Emmy Nominations: Will New Series Break Through?

The Emmy nominations are going to be revealed tomorrow, and I’m worried. Worried about the inevitability about the final slate. Worried about the flood of “snubbed” stories we’re going to write.

Peak TV has birthed Peak Emmys. This year, the sheer glut of contenders has felt more overwhelming than ever. The impact on the ballot is clear: Voters had to choose from 96 comedy series and 151 dramas. There are 109 contenders for lead actor in a drama, 81 for lead actress. With only seven slots available, there’s going to be disappointment aplenty tomorrow morning.

Last year’s big snub story was “Empire” — the breakout hit of the season failed to land any major nominations besides lead actress for Taraji P. Henson (though its costumes were acknowledged). Though some new series did break through — last year saw nods for “Transparent,” “Better Call Saul,” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” — the wealth of the noms were for returning favorites.

That’s not to say they’re not deserved. Established series like “Game of Thrones,” “Veep,” “Orange is the New Black” and more are enjoying fantastic, critically acclaimed seasons. It’s the freshmen I’m concerned about: “Mr. Robot,” “UnREAL,” “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Master of None.” In the surging sea of choices, I’m afraid they’re going to get lost. The Emmys are often accused of nominating the same shows and stars repeatedly, of ignoring the new and emerging. In a year with a ballot that runs page after page, that possibility feels more real than ever. One knowledgeable Emmy voter told me it took him 45 minutes to cast his ballot. I fear for the rest of the pack.

But it’s not solely the voters’ fault. Yes, marketing matters — and this year we’ve seen studios spend millions on lavish campaigns. And yes, editorial matters — publications like ours have exhausted millions of words extolling the praise of various contenders.

The problem lies in the staging of the season. Compare it to Oscar season, where there’s a momentum to the nominations. Frontrunners emerge as each of the guilds (SAG, Producers, Directors) weigh in, along with the major critics groups around the country. Voters can get a sense of what films to watch, what performances are must-see — an underdog like Brie Larson (“Room”) stands out from the pack. By the time the Oscars nominations are announced, the field of contenders has crystallized.

But there’s no such guiding force leading up to the Emmy nominations. With the SAG Awards and the Golden Globes in the winter months, the pre-Emmy awards calendar is blank but for the Television Critics Association Awards (full disclosure: I’m a voting member). Yet the TCA’s categories are gender-neutral (i.e., individual performance in a drama) and don’t acknowledge any supporting performances. So the Emmy field is a virtual blank slate.

Overwhelmed with choice, you can hardly fault voters for falling back on the familiar. (Any predictions for how many nominations “Downton Abbey” gets? I don’t mean that as a slight — I enjoyed the final season. But more than one voter told me it just felt easier to choose the PBS drama.)

So the true test of how deeply voters dug into their pile of screeners will be if first-season, critically acclaimed shows like “Mr. Robot” and “Master of None” — and their accompanying casts — get attention tomorrow.

But should they get snubbed, the TV Academy will have some thinking to do.

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