Emmys Trivia: 16 Trends, Burning Questions and Simply Unusual Facts From 2021’s Nominations

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The annual Primetime Emmys always come with a dash of mystery and intrigue, but Hollywood’s Rise of the Streamers has given the Television Academy a whole new host of things to worry about.

Like, what’s a network these days, anyway? The org caught flack for allowing HBO and HBO Max to merge their tallies, giving the combo a slight edge — 130 vs. 129 noms — over rival Netflix. But it also tallied Disney’s total conglomerate haul at 146 (ABC, Hulu, Disney Plus, FX Networks, Nat Geo, Freeform), beating them both.

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“I would prefer the Academy just to step out of the platform, for lack of a better word, ‘wars’ altogether,” president/COO Maury McIntrye told me.

Also baffling some observers: The ongoing debate over what is film (and the domain of the Oscars) vs. what is TV and falls under the Emmys. That question may have impacted Amazon Prime Video’s “Small Axe,” which was named top picture of 2020 by the L.A. Film Critics Assn. but was actually five different installments and submitted to the Emmys in the limited/anthology field, where voters snubbed it. Amazon had better luck with the films “Sylvie’s Love” and “Uncle Frank,” which were placed on the TV movie track and received nods in that category.

“We have a lot of conversations around this, and for us, we’re always going to stand by the creative vision,” says Amazon Studios head Jennifer Salke. “Those movies premiered exclusively on Prime Video, and to see that work recognized is really exciting.”

Here’s more trivia behind this year’s Emmy races:

GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN: It’s rare to see a canceled network get Emmy play, but Quibi at least went out with a bang. The short-form streamer earned a solid eight nominations this year, down from 10 last year (when it actually existed). Nominees “Reno 911,” “Mapleworth Murders” and “Die Hart” can all be found on Roku, but Quibi still got the credit, as per the TV Academy, the shows aired there first. Meanwhile, NBC’s now-canceled “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” received five noms, which places it (tied with “Black-ish”) behind only “This Is Us” as the most-recognized primetime broadcast series. But for NBC, the unextraordinary ratings for “Zoey” didn’t make up for its accolades. And then there was HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” which earned the pay cabler its biggest haul of the year, with 18 noms, yet wasn’t renewed for a second season. Meanwhile, in terms of posthumous honors, late star Jessica Walters is nominated in character voice-over performance for her role as Malory Archer on “Archer.”

THE OVERACHIEVERS: Bo Burnham created, produced and starred in his Netflix special “Bo Burnham: Inside,” so it makes sense that he was nominated for it in, well, almost every category possible. Besides variety special (pre-recorded), that includes picture editing for variety programming, directing for a variety special, music direction, original music and lyrics (“Comedy”), writing for a variety special. Meanwhile, prolific “The Late Late Show With James Corden” executive producer Ben Winston had his hands full this year with the Grammys (variety special live) and “Friends: The Reunion” (variety special pre-recorded and directing for a variety special) in addition to other output like “Carpool Karaoke: The Series” (short form comedy, drama or variety series).

THE OVERACHIEVERS, PART 2: Other stars with multiple nominations this year include David Attenborough, Sterling K. Brown, Aidy Bryant, Steven Canals, Dave Chapelle, Michaela Coel, Jon Favreau, Derek Hough, Brendan Hunt, Maya Rudolph, Jean Smart, Jason Sudeikis and Kenan Thompson.

PANDEMMYS: The impact of COVID-19 was felt throughout the Emmys, given delayed productions and shows pushed either into or out of this eligibility year as a result of shutdowns. But the pandemic also made its way to nominated fare, including animated program nominee “South Park: The Pandemic Special,” short-form nonfiction or reality series nom “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee Presents: Pandemic Video Diaries: Vaxxed and Waxxed,” and Oculus’ nominated interactive program “Inside COVID19.”

RECORD BREAKERS: The 20 nominations for “Ted Lasso” beat 2009’s “Glee” (19) for most-ever freshman comedy nods. Peacock’s “The Amber Ruffin Show” was the first streaming talk show to receive a writing nom. The “Lovecraft Country” acting duo of Jonathan Majors and Jurnee Smollett plus Billy Porter and Mj Rodriguez of “Pose” became the first pairs of Black leads to be nominated from the same drama series. Rodriguez also made history as the first trans performer to be nominated in a major acting category. Meanwhile, “Mom” star Allison Janney, nominated in lead actress for the first time since 2018, could win her eighth Emmy, for the show’s swan song — which would tie her with Cloris Leachman and Julia Louis-Dreyfus for most Emmys won by a female performer.

MOONLIGHTERS: The cast on the nominated “Endgame” episode of animated program “Robot Chicken” had the magic touch: Voices include Emmy nominated Greg Berlanti (“The Flight Attendant”) and stars from nommed “Saturday Night Live” (Mikey Day), “Cobra Kai” (Peyton List) and the Super Bowl Halftime Show (The Weeknd).

MOONLIGHTERS, PART TWO:: Those voices you hear that sound like film superstars? They’re film superstars. Julie Andrews, as Lady Whistledown, was nominated in character voice-over performance for “Bridgerton.” And watch out, David Attenborough (nominated twice this year): Anthony Hopkins earned a nod for narrating the “Everlight” episode of “Mythic Quest” in the narrator category.

