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8 Burning Questions Before Emmy Nominations

Variety logo Variety 7/11/2017 Debra Birnbaum
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The annual unveiling of the Emmy nominations always brings with it a certain sense of predictability: The Academy has its favorites, and there’s no doubt we’ll see many of them anointed when the list is unveiled on Thursday. Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jeffrey Tambor — congratulations in advance.

But this awards season may yet offer some surprises. It has been shaken up by the absence of past heavy-hitters like “Game of Thrones,” ineligible because of its late summer premiere date, as well as the onslaught of Peak TV, which brought with it a slew of high-profile freshmen series that the Academy simply can’t ignore. (They wouldn’t dare, would they?)

So while the prognosticators (us included!) offer predictions for who’ll be named on Thursday, there are also some key questions to consider:

Will Hulu finally become an awards contender?

It just takes one — and after years of trying with “The Path,” “11/22/63,” and “Casual,” Hulu may have finally found The One with “The Handmaid’s Tale.” The streaming service put all of its award push behind the dystopian drama, and it would be a huge shock if its efforts didn’t pay off. Elisabeth Moss is a frontrunner for a nom — if not the ultimate trophy itself — and the show should make the cut for the drama series race, too. The competition — Amazon (“Transparent”) and Netflix (“Orange Is the New Black,” “House of Cards”) — has long had bragging rights to that prized “Emmy nominee” label. Hulu’s about to level the playing field.

Can “The Leftovers” ride the critical buzz for its third and final season to nomination glory?

Damon Lindelof’s HBO drama has been snubbed by the Academy in its first two seasons — but its series finale won near universal praise from critics, spawning countless think pieces about life, love, and faith. Will that unprecedented outpouring be enough to win voters’ attention? The drama series race is crowded indeed with new entries (“Handmaid’s,” “This Is Us,” “The Crown”), but “Thrones” and “Downton Abbey’s” absences open up two spots, and that’s assuming all the previous nominees make the cut this time out (“House of Cards” may be particularly vulnerable). It’s worth remembering the “2% rule” as well, which could expand the category to as many as nine nominees if the last one or two entries fall within 2% of the 7th place nominee. And series star Carrie Coon doubled her odds of a nom this year with two powerhouse performances — she not only brought us to tears on “The Leftovers,” but also won our hearts on FX’s “Fargo.”

How many nominations will “This is Us” get? (In other words, is broadcast back in the drama game?)

While the Big Four have fared better on the comedy side, with “Black-ish” and “Modern Family,” there’s been a looooong drought for broadcast on the drama side: the last broadcast nominee in the drama series race was for “The Good Wife” in 2011, while the last winner was “24” in 2006. That may finally come to an end with NBC’s “This Is Us.” The family drama, which hails from 20th Century Fox, isn’t just a runaway hit among viewers — it also garnered attention in key kudos, including the Writers Guild Awards. So along with the series nod, the show could bring noms for its cast, eligible across all the acting categories.

Which series will win the most nominations?

Last year’s list was topped by “Game of Thrones,” which earned 23 noms. In second place was “The People v. O.J. Simpson” with 22. With neither in the race this year, there’s ample debate as to which series can collect enough noms to top the leaderboard. Naturally, it’s the below-the-line categories — production design, costumes, cinematography — which add to the overall haul, on top of the acting, writing, and series races. “Fargo,” which collected 18 last year, “Veep” (18), and “Saturday Night Live” (16) may well repeat, while drama newcomers “The Crown” and “Westworld,” and limited series “Big Little Lies” and “Feud: Bette and Joan” should offer competition. And then there’s the matter of the equally (if not more) important network total: HBO triumphed last year with 94 (down from 126 in 2015), with FX and Netflix battling it out for second and third place with 56 and 54, respectively. How much tighter will that battle get?

Which late-night shows will make the cut?

Consider last year’s lineup: “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” “The Late Late Show With James Corden,” “Real Time With Bill Maher,” “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” What a difference a year makes: Stephen Colbert’s “Late Show,” which was struggling to find its footing last year, is now winning the ratings war. Samantha Bee’s “Full Frontal” and Trevor Noah’s “Daily Show” have become must-see in this era of daily headline bombardment. So who gets bumped out to make room? Will Bill Maher’s recent N-word controversy affect his chances? And what of Fallon’s now-infamous hair-tousling moment? Leave it to Jerry Seinfeld to play spoiler again.

How many co-stars will have to face off against each other?

The awards night “game face” may be well put to an even greater test this year, when the winner’s name may well be a given actor’s own co-star. Expect the leads of “Big Little Lies” — Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman — to be facing off against each other; ditto “Feud,” with Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon. (If not, cue those snub stories — stat!) But there’s also plenty of face-off in store in the supporting races, where “Better Call Saul’s” Michael McKean could be nommed alongside Jonathan Banks, or “Westworld’s” Jeffrey Wright against Ed Harris, or “Stranger Things'” Millie Bobby Brown against Winona Ryder, or “Veep’s” Timothy Simons vs. Tony Hale vs. Matt Walsh. You get the idea. Huge ensemble casts beget plenty of noms — champagne problems, indeed.

Will the Emmys recognize genre? 

Yes, “Game of Thrones” got the biggest haul last year, but it wasn’t until Season 5 that it won the top prize (and before that, you’d have to go back to 2005 for “Lost”). The Academy’s love affair with genre is a rocky one at best, with a long list of fantasy/sci-fi shows that have been famously snubbed (“The Walking Dead,” anyone?). So with all the buzz surrounding “Westworld” and “Stranger Things,” the Emmys wouldn’t dare slight them, would they?

Will voters embrace the new breed of comedy?

Or, is this the year “Modern Family’s” storied Emmy run comes to an end? All of last year’s nominees are eligible again this year — along with “Modern,” there’s “Black-ish,” “Silicon Valley,” “Transparent,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” and “Veep” — but someone’s going to have to sit this one out given the wave of freshman upstarts. At the top of the list of comedy must-haves is Donald Glover’s “Atlanta,” which took the top prize at the Globes — as well as “Insecure,” “Fleabag,” “One Mississippi,” and “Better Things.” And then there’s “Girls.” It hasn’t made the cut since its second season, but who doesn’t love a comeback story?

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