Emmy Predictions: Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – Has Tracee Ellis Ross Finally Reached Her Emmy Moment With ‘Black-ish’?

·11-min read

Variety's Awards Circuit is home to the official predictions for the upcoming Emmys ceremonies from film awards editor Clayton Davis. Following history, buzz, news, reviews and sources, the Emmy predictions are updated regularly with the current year's list of contenders in all categories. Variety's Awards Circuit Prediction schedule consists of four phases, running all year long: Draft, Pre-Season, Regular Season and Post Season. The eligibility calendar and dates of awards will determine how long each phase lasts and is subject to change.

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UPDATED: May 30, 2021

AWARDS PREDICTION COMMENTARY: The beautiful and talented Tracee Ellis Ross continues to build her credits, taking on new and exciting roles, but the familiarity and nuance she brings to Rainbow Johnson in ABC’s “Black-ish,” now going into its final season next year, is long due for love. With four previous nominations, the family-comedy series has its best shot at major recognition and can pull in the most nominations in its eight years. If that happens, watch out for Ross to be a dark horse in this race, which would make her the second Black actress ever to win this category after Isabel Sandford for “The Jeffersons” in 1981. If nominated, her fifth nod will be the most by any Black woman in this category in history.

The legendary actress that is Jean Smart always makes television a bit more exciting, no matter what the show is. With nine prior nominations overall and two wins for guest actress in a comedy for “Frasier” in 2001 and supporting actress in a comedy for “Samantha Who?” in 2008, she is also fresh off a big loss for her work as Agent Laurie Blake in HBO’s “Watchmen” (losing to Uzo Aduba for “Mrs. America”). She might be the leading force that can take this category as “Hacks” dropped at the last minute.

Our lovable Penny Hofstadter from “The Big Bang Theory” went unnoticed by the Primetime Emmys during its 12-season run. Delivering her best performance yet in “The Flight Attendant,” which she also produces, Kaley Cuoco may have finally stepped into a vehicle that will bring her the recognition she’s due. It always helps that the show allows her to deliver high drama and emotional elements, which might give her a leg up in this competition.

Coming off an outstanding year that included her Tony-winning work in “Hamilton” dropping on Disney Plus, Renée Elise Goldsberry displays another side of her awesome abilities as an actress in Peacock’s breakout series. One of those actresses that have fought and clawed her way to this moment, the one-time soap opera star of “One Life to Live” (for which she received two Daytime Emmy nods), comes alive as the sassy and scene-stealing Wickie Roy. If you love the show, she’s likely one of the main reasons.

Academy Award nominee Hailee Steinfeld (“True Grit”) was a near miss last year for the first season, and Apple TV Plus may have their major eggs in the “Ted Lasso” basket, but this is a series that could surprisingly be stronger on the ballot this time around. Her work as writer Emily Dickinson has her exploring new territories, and it always helps to have the backing of a major streamer behind you.

The magic of Hulu’s “Pen15” has been one of those under-the-radar gems that people adore. The same goes for the incomparable Maya Erskine, who picked up a writing nomination two years ago. As the comedy competition seems thinner than usual, this allows those tardy TV Academy voters to catch up finally. While she might have some more well-known names ahead of her, she may be able to break through a la Pamela Adlon (“Better Things”).

The eligibility period ends on May 31 before nomination-round voting begins on June 17, concluding on June 28. The Primetime Emmy nominations will be announced on July 13, 2021.


  1. Jean Smart
    "Hacks" (HBO Max)

    EMMY HISTORY: Nine nominations, three wins (guest actress comedy for "Frasier" in 2000 and 2001, and supporting actress comedy for "Samantha Who?" in 2008).
    ROLE: Deborah Vance

    CREATOR: Paul W. Downs, Lucia Aniello, Jen Statsky
    SYNOPSIS: Explores a dark mentorship that forms between Deborah Vance, a legendary Las Vegas comedian, and an entitled, outcast 25-year-old.
    STARRING: Jean Smart, Hannah Einbinder, Carl Clemons-Hopkins

  2. Kaley Cuoco
    "The Flight Attendant" (HBO Max)

    EMMY HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Cassie Bowden

    CREATOR: Steve Yockey
    SYNOPSIS: A reckless flight attendant with an alcoholism problem wakes up in the wrong hotel, in the wrong bed, with a dead man - and no idea what happened. Unable to piece the night together, she begins to wonder if she could be the killer.
    STARRING: Kaley Cuoco, Michiel Huisman, Zosia Mamet, T. R. Knight, Michelle Gomez, Colin Woodell, Merle Dandridge, Griffin Matthews, Nolan Gerard Funk, Rosie Perez

