With an Influx of New Contenders and Returning Favorites, Will Emmy Season Snap Out of Its Malaise?

·3-min read

I don’t use the word “ennui” often. But it dawned on me that it’s the perfect way to describe the 2021 Emmy season so far. There are some great shows in the running for the top prizes — and reason to honor so much fantastic television that managed to be produced and released during these pandemic times.

Yet the general consensus out there is that it still feels like an off year. I think part of that comes from the unusual Oscar race, which was pushed deep into Emmy season via a late-April ceremony. The near universal disappointment with how that telecast ended, and the malaise that has come with this year’s awards shows (all down 50% or more in viewership) hasn’t helped the overall mood.

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Perhaps we awards pundits have contributed to the lethargy by more or less proclaiming that the major category winners are almost locked in, with “Ted Lasso,” “The Crown” and “The Queen’s Gambit” popping up as early front-runners. COVID-related production delays and slowdowns have pushed some big contenders to next year, narrowing the crop a bit and leading to that “Lasso”/“Crown”/“Gambit” conventional wisdom.

It doesn’t help that Emmy For Your Consideration season is still mostly virtual, save for a few drive-in events. The Zoom panels are convenient, but it’s hard to get a handle on what’s clicking with voters and what’s not when you’re not in a packed theater with them. As much as those screenings are often derided as an opportunity for TV Academy members to line their bellies with free jumbo shrimp, they’re also a chance to take the temperature of the voting body — and sometimes even a chance to move the needle on contenders.

But here’s the deal. I know we’ve been spoiled in recent years by the rise of streamers and pay cable networks dumping loads of prestige fare in May, making for an exciting competition with plenty of top-notch programming to choose from. But I also remember the days of covering the Emmys when it was just a handful of contenders from the four broadcast networks, HBO and a smattering of other cable channels with one or two marquee shows.

The Emmys were still fun and prestigious back then, and the show is even more vital now in the era of Too Much TV. Even in a year when it feels like the choices are more limited than normal, they really aren’t. Until a decade ago, May was a wasteland of TV premieres — no one dared launch a scripted series before the summer dead zone!

Compare that with this year, when in recent weeks we’ve seen the addition of last-minute buzzy entries like HBO’s “Mare of Easttown,” Amazon Prime Video’s “The Underground Railroad,” HBO Max’s “Hacks,” Netflix’s “Halston” and Peacock’s “Girls5eva,” and even the return of favorites like “Master of None,” “Mythic Quest,” “Shrill” and “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Suddenly looking like an interesting Emmy race, isn’t it? And as we head toward the summer and the vaccines allow more of a return to normalcy, who knows? Maybe we’ll get to toast the power of TV at some Emmy-related festivities or even, dare we imagine it, an in-person ceremony this September. By then, we’re going to have a lot to exalt — and I can’t wait to squash that ennui by celebrating with Emmy.

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