Emmys: Fresh Faces and Returning Favorites Go Head-to-Head for Voters

Game of Thrones melisandre
Courtesy of HBO

Looking back, 2015 was a transformative year for the Emmys.

HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” nabbed their first wins in the top series categories. First-time champs Jeffrey Tambor and Jon Hamm took the lead actor wins for the freshman season of Amazon’s “Transparent” and the final season of AMC’s “Mad Men,” respectively. Viola Davis became the first black woman to triumph in the drama lead actress category thanks to ABC’s “How to Get Away With Murder.”

Can 2016 possibly top that celebration of the new?

After all, when it comes to the Emmys, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

In the midst of all the fresh faces, last year’s winners across the drama and comedy supporting categories were all repeat honorees. The award in the brand new variety talk series category went to longtime Emmy favorite “The Daily Show” (although buzzy “Inside Amy Schumer” managed to take down stalwart “Saturday Night Live” for the first-ever variety sketch series kudo).

And nothing represents Emmy stasis better than the reality competition series category. For four years running the nominees have been the exact same six series: “The Amazing Race,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “Project Runway,” “So You Think You Can Dance,” “Top Chef” and “The Voice.”

Only three shows have won that category in its 13-year history: “Race,” “Chef” and “Voice” (and NBC’s singing competition waltzed off with last year’s trophy for the second time).

It’s always a crapshoot for newcomers at the Emmys, especially when old favorites remain at the top of their game.

By crowning new top bananas in the drama and comedy series categories, have Emmy voters cracked the field wide open? Or established new favorites for years to come? A look at the TV Academy’s recent history suggests it could go either way.

“Thrones” finally took the top prize after “Breaking Bad” claimed back-to-back wins for the two halves of its final season. Before that, “Homeland” became Showtime’s first drama series winner in its debut season, ending “Mad Men’s” winning streak at four consecutive seasons.

In what may be good news for “Thrones,” it’s fairly unusual for a series to only win once in the drama series competition, but in addition to “Homeland,” both “24” and “Lost” did exactly that in recent years. Back in the mid-’90s, iconic series “ER,” “Law & Order” and “NYPD Blue” each had a single turn in the winner’s seat.

Among the series looking to upset “Thrones” this year are USA’s stylish newcomer “Mr. Robot,” which took the Golden Globe and Critics’ Choice prizes for drama series, and returning favorites like AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” Netflix’s “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black,” and the final seasons of PBS’ “Downton Abbey” and CBS’ “The Good Wife.”

Additional newcomers include Showtime’s “Billions,” HBO’s “Vinyl,” Netflix’s “Narcos” and “Marvel’s Jessica Jones,” Hulu’s “The Path,” Lifetime’s “UnReal,” WGN’s “Underground” and Louis C.K.’s labor of love “Horace and Pete,” as well as a handful of shows that skirted the sophomore slump — HBO’s “The Leftovers,” Showtime’s “The Affair” and Starz’s “Outlander” — to deliver seasons even more acclaimed than their Emmy-overlooked inaugural runs.

With all of those contenders — plus shows like FX’s “The Americans,” still seeking its first nom after four critically acclaimed seasons — there are bound to be a lot of disappointed showrunners come Emmy nom morning. But hope springs eternal.

On the comedy side, “Veep’s” election over firmly established Emmy fave “Modern Family” was a very big deal indeed. But now that Emmy voters have shown their preference for Selina Meyer’s foul-mouthed hilarity, does any other series have a legitimate shot at the win?

A case could be made that the comedy field is broader and deeper than ever before, as oddball candidates like FX’s “Baskets” and Netflix’s “Lady Dynamite” join mainstream favorites like ABC’s “Fresh Off the Boat” and “Black-ish” and little shows in need of love like the CW’s “Jane the Virgin” and Fox’s “Last Man on Earth.”

Freshmen “Master of None” from Netflix and “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” from the CW have already scored kudos attention, and the list of favorites eligible to return is downright intimidating: HBO’s “Girls” and “Silicon Valley,” Amazon’s “Transparent,” Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory.”

One repeat we’re guaranteed not to witness this year: “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.” The Comedy Central stalwart soldiers on with new host Trevor Noah, and it’ll be interesting to see if the series can remain in the race opposite last year’s heavyweight competitors “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” “Jimmy Kimmel Live” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

Another wildcard is “Late Show,” which earned a nomination last year for David Letterman’s farewell season and is now captained by perennial nominee Stephen Colbert. This will be the first test of how Emmy voters are responding to Colbert’s big move.

In the even later night slots, both James Corden and Seth Meyers have heat, but keep an eye on Samantha Bee from TBS’ “Full Frontal” and Chelsea Handler from Netflix’s “Chelsea,” who are both looking to shake up the boys’ club.

But perhaps the best news for any scripted or variety newcomers this year: At least they’re not trying to break into reality competition.