  3. Tracee Ellis Ross
    "Black-ish" (ABC)

    EMMY HISTORY: Four nominations
    ROLE: Rainbow Johnson

    CREATOR: Kenya Barris
    SYNOPSIS: A family man struggles to gain a sense of cultural identity while raising his kids in a predominantly white, upper-middle-class neighborhood.
    STARRING: Anthony Anderson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Yara Shahidi, Marcus Scribner, Miles Brown, Marsai Martin, Laurence Fishburne, Jeff Meacham, Jenifer Lewis, Peter Mackenzie, Deon Cole, Katlyn Nichol

  4. Allison Janney
    "Mom" (CBS)

    EMMY HISTORY: 14 nominations, 7 wins (supporting actress drama for "The West Wing" in 2000 and 2001, lead actress drama for "The West Wing" in 2002 and 2004, guest actress drama for "Masters of Sex" in 2014 and supporting actress comedy for "Mom" in 2014 and 2015)
    ROLE: Bonnie

    CREATORS: Gemma Baker, Eddie Gorodetsky, Chuck Lorre
    SYNOPSIS: A newly sober single mom tries to pull her life together in Napa Valley while dealing with her wayward mother.
    STARRING: Allison Janney, Anna Faris, Mimi Kennedy, Beth Hall

  5. Jane Levy
    "Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist" (NBC)

    EMMY HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Zoey

    CREATORS: Austin Winsberg
    SYNOPSIS: A young woman discovers she has the ability to hear the innermost thoughts of people around her as songs and musical numbers.
    STARRING: Jane Levy, Skylar Astin, Alex Newell, John Clarence Stewart, Peter Gallagher, Mary Steenburgen, Lauren Graham, Andrew Leeds, Alice Lee, Michael Thomas Grant, Kapil Talwalkar

  6. Renée Elise Goldsberry
    "Girls5eva" (Peacock)

    EMMY HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Wickie Roy

    CREATORS: Meredith Scardino
    SYNOPSIS: A one-hit-wonder band from the '90s gets a second shot at fame when they're sampled by a young star.
    STARRING: Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, Paula Pell, Renée Elise Goldsberry


  1. Hailee Steinfeld
    "Dickinson" (Apple TV Plus)

    EMMY HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Emily Dickinson

    CREATOR: Alena Smith
    SYNOPSIS: An inside look at the world of writer Emily Dickinson.
    STARRING: Hailee Steinfeld, Toby Huss, Adrian Blake Enscoe, Anna Baryshnikov, Ella Hunt, Jane Krakowski

  2. Maya Erskine
    "Pen15" (Hulu)

    EMMY HISTORY: One nomination
    ROLE: Maya Ishii-Peters

    CREATORS: Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, Sam Zvibleman
    SYNOPSIS: The comedic story of middle school seen through the eyes of two 7th grade girls dealing with the awkwardness of being a teenager.
    STARRING: Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, Mutsuko Erskine, Richard Karn, Taylor Nichols, Melora Walters, Taj Cross, Dallas Liu

  3. Aidy Bryant
    "Shrill" (Hulu)

    EMMY HISTORY: Two nominations
    ROLE: Annie Easton

    CREATOR: Aidy Bryant, Alexandra Rushfield, Lindy West
    SYNOPSIS: A woman seeks out ways to change her life without changing her body.
    STARRING: Aidy Bryant, Lolly Adefope, John Cameron Mitchell, Ian Owens, Patti Harrison

  4. Cristin Milioti
    "Made for Love" (HBO Max)

    EMMY HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Hazel Green

    CREATORS: Alissa Nutting & Dean Bakopoulos and Patrick Somerville and Christina Lee
    SYNOPSIS: A young woman, on the run after 10 years in a suffocating marriage to a tech billionaire, suddenly realizes that her husband has implanted a revolutionary monitoring device in her brain that allows him to track her every move.
    STARRING: Cristin Milioti, Billy Magnussen, Dan Bakkedahl, Noma Dumezweni, Ray Romano, Augusto Aguilera


  1. Sara Bareilles
    "Girls5eva" (Peacock)

    EMMY HISTORY: Three nominations
    ROLE: Dawn Solano

    CREATORS: Meredith Scardino
    SYNOPSIS: A one-hit-wonder band from the '90s gets a second shot at fame when they're sampled by a young star.
    STARRING: Sara Bareilles, Busy Philipps, Paula Pell, Renée Elise Goldsberry

  2. Lena Waithe
    "Master of None" (Netflix)

    EMMY HISTORY: One nomination, one win (writing comedy series for "Master of None" in 2017)
    ROLE: Denise

    CREATOR: Aziz Ansari, Alan Yang
    SYNOPSIS: The personal and professional life of Dev, a 30-year-old actor in New York.
    STARRING: Lena Waithe, Naomi Ackie

  3. Anna Konkle
    "Pen15" (Hulu)

    EMMY HISTORY: One nomination
    ROLE: Anna Kone

    CREATORS: Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, Sam Zvibleman
    SYNOPSIS: The comedic story of middle school seen through the eyes of two 7th grade girls dealing with the awkwardness of being a teenager.
    STARRING: Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, Mutsuko Erskine, Richard Karn, Taylor Nichols, Melora Walters, Taj Cross, Dallas Liu

