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Emmy Season Kickoff: Category Changes and Overlap Create New Conversations and Questions

The Emmy race, once again, is all about breaking through to the voters, as 2022 saw 599 scripted series air — 40 more than 2021. It’s easier said than done, especially with the amount of excellent content from comedy and dramas to limited series and shows that could qualify for multiple genres. (We’ll get to that!)

The 75th annual Primetime Emmy Awards will conside all series airing between June 1, 2022 and May 31, 2023. Voting runs from June 15-26, with nominations unveiled July 12. Final voting takes place Aug. 17-28, with the Sept. 18 awards ceremony broadcast on Fox. The Creative Arts Emmys will be presented in two ceremonies held on Sept. 9 and Sept. 10.

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Variety takes a closer look at this year’s race and what to keep an eye on as Emmy season kicks off.

Follow the Leader

Although the Emmy Awards aren’t for another four months — and some of the eligible titles have yet to debut — many eye-catching series were highlighted at this year’s SAG Awards and later, the Critics Choice Awards. While the former is more of a precursor to the Oscars than the Emmys, it still helps bring a show into the conversation. Critics Choice also gets people talking about buzzy contenders. And with nearly 600 shows available, word of mouth goes a long way.
At Critics Choice, Bob Odenkirk took home the top trophy for actor in a drama while “Better Call Saul” won drama. It’ll be the last chance for the “Breaking Bad” prequel to be honored at the Emmys — it’s received 46 nominations yet has never won — and the drama category hasn’t gotten any easier.

In the comedy category, “Abbott Elementary” won for series at Critics Choice and ensemble in a comedy at SAG; however, the acting categories were more divided. While Jean Smart took home the actress in a comedy award for “Hacks,” that show won’t be eligible for Emmy, leaving the door open for “Abbott” creator and star Quinta Brunson, who won for writing last year. On the comedy actor front, Jeremy Allen White from FX’s “The Bear” is the one to watch, as he took home both Critics Choice and SAG trophies earlier this year.

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QUINTA BRUNSON

Can HBO Be Beat?

In addition to a difficult overall race, HBO will be faced with a different type of challenge: not cannibalizing themselves. The drama category alone starts with heavy hitters “Succession,” “The Last of Us” and “House of the Dragon.” Then Season 2 of “The White Lotus” was forced out of the limited category and into drama, making that competition even tougher. Arguably, those dramas are some of the most talked-about shows on TV, but up against each other, it’s anyone’s game.

Of course, there are other prospects, including AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” FX’s “The Old Man,” Showtime’s “Yellowjackets,” Paramount Network’s “Yellowstone,” Netflix’s “The Crown” and Disney+’s “The Mandalorian” and “Andor.” It’s just unclear if any show in this group is strong enough to tap the brakes on HBO’s momentum.

HBO Max also has a plethora of contenders in different categories. In limited, Elizabeth Olsen and Jesse Plemmons lead true crime series “Love & Death,” while Woody Harrelson and Justin Theroux pair up for “White House Plumbers.” Meanwhile, Bill Hader takes one final swing with “Barry” and “Somebody Somewhere” Season 2 drops right at the end of the voting window. On the TV movie front, HBO fan-favorite Sydney Sweeney leads Berlin Festival breakout drama “Reality.”

The Category Blend

This year, more than ever before, it’s tough to look at a show and know exactly into which category it fits. The days of the comedy category filling up with sitcoms are long gone, making the field just as dramatic and heartfelt as the drama and limited categories. In fact, there are multiple episodes of “Barry” and “The Bear” in which the emotion greatly trumps the comedy. Still, they remain in the comedy umbrella next to one of the few remaining strong single-cam sitcoms, “Abbott Elementary.”

Dark comedy “Beef” chose not to enter the comedy category, where many predicted it would land. Instead, it’s in the limited/anthology category, which now has an open spot after “The White Lotus” returned with a second season and a carried-over storyline and was pushed to drama.

FX's THE BEAR "Hands" (Airs Thursday, June 23) Pictured: Jeremy Allen White as Carmen 'Carmy' Berzatto. CR: Matt Dinerstein/FX
FX's THE BEAR "Hands" (Airs Thursday, June 23) Pictured: Jeremy Allen White as Carmen 'Carmy' Berzatto. CR: Matt Dinerstein/FX

Let’s Talk About It

The Television Academy is once again trying to work through its variety talk and variety sketch category mishaps. In order to do that, it scrapped both of the existing (and quite controversial) categories and introduced two new ones.

Outstanding talk series will highlight TV shows that focus on “unscripted interviews or panel discussions between a host/hosts and guest celebrities or personalities,” while outstanding scripted variety series honors “programs that are primarily scripted or feature loosely scripted improv and consist of discrete scenes, musical numbers, monologues, comedy stand-ups, sketches, etc.”

Before the change, they couldn’t even fill the sketch show category; in 2022, only “Saturday Night Live” and “A Black Lady Sketch Show” landed in the category. “SNL” may have a whole new competitor now, as “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” which has dominated the variety talk category since 2016, will likely move to variety series. (To make things even more interesting, HBO submitted “Black Lady Sketch Show” Season 4 for 30 Emmy categories, notably outstanding scripted variety series.)

Before the changes, it was up in the air when it came to deciding the best category for a show. That issue, of course, could still arise. “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” for example, features both interviews and scripted improv and sketches.

As my colleague Michael Schneider has dissected, these changes aren’t really making things easier, but just changing the questions. Complicating things further, the outstanding talk series description now reads, “A talk series can include scripted elements and other aspects of a variety series such as monologues, musical performances, etc., so long as the main intent of the program is interviews/discussions.”

Lending Support

The race also sees a mix of actors who could enter lead or supporting categories. While no official decisions had been made by press time, Jennifer Coolidge from “The White Lotus,” Rhea Seehorn from “Better Call Saul” and Sarah Snook from “Succession” could technically enter into either category. A Snook move to lead would likely benefit co-star J. Smith Cameron in the supporting category. But with “Yellowjackets” actor Melanie Lynskey still a front-runner in the lead actress in a drama race, it’s up to HBO to decide if their stars can beat Lynskey.
“Succession’s” recent storyline has also posed the question of whether Brian Cox will once again enter the lead actor in a drama category (likely against co-star Jeremy Strong) or move to supporting.

If Cox doesn’t appear in the remaining episodes, he also could enter in the guest category, where “Succession” actors Arian Moayed and Alexander Skarsgård may also be competing. If he does return to the show, HBO will need to choose between lead or supporting categories — the latter of which could see him compete against co-stars Matthew Macfadyen and Alan Ruck. Kieran Culkin, a fixture in the supporting race, could also move to lead.

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