Emmys 2017: Politics and a Possible Network Comeback Take Center Stage

After a long and lively Emmy campaign season, TV industry insiders head for the Microsoft Theater today eagerly anticipating the epic finale of the most suspenseful competition in a decade.

Not since “Mad Men” began its four-peat winning streak in 2008 has there been such a wide open field for the night’s most prestigious trophy: best drama series.

What is predictable: host Stephen Colbert is sure to offer up plenty of political humor in his monologue, and look for winners to also share some fiery political sentiments in their speeches.

During the past 72 hours of pre-Emmy revelry, a strong sentiment has emerged in favor of NBC’s “This Is Us.” There is a widespread feeling — expressed by many with no connection to the show or the Peacock — that it would be “good for the business” if a broadcast network series were to win for the first time since Fox’s “24” in 2006.

A “This Is Us” victory would signal to the creative community that the old-guard networks can still be kudos contenders. And it would reward creator Dan Fogelman and studio 20th Century Fox TV for delivering what seemed to be the impossible in a multiplatform world: a broad-based, must-see hit. The hope is that a “This Is Us” win would convince nervous networks to invest in original ideas that break the storytelling mold.

But the narrative of the night could just as easily turn to becoming a milestone for the digital crowd. A win for Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” would be a David-versus-Goliath triumph for the smallest of the Big Three streamers. It would also be a major statement for MGM Television, the studio behind the adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s novel.

Or, the night could end with Netflix claiming its first drama series Emmy, for “Stranger Things,” “The Crown” or “House of Cards.” Of the three, the level of affection among Emmy voters seems to be strongest for “Stranger Things.” The town loves a good by-the-bootstraps story, as creators Ross and Matt Duffer delivered in coming out of nowhere to charm fans and critics with a sci-fi whodunit that offered a loving homage to 1980s genre pics.

Even in this glossy field, no one is counting out the chance that the scrappy Jimmy McGill might elbow his way to the stage. AMC’s “Better Call Saul” had an undeniably impressive third season, and Emmy wins are in the DNA of the “Breaking Bad” prequel, after all.

The comedy series race is almost as unpredictable. HBO’s reigning champ “Veep” is the frontrunner, after back-to-back wins in 2015 and 2016. FX’s “Atlanta” is putting up a powerful fight, armed with its Golden Globe win and a year’s worth of critical raves for Donald Glover’s intimate portrait. But there’s also a strong feeling that ABC’s “Black-ish” and Netflix’s “Master of None” are wild cards.

There’s even less clarity in the variety-talk series field. Will Samantha Bee triumph for TBS’ “Full Frontal”? Will HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver” score a repeat win? Might Emmy host Stephen Colbert do a victory lap around the stage for his surging “Late Show”? Or will James Corden, Jimmy Kimmel or Bill Maher crash the party?

In this year of hard-edged political humor, nothing is sacred, and nothing is a shoo in — with the exception of the variety sketch category. After the muscle that “Saturday Night Live” flexed in the opening months of the Trump era, the Earth will stop spinning on its axis if the venerable NBC sketch comedy doesn’t take the trophy tonight.

All the uncertainty surrounding the night’s big winners should make for a lively ceremony. Nominees will be sweating it out, for sure, but other Emmy attendees probably won’t. The forecast calls for the temperature in downtown Los Angeles to stay at an unseasonably low 73 degrees during the late-afternoon red carpet processional. What’s more, in an Emmy first that is oh-so-L.A., the carpet area will be tented and air-conditioned.

Meanwhile, the LAPD said Friday that major tourist venues would see “increased security measures” after the recent London underground attack.

The 2017 Emmy Awards airs live tonight on CBS at 5pm PT/8pm ET.

(Pictured: Emmy telecast producers Ricky Kirshner and Glenn Weiss, host Stephen Colbert, CBS’ Jack Sussman and the Television Academy’s Hayma Washington)

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