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Much has been made about TV Academy members’ recent break from tradition to fill their Emmy Award nomination ballots with new and surprising choices. This is particularly true in the lead actress in a comedy race, where spots went to first-time nominees Tracee Ellis Ross from ABC’s “Black-ish” and Ellie Kemper from Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” Laurie Metcalf has three noms this year across various categories, including her first recognition in this category, thanks to her work in HBO’s “Getting On.”

The new blood could be due to such frequent nominees as Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”) and Edie Falco (“Nurse Jackie”) no longer being eligible. “There were some incredible shows that ended last year, and that made room for some new faces. My own face happens to be particularly wide, so I am extra grateful that there was enough room for it,” Kemper jokes.
Joining these nominees in the category are returning talent Lily Tomlin of Netflix’s “Grace and Frankie,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus of HBO’s “Veep” and Amy Schumer of Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer.”

None of the nominees come from a freshman series and Ross is the only one representing a comedy airing on a broadcast network.

But it should be noted that none of these series are traditional sitcoms meant to elicit escapism or aspirational fantasies. “Veep” follows the first female U.S. president; “Kimmy” focuses on a kidnap victim adjusting to the outside world; “Grace and Frankie” is about starting over after divorce; and both “Schumer” and “Black-ish” have covered gun control (among other issues).

“Television is a powerful medium for sharing the humanity of all human beings that can change ideas [and] open hearts.”
tracee ellis ross

“Getting On” is set in the geriatric wing of a hospital. A particularly awkward-funny scene during the third season’s premiere saw Metcalf stuck with co-star Jayma Mays in myriad positions on a toilet seat in a bathroom stall. A stickler for authenticity, Metcalf insisted that her underwear be down.

“I don’t know what it says about [the category], but I think the writers of these shows know how to mine humor out of anything,” says Metcalf, who has three Emmys for her work on genre-bending series “Roseanne.” She notes, “That’s where the darkness of it can be really intriguing. I love the fact that we share that.”

While its range of nominees and series subject matters are varied, this category – like many others – is still not reflective of our country’s racially diverse makeup. Ross is the only minority of this group and her nomination comes after a dry spell. America Ferrera won the category for “Ugly Betty” in 2007 and was nominated again the following year while “The Cosby Show’s” Phylicia Rashad saw back-to-back noms in 1985 and ’86.

“While I long to live in a world where we don’t have to point these things out, I think it’s important to do so now while [our country moves] forward on the road to equality,” Ross says. “As the first black woman to be nominated in this category in 30 years, and only one of five ever, I don’t think we’re doing a good enough job of celebrating all of the diverse stories and stellar work that exist. Television is a powerful medium for sharing the humanity of all human beings that when utilized well, can change ideas, open hearts, and bring people together. And comedy can be particularly, unconsciously potent. Often people don’t realize that, while they’re laughing, their minds are being changed.”