  4. Lily Collins
    "Emily in Paris" (Netflix)

    EMMY HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Emily Cooper

    CREATOR: Darren Star
    SYNOPSIS: A young American woman from the Midwest is hired by a marketing firm in Paris to provide them with an American perspective on things.
    STARRING: Lily Collins, Philppine Leroy-Beaulieu, Ashley Park, Lucas Bravo, Samuel Arnold, Bruno Gouery

  5. Robin Thede
    "A Black Lady Sketch Show" (HBO)

    EMMY HISTORY: One nomination
    ROLE: Various characters

    CREATOR: Robin Thede
    SYNOPSIS: A half-hour sketch comedy written by and starring Robin Thede.
    STARRING: Robin Thede, Gabrielle Dennis, Ashley Nicole Black, Quinta Brunson, Issa Rae

  6. Alia Shawkat
    "Search Party" (HBO Max)

    EMMY HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Dory Sief

    CREATOR: Sarah-Violet Bliss, Charles Rogers, Michael Showalter
    SYNOPSIS: "Search Party" is a dark comedy about four self-absorbed twenty-somethings who become entangled in an ominous mystery when a former college acquaintance suddenly disappears.
    STARRING: Alia Shawkat, John Reynolds, John Early, Meredith Hagner, Brandon Michael Hall, Clare McNulty

  7. Charlotte Nicdao
    "Mythic Quest: Raven's Banquet" (Apple TV Plus)

    EMMY HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Poppy

    CREATOR: Megan Ganz, Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day
    SYNOPSIS: The owner of a successful video game design company and his troubled staff struggle to keep their hit game 'Mythic Quest' on top.
    STARRING: Rob McElhenney, Ashly Burch, Jessie Ennis, Imani Hakim, David Hornsby, Charlotte Nicdao, Danny Pudi, F. Murray Abraham

  8. Sutton Foster
    "Younger" (Paramount Plus)

    EMMY HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Liza Miller

    CREATORS: Darren Star
    SYNOPSIS: After being mistaken for younger than she really is, a single mother decides to take the chance to reboot her career and her love life as a 26-year old.
    STARRING: Sutton Foster, Debi Mazar, Miriam Shor, Nico Tortorella, Hilary Duff, Peter Hermann, Molly Bernard, Charles Michael Davis

  9. Jana Schmieding
    "Rutherford Falls" (Peacock)

    EMMY HISTORY: Never nominated
    ROLE: Reagan Wells

    CREATOR: Ed Helms, Sierra Teller Ornelas, Michael Schur
    SYNOPSIS: A small town in the Northeast is turned upside down when local legend and town namesake, Nathan Rutherford (Ed Helms) fights the moving of a historical statue.
    STARRING: Ed Helms, Michael Greyeyes, Jana Schmieding, Jesse Leigh, Dustin Milligan

  10. Sara Gilbert
    "The Conners" (ABC)

    EMMY HISTORY: Two nominations
    ROLE: Darlene Conner

    CREATOR: Matt Williams
    SYNOPSIS: Follow-up to the comedy series "Roseanne," centering on the family members of the matriarch after her sudden death.
    STARRING: John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, Lecy Goranson, Michael Fishman, Emma Kenney, Ames McNamara, Jayden Rey, Maya Lynne Robinson, Jay R. Ferguson


AWARDS CATEGORY HISTORY (Lead Actress in a Comedy Series)

The Primetime Emmy Awards, better known simply as the Emmys, is television’s most prestigious artistic award. There are many records held for both wins and nominations in the near eight decades.

For wins: Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won this award seven times, the most of any actress, six of which were consecutive for “Veep,” almost the entire run of the series. Candice Bergen and Mary Tyler Moore have won this prize five times over their careers. “Veep” and “Murphy Brown” have been the most nominated series for lead actress comedy.

For nominations: Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the most nominated actress with 12 with Mary Tyler Moore and Bea Arthur behind with 10 and nine.

“The Golden Girls” is the most nominated series with 15 nominations over its run, with “Cheers” behind it with nine.

2021 Primetime Emmy Awards Predictions

About the Primetime Emmy Awards (Emmys)

The Primetime Emmy Awards, better known as the Emmys, is given out by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS). Since 1949, the awards recognize excellence in American primetime television programming. They are divided into three classes – Primetime Emmy Awards, the Primetime Creative Arts Emmy Awards (honors artisan achievements) and the Primetime Engineering Emmy Awards (recognizes significant engineering and technological contributions). The typical eligibility period is between June 1 and May 31 of any given year. The Television Academy comprises over 25,000 members, representing 30 professional peer groups, including performers, directors, producers, art directors and various artisans and executives.

  • The 73rd Emmy Awards are scheduled to air on Sunday, Sept. 19 at 8:00 pm est on CBS and on-demand on sister streamer Paramount Plus.

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