Emmys Drama Race: Which Show Will Fill the Void Created by the Departure of 'Breaking Bad'?

Who_Will_Break_Through_After_Breaking_Bad_Comp - H 2015

Who_Will_Break_Through_After_Breaking_Bad_Comp - H 2015

This story first appeared in the June 26 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

With the two shows that duked it out for 2014’s best drama series Emmy both out of the 2015 race — Breaking Bad ended its run with a second consecutive win, while True Detective is returning to the air too late to be eligible for this season and no longer eligible in this category — a host of shows, some new and some old, have reason to believe that this could be their year. (On July 17, seven will be declared finalists, as opposed to the usual six, thanks to a rule change made in acknowledgement of how competitive this category’s field and the comedy series field have become.)

Two perennial bridesmaids are well-positioned to take advantage of this vacuum. The first is HBO's Game of Thrones, a critical and cultural phenomenon that has been nominated each of the past four years. The fantasy genre isn't everyone's cup of tea, but, in a year in which the vote could be very divided, it wouldn't have to be for the show finally to take home the big prize. GOT also wouldn't be the first hit show to win for the first time midway through its run — broadcast winners NYPD Blue, ER, Law & Order and 24 also did so.

The second is Netflix’s House of Cards, a nominee in each of the last two years, which could become the first Internet TV show to bag a series prize — something that would be appropriate enough, since it was the first drama series produced by the trailblazer of the age of streaming. (There is one reason for apprehension, though: despite being nominated for many major Emmys, it has won only one, for David Fincher’s direction of its pilot. Are voters still learning to use their Rokus?)

But a potential spoiler is AMC's Mad Men, which won best drama from 2008 to 2011 (a fifth nod would put it in sole possession of the record for most drama series wins ever). It failed to win any Emmys at the past three ceremonies and never has won an acting prize, but the show's final season, and particularly its series finale, have been the talk of the town, which was enough to propel the final seasons of The Sopranos and Breaking Bad to victories.

Sentimentality also could boost the prospects of other outgoing contenders, including NBC's Parenthood; FX's Justified and Sons of Anarchy; and HBO's The Newsroom and Boardwalk Empire (a nominee in 2011 and 2012).

Speaking of past nominees, one can’t rule out a return by two of the last best hopes for broadcast shows in this race: PBS’s Downton Abbey, which was among the last six standing in each of the last three years (and won this year’s SAG Award for best ensemble in a drama series) and CBS’s The Good Wife, a 2010 and 2011 finalist (and the most egregious snub from this category in 2014). Also hoping to return to contention: Showtime’s Homeland, which won for its first season in 2012 and was nominated again in 2013. After those two seasons, many felt the show jumped the shark and it fell out of the running, but it may be back on track this year because of a well-received fourth season.

All of these shows will have to hold off a number of formidable new contenders. Among broadcast's strongest are ABC's hit How to Get Away With Murder (from Shonda Rhimes, whose Grey's Anatomy is a two-time category nominee) and the biggest new show of the year, Fox's Empire. Cable's offerings include Showtime's The Affair (the 2015 Golden Globe drama series winner) and Penny Dreadful; AMC's Better Call Saul (from the twice-victorious team behind Breaking Bad); HBO's The Leftovers; Starz's Outlander; Cinemax's The Knick; and WGN America's Manhattan. Streaming standouts include Netflix's Bloodline and Amazon's Bosch.

There's one show that's both new and returning: Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, the classification of which was changed from comedy (it landed a best comedy series nom last year) to drama because of a new TV Academy rule that makes drama the default designation for hour-long shows. The fan favorite is currently enjoying a well-timed burst of attention sparked by the release of its third season on June 11.

Of course, just because a show hasn't landed a nom in previous years in which it was eligible doesn't mean it can't do so this year, which is why it would be foolhardy to write off FX's The Americans, which recently won a coveted Peabody Award and also bagged the Critics' Choice TV Award for best drama series; Showtime's Masters of Sex and Ray Donovan; ABC's Scandal; NBC's The Blacklist; A&E's Bates Motel; and AMC's The Walking Dead, the highest-rated series on TV since fall 2013.

Now it's time to sit back, relax and watch the drama unfold!