With the race tighter than ever, scheduling strategy comes into play for Emmys frontrunners. Here, Variety analyzes the competitive stakes in the key races.
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With one more nominee than last year, this category is again a mixed bag. Early predictions were that it would be a battle between Netflix’s “Squid Game” and HBO’s “Succession.” At the SAG Awards, “Succession” took home the ensemble, but the Netflix series pulled out the acting wins. But they’re far from the only names in the game. Apple TV+’s “Severance” and Showtime’s “Yellowjackets” are two freshman shows in contention; the previous first-season show to win was “The Handmaid’s Tale” — proving that when a new show does take home the trophy, it has the ability to sweep. Plus, “Severance” earned writing, directing and casting noms, which bodes well. Of course, Netflix’s “Ozark” and AMC’s “Better Call Saul” are closing out their runs while the last-minute drop of “Stranger Things” may be in its favor, and HBO’s “Euphoria” has been a fan favorite all along
Lead Actor — Drama
Will Jason Bateman finally earn an acting Emmy for the final season of “Ozark”? While a directing win seems more likely, the last-season push could help. The same goes for Bob Odenkirk; although he has two more chances with the final season of “Better Call Saul” cut into two, the series received seven noms, so don’t count him out. Lee Jung-jae (“Squid Game”) surprised with a SAG Award win, and with the series becoming the first non-English-language drama nominated, he’s definitely in the race. Elsewhere, “Succession” stars Brian Cox and Jeremy Strong risk the chance of canceling each other out and “Severance’s” Adam Scott was a bit of a surprise on nominations morning.
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Lead Actress — Drama
Last year, Zendaya made history with her “Euphoria” win. This year, she became the youngest producing nominee, so never count her out. “Killing Eve,” a show that many didn’t expect to break into the race, earned two noms in this category for both leading women, Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh. However, Oh is yet to win an Emmy despite a dozen noms. While “The Morning Show” has seen success before and Reese Witherspoon is a big draw, if the Academy is going with a returning show, it’s likely to lean toward “Ozark’s” Laura Linney, who had a compelling final-season arc. Last but certainly not least, Melanie Lynskey was shocked when she took home the Critics Choice Award for “Yellowjackets,” but as fan favorites — the show and Lynskey herself — we could see her on stage once again.
One of my favorite stats to pull out is the fact that “Friends” didn’t win best comedy series until 2002 for Season 8; that year, the sitcom wasn’t nominated in the directing or writing categories, so don’t let the number of noms fool you. This year, ABC’s “Abbott Elementary” missed the directing nom, but creator and star Quinta Brunson still made history as the first Black woman to receive comedy nominations in the acting, writing and series categories. The sitcom is also one of few keeping broadcast television in the Emmy awards conversation. Elsewhere, HBO’s “Barry” brings the darker element to the category while Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” and “Hacks” tied with a whopping 17 nominations each. And don’t forget about last season’s winner, Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso,” which led the race with 20 nominations. HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” isn’t in the zeitgeist as much, but still landed a nom for nine of its 10 years, while FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” proved it’s not a sleeper either with seven noms. Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” took home the trophy for its first season and this could be the comeback tour.
Lead Actor — Comedy
Although FX’s “Atlanta” was snubbed in the series race, star and creator Donald Glover still earned recognition, as did Bill Hader for “Barry.” (Hader is also nominated for writing on the show as well as guest actor in “Curb.”) Last year, viewers and the Academy alike were craving feel-good content, so Jason Sudeikis and his “Ted Lasso” led all. With a change in the political world, voters may have been able to turn on a dark comedy such as “Atlanta” or “Barry” once again. If not, there are other options: legends Steve Martin and Martin Short are nominated for their parts in “Only Murders in the Building,” while Nicholas Hoult is a first-time nominee for Hulu’s “The Great,” a surprising addition to the mix.
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Lead Actress — Comedy
It’s tough to say that any actress is a shoo-in this year, but Jean Smart is for HBO’s “Hacks.” The four-time Emmy winner — and last year’s victor in this category — put on a performance that had everyone talking from the moment the second season began. Still, the category is stacked. Past winner Rachel Brosnahan returns for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” Brunson is up for “Abbott,” despite little promotion, Kaley Cuoco is up for HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant” and Issa Rae is nominated for the final season of HBO’s “Insecure.” The biggest surprise of the category is Elle Fanning, who earned her first nomination for “The Great.”
