There were few surprises at the 2016 Emmy Awards, with most trophies going to the expected winners. But voters had a few shockers in store: recognizing Tatiana Maslany for her lead role on “Orphan Black” and Rami Malek for his lead role on “Mr. Robot.”
That gives hope that the Academy may continue to embrace even more new, diverse programming when the Emmy nominations are unveiled on July 13. It may have taken four years for “The Americans” to finally break through, but it would be a shock if this year’s crop of worthy freshmen series didn’t get recognized by the Academy.
We’ll find out who’s officially made the cut when nominations are announced on Thursday at 8:30 a.m. PT, but here, Variety breaks down the major contenders in all of the biggest categories.
“The Americans” (FX)
“Better Call Saul” (AMC)
“The Crown” (Netflix)
“The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu)
“Stranger Things” (Netflix)
“This Is Us” (NBC)
With reigning champ “Game of Thrones” out of contention this year (its July premiere date made it ineligible), the field is wide open — and look for a swarm of buzzy freshmen series to burst through. There’s plenty of established competition, to be sure, including the critically adored third season of “The Leftovers,” Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” (snubbed last year in the category), USA’s “Mr. Robot,” and Showtime’s powerhouse dramas “Billions” and “Homeland.” But broadcast finally has an awards contender in “This Is Us,” and the Academy’s love for all things British will weigh heavily in favor of “The Crown” (inheriting the “Downton Abbey” slot). And that SAG ensemble win for “Stranger Things” may well be enough to overcome the TV Academy’s traditional genre bias.
Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”)
Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”)
Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”)
Matthew Rhys (“The Americans”)
Liev Schreiber (“Ray Donovan”)
Kevin Spacey (“House of Cards”)
This may be one of the most stable of all the Emmy categories, with last year’s nominees all still eligible. But this has been the year of Sterling K. Brown, who rode the wave of his Emmy win for “People v. O.J.” into a star turn on NBC’s breakout family drama.
Viola Davis (“How to Get Away with Murder”)
Claire Foy (“The Crown”)
Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”)
Keri Russell (“The Americans”)
Evan Rachel Wood (“Westworld”)
Robin Wright (“House of Cards”)
With “Orphan Black” out of contention as well, Maslany won’t be able to claim another trophy. The question then is how many newcomers can break in — and which longtime favorites they may edge out (Taraji P. Henson, Claire Danes). But there’s no doubt Elisabeth Moss and Claire Foy are sure things — they’re top contenders for the ultimate prize.
“Master of None” (Netflix)
“Modern Family” (ABC)
“Silicon Valley” (HBO)
It’s a given that the winner in this category for the last two years (“Veep”) will appear once again on the nomination list. And in keeping with tradition, old ensemble favorites like “Modern Family” and “Transparent” will most likely return as well. With not much more room, Golden Globe winner “Atlanta” may just be the lone representative of the freshman comedy class.
Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”)
Aziz Ansari (“Master of None”)
Donald Glover (“Atlanta”)
William H. Macy (“Shameless”)
Thomas Middleditch (“Silicon Valley”)
Jeffrey Tambor (“Transparent”)
Similar to the comedy series category, the Academy would be extremely remiss not to include two-time winner Jeffrey Tambor and Golden Globe winner Donald Glover on the ballot. Overall, though, this year’s list is bound to look almost identical to last year’s, given the strength of the repeat performances and the comfort the Academy has with familiarity.
Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”)
Lena Dunham (“Girls”)
Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”)
Issa Rae (“Insecure”)
Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie”)
Just as she fought for parity earlier this year, it would be great to see Emmy Rossum up for her work opposite lead actor ballot staple William H. Macy on “Shameless,” but the competition is stiff and the Academy is short on slots. With so many key nominees from last year once again in the running, this category fills up fast. Differences from last year most likely will include the return of a once-favored ingenue turned seasoned pro (Lena Dunham) and the addition of a fierce fresh face (Issa Rae). However, if the Academy is looking to mix this category up a bit while still staying true to the types it honors, Jane Fonda could rep “Grace and Frankie” here.
“American Crime” (ABC)
“Big Little Lies” (HBO)
“Feud: Bette and Joan” (FX)
“The Night Of” (HBO)
HBO is back in the running in a big way this year with two very strong, though very different contenders in David E. Kelley’s adaptation of “Big Little Lies” and the gritty crime drama “The Night Of.” FX put up strong showings as well, with another installment of “Fargo” and the debut of Ryan Murphy’s “Feud” anthology series. This might be the toughest of all categories given these potent series. But if nostalgia comes into play, “Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life” has a shot, too.
Limited Series Actor
Riz Ahmed (“The Night Of”)
Benedict Cumberbatch (“Sherlock: The Lying Detective”)
Robert De Niro (“The Wizard of Lies”)
Ewan McGregor (“Fargo”)
Geoffrey Rush (“Genius”)
John Turturro (“The Night Of”)
The Academy loves to recognize movie stars for appearing on TV, and this category gives them ample opportunity — with award-worthy performances from the likes of Robert De Niro, Ewan McGregor, and John Turturro. And never underestimate their love for Benedict Cumberbatch, who won the trophy back in 2014 over Billy Bob Thornton in the debut season of “Fargo.”
Limited Series Actress
Carrie Coon (“Fargo”)
Nicole Kidman (“Big Little Lies”)
Jessica Lange (“Feud: Bette and Joan”)
Susan Sarandon (“Feud: Bette and Joan”)
Reese Witherspoon (“Big Little Lies”)
Oprah Winfrey (“The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”)
The Academy is in an unenviable position, having to pit so many co-stars against each other in this category, but the wealth of talent submitted is nearly bottomless. The biggest names seem like the guarantee, but the buzz around Carrie Coon (“Fargo”) and a desire to retroactively reward Lauren Graham (“Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life”) after years of snubs may prove strong as well.