Emmys 2021: What’s In, What’s Out of Nomination-Round Eligibility

·7-min read

Let’s face it: Television viewers often fall into a routine.

Especially in uncertain times, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, it is easy for audience members to reach for what is already comfortable, rather than tread into unknown territory. This can result in the re-watching of the same shows while countless new ones sit dormant in a queue. And it can also result in the same shows being celebrated by awards voters.

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“Based on the awards competitions that we’ve seen so far, old habits seem to die very hard,” says Richard Licata, chairman and CEO of Licata & Co. “It’s just human nature to cling to something that is terribly familiar. Certainly, you look at the history of the Television Academy and it’s been the same old, same old for years and years, to a point where some actors even took themselves out of competition because they were like, ‘It’s enough.’”

This year, production delays due to the pandemic limited what shows made the 73rd annual Emmy eligibility cutoff, forcing Television Academy voting members out of their routines. Therefore, Licata says, “Hope springs eternal for those really good shows that voters caught up with on their streaming services.”

Normally it is the limited series category that provides the most excitement, since all of those projects are brand new for the eligibility window. Now, though, the drama and comedy series categories are giving the limited series race a real run for its money.

Out of the eight drama series nominees, only three will be eligible again consecutively: Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian,” which picked up a surprise freshman nod in this category last year, streamed its second season beginning in October; Netflix’s “The Crown,” now including Emma Corrin as Princess Diana and Gillian Anderson as Margaret Thatcher, delivered its fourth season in the fall; and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” returned in April after almost two years with its own fourth season, just ahead of the eligibility deadline, in April.

“The Crown” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” are already repeat nominees, picking up nods for each of their previous seasons. (“The Handmaid’s Tale” also won this category in 2017.) This makes them likely to be lauded again. But the rest of the 2020 drama series roster — AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” Netflix’s “Ozark” and “Stranger Things,” and HBO’s “Succession” (the incumbent) — are all sitting out this year’s race.

Naturally, this trickles out into other races, including, but not limited to, acting, writing and directing. “Succession” dominated at the 2020 Emmys, seeing two lead drama actor noms (Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong, who went on to win), three supporting drama actor noms (Nicholas Braun, Kieran Culkin and Matthew Macfadyen), a supporting drama actress nod for Sarah Snook, guest drama actor for James Cromwell, two guest drama actress noms (winner Cherry Jones and Harriet Walter), a writing nom and two for directing. (The show also won the writing and directing races.)

Overall, only two lead drama actors (Sterling K. Brown from “This Is Us” and Billy Porter from “Pose”) are eligible for consecutive noms, and only one lead drama actress (Olivia Colman from “The Crown”) is eligible again.

Meanwhile on the comedy series side of the ballot, only one show from last year’s ballot is eligible out of eight: the final season of Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method.” Both NBC’s “The Good Place” and Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek,” which swept the comedy races in wins last year, came to an end with their 2020 seasons, while HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Insecure,” Netflix’s “Dead to Me,” Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” simply won’t have new seasons to deliver in time for the eligibility deadline.

The absence of last year’s big winner, “Schitt’s Creek,” leaves the comedy ballot wide open. In 2020 it snapped up noms and then wins in lead comedy actor (Eugene Levy), lead comedy actress (Catherine O’Hara), supporting comedy actor (Daniel Levy), supporting comedy actress (Annie Murphy), writing and directing, among others. But it is hardly alone. Out of the six nominated lead comedy actresses last year, only one (“Black-ish’s” Tracee Ellis Ross) is eligible again consecutively, and of the six nominated lead comedy actors, only two are eligible again (“Black-ish’s” Anthony Anderson” and “The Kominsky Method’s” Michael Douglas).

What that means for this year’s crop of hopefuls is that former favorites that didn’t quite make the cut last year could see a triumphant return. On the drama side, those series are three-time nominee NBC’s “This Is Us” and FX’s “Pose,” a 2019 nominee that just began airing its third and final season earlier this month. In comedy, past nominees include ABC’s “Black-ish” and Netflix’s “Master of None.”

With the rule being that more than 240 entries equates to eight nominees competing for the drama and comedy series statues, the potential for first-time nominees in both of those coveted categories is vast.

If last year’s love for “The Mandalorian” and “Stranger Things” was an indicator that following the Emmy success of “Game of Thrones,” the Television Academy would continue to embrace genre programming fully, series such as Amazon’s “The Boys,” Disney Plus and Marvel’s “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and and HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” are examples of drama contenders. (Meanwhile, Disney Plus and Marvel’s “WandaVision” is being submitted in the limited series category and could also see above-the-line nominations, in addition to the expected attention for Creative Arts.)

Golden Globe nominee “Ratched” from Netflix is in the running, as is that streamer’s SAG nominee “Bridgerton.” So too are such series as HBO’s “In Treatment,” now featuring Uzo Aduba in the lead role; the freshman season of Apple TV Plus’ adaptation of “The Mosquito Coast”; and second seasons of Showtime’s “City on a Hill” and Epix’s “Godfather of Harlem.”

In comedy, Golden Globe and SAG nominees “The Flight Attendant” (from HBO Max) and “Ted Lasso” (from Apple TV Plus) seem likely to continue their awards journey. In general, HBO Max, which had not even launched on this date last year, is coming in strong with additional contenders “Hacks,” starring Jean Smart and Hannah Einbinder, “Made for Love” with Cristin Milioti, and two seasons of cult favorite “Search Party.”

Other comedies in the running include the second seasons of Apple TV Plus’ “Dickinson,” Hulu’s “Pen15” and NBC’s “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”; the third and final season of Hulu’s “Shrill,” and the brand new NBC series “Kenan” and “Mr. Mayor” that feature comedy legends Kenan Thompson and Ted Danson, respectively. And when it comes to the always exciting limited series category, this year it really is an embarrassment of riches, especially after a few series originally on track for last year’s Emmys were held and are eligible now. (Those include FX’s fourth installment of “Fargo,” HBO’s “The Undoing” and National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha.”)

HBO also has Michaela Coel’s “I May Destroy You,” as well as “Mare of Easttown,” which sees the small screen return of Kate Winslet. Amazon has the Golden Globe-nominated anthology “Small Axe” from Steve McQueen and Barry Jenkins’ “The Underground Railroad.” Among Netflix’s offerings are Golden Globe winner “The Queen’s Gambit” and the Ewan McGregor-starrer “Halston”; Showtime has a trio of tense stories in “The Comey Rule,” “The Good Lord Bird” and “Your Honor,” and the second season of “Dirty John” is also finally eligible, after switching stories, casts and networks and airing last summer.

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