanessa Kirby for best supporting actress in a drama series; Issa Rae (HBO's Insecure) for best actress in a comedy series; Betty Gilpin (GLOW) for best supporting actress in a comedy series; Ricky Martin and Finn Wittrock (Versace) for best supporting actor in a limited series (alongside costar Edgar Ramirez); and John Leguizamo (The Paramount Network's Waco) and Michael Stuhlbarg (Hulu's The Looming Tower) for best supporting actor in a limited series.

In terms of surprising omissions, none was bigger than the absence from the limited series category of The Looming Tower (Hulu is said to be exploring a second season, a la HBO's limited series turned drama series Big Little Lies); moreover, while lead actor Jeff Daniels and Stuhlbarg were nominated, three other members of the show's ensemble, supporting actors Bill Camp, Tahar Rahim and Peter Sarsgaard, were left out. Others omitted include Game of Thrones lead actor Kit Harrington and lead actress Emilia Clarke (who had previously competed in supporting categories, but were submitted differently this year by HBO, something the service may now regret); Will & Grace lead actor Eric McCormack, lead actress Debra Messing and supporting actor Sean Hayes; GLOW lead actress Alison Brie and supporting actor Marc Maron; Kimmy Schmidt lead actress Ellie Kemper; The Americans supporting actor Noah Emmerich and supporting actress Holly Taylor; Barry supporting actress Sarah Goldberg; Rita Moreno, the legendary lead actress of Netflix's comedy series One Day at a Time; the leads of two Starz shows, J.K. Simmons of drama series Counterpoint and Hayley Atwell of limited series Howards End; and a host of talent from highly regarded Showtime shows: Homeland lead actress Claire Danes, a past winner; Ray Donovan lead actor Liev Schreiber and supporting actor Jon Voight, for that show's final season (after having been nominated for most of its previous seasons); Episodes lead actor Matt LeBlanc, for that show's final season; and SMILF lead actress Frankie Shaw.

Additionally, Creative Arts Awards nominations were expected for — but ultimately did not go to — HBO's Andre the Giant and Elvis Presley: The Searcher for best documentary or nonfiction special; Netflix's Chef's Table for best documentary or nonfiction series; Bravo's Inside the Actors Studio for best informational series or special; CBS' Super Bowl LII Halftime Show Starring Justin Timberlake for best variety special (live); and two high-profile Netflix programs, Barbra Streisand's Barbra: The Music... The Mem'ries... The Magic and Jerry Seinfeld's Jerry Before Seinfeld, for best variety special (pre-recorded) — which may have been bounced by two other specials from the service, Dave Chappelle: Equanimity and Steve Martin & Martin Short: An Evening You Will Forget for the Rest of Your Life.

Looking ahead, it's important to remember that in the final round of Emmy voting, all members vote to decide the outcome of the 16 program categories (drama series, comedy series, limited series, TV movie, variety talk series, variety sketch series, reality-competition program, etc.). But in other categories, only those who decided the nominations get to pick the winner. For example, only the acting peer group will get to vote on acting categories, only the directing peer group will get to vote on directing categories and only the writing peer group will get to vote on writing categories. Therefore, it is unlikely that we will see the same sort of broad sweep that we often see at the Oscars, where all voters get to vote in all categories. Instead, it's probable that the winners, like the nominations, will be all over the place. (Stay tuned for the first post-nominations edition of THR's Feinberg Forecast later on Thursday.)

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