IP speaks loudly. Roku’s first-ever nomination, “Zoey’s Extraordinary Christmas,” could have an impact if there are enough “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” fans in the Academy who are still upset about the NBC cancelation. The same goes for Showtime’s “Ray Donovan: The Movie,” Disney+’s “Chip ’n’ Dale: Rescue Rangers” and Paramount+’s “Reno 911!: The Hunt for QAnon,” since all lean into the fact that the IP, and in turn, fandom, is already in place. Then there’s HBO’s “The Survivor,” with Ben Foster, who impressively transformed into Harry Haft, a real-life Auschwitz concentration camp survivor. Foster was majorly snubbed in the acting category but may just get that recognition here.
With three of the five nominations this year, Hulu is leading the limited space — and could surely pull out the win. With “Dopesick” and “The Dropout” likely to take home acting prizes as well, both series are popular with the Academy. “Pam & Tommy” was a bit of a wild card but with 10 noms, it’s clear that the pop culture-heavy show was a hit with voters. Outside of Hulu, Netflix’s “Inventing Anna” made a splash as one of the first series Shonda Rhimes created within her Netflix deal, as did HBO’s “The White Lotus,” which remains in the limited category, despite being in production on Season 2. (While it will take place at a new resort, supporting nominee Jennifer Coolidge is returning.) Plus, the show racked up 20 noms so don’t count it out from any category.
Limited Series/TV Movie — Actor
It’s an embarrassment of riches in the limited series actor category, with strong arguments for each nominee. However, “Dopesick’s” Michael Keaton is the favorite after winning both the Golden Globe and the SAG Award. But timing is everything. Andrew Garfield’s “Under the Banner of Heaven” on FX not only dropped closer to nomination time, but he’s also in the spotlight following an Oscar nom this year and a Spider-Man cameo. Though HBO Max’s “The Staircase” didn’t get a series nom, the show is at the top of voters’ minds, and Colin Firth leads the group; plus, the real Michael Peterson speaking out to Variety about the series only gets people watching more. That said, don’t count out Himesh Patel, who holds down the fort as the only acting nominee for HBO Max’s “Station Eleven.” The drama landed seven nominations total, including writing and directing noms. Plus, Oscar Issaac (“Scenes From a Marriage”) and Sebastian Stan (“Pam & Tommy”) are actors to keep an eye on.
Limited Series/TV Movie — Actress
With so many categories up in the air, a handful of nominees seem to be a lock. Amanda Seyfried in “The Dropout” is in that group, as her performance as Elizabeth Holmes makes her as the one to beat. That said, this category is far from an easy one and all the nominees are portraying real people, adding another layer of difficulty to the mix. Toni Collette plays the late Kathleen Peterson, throwing herself into the role figuratively — and literally, falling down the stairs three times — in HBO Max’s “The Staircase”; Julia Garner, a TV Academy favorite, creates yet another accent to become con artist Anna Delvey in Netflix’s “Inventing Anna”; Lily James impressively channels Pamela Anderson in Hulu’s “Pam & Tommy”; and Emmy favorite Sarah Paulson returns to the awards race with another “American Crime Story,” this time taking on Linda Tripp in FX’s “Impeachment.” Lastly, Margaret Qualley powerfully takes on the leading role in Netflix’s “Maid,” based on Stephanie Land’s poignant memoir.
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Variety Talk Series
It’s hard to imagine a world in which “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” doesn’t take the win in this category, mostly because it has for the past six years. This year, the show earned five noms overall and HBO/HBO Max remains the most nominated of all, so it seems likely. That said, with “Conan” out of the mix, “Late Night With Seth Meyers” broke in — the perfect time with this timely takes on the COVID-19 pandemic and the up and down political landscape. On the ballot again this year is “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” Despite consistently earning recognition on noms day, the show’s never taken home a Primetime Emmy. But he is more in the conversation than ever, thanks to the popularity of “Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” which earned two noms this year.
In the unscripted series, it’s hard to make a change. Since VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” broke into the category in 2018, and has won for four consecutive years. This time, the flagship earned eight noms and its three spinoffs snagged one nom each. Past winners are also in the category: CBS’ “The Amazing Race,” a 10-time winner, has two noms, while NBC’s “The Voice” (three overall noms) has been nominated every year since 2012 and has won four times. Netflix’s “Nailed It!” (two noms) and Bravo’s “Top Chef ” (five noms for the flagship and one for its spinoff) are back. The one to watch is newcomer “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” from Prime Video with six noms. Just as “Drag Race” did, this one could make quite the splash, especially if the Academy is looking to evolve.
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