HBO’s epic fantasy drama “Game of Thrones” once again leads the pack of contenders for the Primetime Emmy Awards, grabbing 23 nominations for its sixth season. FX’s “The Americans” and USA Network’s “Mr. Robot” were among the breakthrough shows in a year when Emmy voters were overwhelmed with choices of shows seeking Emmy gold.
“Thrones” is up for the top drama series award that it won last year for the first time, along with 11 other trophies, setting a new record for wins in a single year. Vying with “Thrones” for drama series honors this year are “The Americans,” AMC’s “Better Call Saul,” PBS’ “Downton Abbey,” Showtime’s “Homeland,” Netflix’s “House of Cards” and “Mr. Robot.”
Contenders for comedy series honors are ABC’s “Blackish” and “Modern Family,” Netflix’s “Master of None” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” HBO’s “Veep” (the reigning champ) and “Silicon Valley” and Amazon’s “Transparent.”
FX’s “The People V. O.J. Simpson,” one of the most lauded programs of the season, is a close second behind “Thrones” with 22 bids, including acting noms for every major player: Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown, John Travolta and David Schwimmer. Up against “Simpson” in the limited series heat is fellow FX entry “Fargo,” ABC’s “American Crime,” AMC’s “The Night Manager” and History’s “Roots.”
Rounding out the top five top nominees are “Fargo” (18), “Veep” (17) and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” (16). “Game of Thrones” came in one shy of last year’s haul of 24 noms. HBO maintained its pole position among networks with 94 noms, down from a record 126 last year.
Voters clearly spread the wealth among outlets as FX soared to 56 bids, from 38 last year, setting a new high-water mark for a basic cable outlet (FX already held that crown with 45 in 2014). Netflix jumped to 54, from 34 last year. NBC, with 41 noms, was on par with last year while ABC’s haul fell to 35, from 42 last year.
The variety talk show field dominated by late-night programs saw a shakeup this year as Jerry Seinfeld’s Crackle digital series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” joined the hunt with ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” HBO’s “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” CBS’ “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” HBO’s “Real Time with Bill Maher” and NBC’s “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.” Two high-profile makeovers didn’t make the cut: Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah” and CBS’ “The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.” Nor did TBS’ critical darling “Full Frontal with Samantha Bee.”
The reality-competition category was full of familiar faces as last year’s victor “The Voice” will go up against CBS’ “The Amazing Race,” NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars,” Lifetime’s “Project Runway” and Bravo’s “Top Chef.”
The TV movie category was a motley mix of Netflix’s “A Very Murray Christmas” special starring Bill Murray and HBO’s prestige A-list efforts with the Bryan Cranston-led “All the Way” and Kerry Washington starrer “Confirmation.” Also in the mix are BBC America’s “Luther,” starring Idris Elba, and PBS’ “Sherlock: The Abominable Bride,” limned by Benedict Cumberbatch. Cranston, Cumberbatch, Elba and Washington also landed acting bids in the competitive limited series or movie categories.
“Mr. Robot” and “The Americans” triumphed by grabbing top acting bids as well as series noms. “Mr. Robot,” last summer’s sleeper success that just launched its second season on Wednesday, earned a lead drama actor nom for star Rami Malek and writing bid for creator Sam Esmail, along with four other mentions. “The Americans” has long been a critical darling but Emmy attention had been elusive. But for the show’s fourth season, stars Matthew Rhys and Keri Russell grabbed top drama acting noms and showrunners Joe Weisberg and Joel Fields took in a writing nom as part of its five bids.
In the top drama acting races, “The Americans” and “Mr. Robot” were the major additions to a largely static field. The absence of “Mad Men” for the first time since 2008 made room for newcomers in the lead actor and actress fields. “Mr. Robot’s” Christian Slater won the Golden Globe earlier this year for supporting actor but didn’t get an Emmy bid.
Emmy voters ensured that the acting nominees reflected the diversity that eluded the Oscars earlier this year. “How to Get Away with Murder” star Viola Davis made history last year as the first African-American to win lead drama actress. She’s back in the race again with “Empire’s” Taraji P. Henson. On the comedy side, “Blackish” star Tracee Ellis Ross and “Master of None” co-creator/star Aziz Ansari are actors of color joining the nominees circle this year.
For lead drama actress, Russell of “Americans” moved into the slot held last year by “Mad Men’s” Elisabeth Moss; the rest of the femme lead actress field was the same as 2015: “Homeland’s” Claire Danes, “How to Get Away with Murder’s” Davis, “Empire’s” Henson, “Orphan Black’s” Tatiana Maslany and “House of Cards’ ” Robin Wright.
In the lead actor race, Rhys of “Americans” and Malek of “Mr. Robot” took the spots held last year by Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” (last year’s winner) and Jeff Daniels of HBO’s “The Newsroom,” both no longer on the air. Returning to the race are Kyle Chandler of Netflix’s “Bloodline,” Bob Odenkirk of “Better Call Saul,” Liev Schreiber of Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” and Kevin Spacey of “House of Cards.”
There was more movement on the comedy front. For lead actor, Aziz Ansari joined the hunt for “Master of None” and Thomas Middleditch sealed the deal for “Silicon Valley.” They joined returning nominees Anthony Anderson (“Blackish”), Will Forte (Fox’s “Last Man on Earth”), William H. Macy (Showtime’s “Shameless”) and last year’s victor, Jeffrey Tambor (Amazon’s “Transparent”).
On the female side, Tracee Ellis Ross of “Blackish” and Laurie Metcalf of HBO’s “Getting On” entered the ring with repeat contenders: “Veep’s” Julia Louis-Dreyfus (last year’s winner), Amy Schumer (Comedy Central’s “Inside Amy Schumer”), “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’s” Ellie Kemper and “Grace and Frankie’s” Lily Tomlin.
ABC will air this year’s Emmycast live across the country on Sept. 18 with Jimmy Kimmel at the helm as host. Winners in craft and technical categories will be handed out over a two-day Creative Arts Awards ceremony set for Sept. 10-11.
(Pictured: Keri Russell of “The Americans,” Kit Harington of “Game of Thrones” and Rami Malek of “Mr. Robot”)