THE ONE WHERE HE EXITS ON A HIGH NOTE: Famed production designer — and former TV Academy chairman — John Shaffner recently retired after one final gig: “Friends: The Reunion.” Shaffner was the production designer on the original series, returned for the HBO Max special and was nominated for outstanding production design for a variety special. Shaffner also earned a nom in production design for a narrative program (half-hour), for his work on CBS’ “United States of Al” pilot.

APPLE vs. AMAZON: COMMERCIAL EDITION: The two tech titans aren’t just battling it out in the usual film and TV space. The smackdown extends to commercials this year, where Apple AirPods’ “AirPods Pro — Jump” and Apple Watch Series 6’s “It Already Does That” both received commercial nominations, as did Amazon Alexa’s “Alexa’s Body.” Amazon included the ad in its overall tally, while Apple did not.

NETFLIX KNOWS PERIOD COSTUMES: No matter who wins this year’s period costumes category, rest assured it will be Netflix. That’s because the streamer completely owns the competition this year, with nods for “Bridgerton,” “The Crown,” “Halston,” “The Queen’s Gambit” and “Ratched.”

BROADCAST SAFE SPACE: What is this, a category with all broadcast TV contenders? How rare and quaint! The lighting design/lighting direction for a variety series category may be the last refuge for the old guard networks, with nominees “America’s Got Talent” (NBC), “Dancing With the Stars” (ABC), “The Masked Singer” (Fox), “Saturday Night Live” (NBC) and “The Voice” (NBC).

EVERYONE PLAYS THEMSELVES … WITH ONE NOTABLE EXCEPTION: Interesting choices this year for the guest actor in a comedy series category, where everyone was nominated as either themselves or host, with one teeny outlier: Morgan Freeman as Morgan Freeman (“The Kominsky Method”), Daniel Kaluuya as host (“SNL”), Dave Chappelle as host (“SNL”), Dan Levy as host (“SNL”) and Alec Baldwin as Donald Trump (“SNL”).

OPRAH, DAVID. DAVID, OPRAH: Finally the Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman face-off we’ve been waiting for. In the hosted nonfiction series or special category, Letterman’s “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman” goes up against Winfrey’s “Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special.”

TOP OF THE CHARTS: How deep is Emmy voters’ love for the Bee Gees? Among the music docs and specials nominated this year, “The Bee Gees: How Can You Mend a Broken Heart” earned six nods, tied with “David Byrne’s American Utopia.” Other music-minded programs with multiple nods: “Billie Eilish: The World’s A Little Blurry” (4); “Pepsi Super Bowl LV Halftime Show Starring The Weeknd” (3); “Tina” (3); and “Framing Britney Spears” (2).

UNTOUCHABLE: With 21 new ones, “Saturday Night Live” has extended its lifetime nominations tally to 306, even further ahead of second place “Game of Thrones” (161). Ditto “SNL” executive producer Lorne Michaels, whose 92 lifetime noms push him further ahead of second-place Sheila Nevins (77).

FIRST-TIMERS CLUB: Besides HBO MAx, Paramount Plus and Pluto getting their first-ever nods, talent with their inaugural noms included Stacey Abrams (“Black-ish: Election Special Part 2”), Jane Adams (“Hacks”), Paul Bettany (“WandaVision”), Madeline Brewer (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Thomas Brodie-Sangster (“The Queen’s Gambit”), Yvette Nicole Brown (“A Black Lady Sketch Show”), Carl Clemons-Hopkins (“Hacks”), Michaela Coel (“I May Destroy You”), Emma Corrin (“The Crown”), Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”), Daveed Diggs (“Hamilton”), Hannah Einbinder (“Hacks”), Nathalie Emmanuel (“Die Hart”), Cynthia Erivo (“Genius: Aretha”), Paapa Essiedu (“I May Destroy You”), O-T Fagbenle (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Renée Elise Goldsberry (“Hamilton”), Brett Goldstein (“Ted Lasso”), McKenna Grace (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Jonathan Groff (“Hamilton”), Moses Ingram (“The Queen’s Gambit”), Daniel Kaluuya (“Saturday Night Live”).

Also: Jonathan Majors (“Lovecraft Country”), Tobias Menzies (“The Crown”), Max Minghella (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Nick Mohammed (“Ted Lasso”), Julianne Nicholson (“Mare Of Easttown”), Josh O’Connor (“The Crown”), Sophie Okonedo (“Ratched”), Elizabeth Olsen (“WandaVision”), Regé-Jean Page (“Bridgerton”), Keke Palmer (“Keke Palmer’s Turnt Up With The Taylors”), Evan Peters (“Mare Of Easttown”), Anthony Ramos (“Hamilton”), Mj Rodriguez (“Pose”), Brendan Scannell (“Bonding”), Jurnee Smollett (“Lovecraft Country”), J.B. Smoove (“Mapleworth Murders”), Phillipa Soo (“Hamilton”), Jason Sudeikis (“Ted Lasso”), Jeremy Swift (“Ted Lasso”), Anya Taylor-Joy (“The Queen’s Gambit”), Juno Temple (“Ted Lasso”), Hannah Waddingham (“Ted Lasso”), Carl Weathers (“The Mandalorian”).

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