Tatiana Maslany of ‘Orphan Black’ Could Shake Up Emmys

Actress is Emmy-worthy, but will voters notice?

Pretty much anyone who has watched Tatiana Maslany’s work in BBC America’s “Orphan Black” comes away with the same question.

How do we get Maslany to the Emmys?

Saturday’s season finale of “Orphan” put that piece of wonderment in bold, certifying that Maslany had taken what easily could have been a gimmick – one actress playing several clones – and turned it into an acting tour de force.

The biggest hurdle Maslany has to overcome might not be the competition as much as the need for more exposure. Though acting nominations for the network aren’t unheard of (Idris Elba has picked up miniseries acting nods the past two years for the cabler’s “Luther”), BBC America operates on the outskirts of Emmytown. Average overnight audience totals for each episode of “Orphan” have been below half a million.

Of last year’s lead drama actress nominees, Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”), Julianna Marguiles (“The Good Wife”) and defending champ Claire Danes (“Homeland”) are the safest bets to return. Still, there are spots available for Maslany. Kathy Bates is ineligible following the cancelation of “Harry’s Law” a year ago, and it’s questionable whether Michelle Dockery of “Downton Abbey” can make it back with a season in which she was far less central to the show’s plot than in 2012. Your guess is as good as mine on Glenn Close (“Damages”) – the show is yesterday’s news, but then again, it’s Glenn Close.

Kerry Washington of “Scandal” and Robin Wright of “House of Cards” line up as leading possibilities to take any available openings, with Connie Britton (“Nashville”), Vera Farmiga (“Bates Motel”), Emmy Rossum (“Shameless”) and Keri Russell (“The Americans”) among those also lurking. That’s a formidable list, but honestly, the primary issue for Maslany still remains Academy viewership, because her performance remains unbelievably dynamic.

“Maslany only grew more impressive as she played the various clones — and, frequently, had to play one clone impersonating another,” wrote Alan Sepinwall of What’s Alan Watching following Saturday’s season-ender. “It’s a great performance not just because you can tell each character from each other, but because several of the characters are so compelling that Maslany would be a knockout even if she was only playing one of them.”

Sepinwall went on to say that Maslany has “no hope” of an Emmy nomination, but however naively, I’m not ready to concede the point. Maslany’s performance has been gaining an increasing amount of buzz, and BBC America seems to recognize that, putting some promotional muscle behind it with such gambits as a banner flying over Los Angeles on Friday touting her candidacy. And though it’s not exactly the Emmys, it doesn’t hurt that the summer’s first TV awards show, the Critics’ Choice Television Awards, nominated the following for lead drama actress honors: Danes, Marguiles, Moss, Farmiga, Russell … and Maslany. She is on the map.

There are nearly four weeks before the June 28 due date for TV Academy nomination ballots. Enough time to make voters aware? We’ll see. If you look back at the history of lead acting nominations at the Emmys, you won’t find one that matches Maslany’s profile – even Louis C.K. and FX’s “Louie,” for example, had wider exposure. But in an ever-changing TV universe, the old precedents might not apply for long.

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