×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Emmy Voters Reward Veterans Over Risk-Takers

The challenging goal of the Emmy Awards is to reflect who we are in this moment, to single out those shows that represent the best of what’s being created across all platforms. This year’s list of Emmy nominees succeeded in some ways — highlighting risk-taking freshmen shows such as FX’s “Atlanta” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” and exceptional performances from Sterling K. Brown, Nicole Kidman, Riz Ahmed and many others.

But frustratingly, the voters also showed a stubborn reluctance to let go of the past, with nods for legacy shows long past their prime. The result is an uneven lineup, scattered with bright spots but plagued by too many noteworthy omissions.
To be fair, their job isn’t easy — sifting through the nearly 500 scripted shows produced in the past year that fed into 117 categories and a record-breaking 9,000 submissions. No one reasonably has time to watch them all. (Those of us who cover TV barely do.)

Nominations for a veteran show such as “Better Call Saul,” which is at the top of its game in its third season, as well as for fresh and engaging newcomers from “Better Things” to “Big Little Lies,” demonstrate that many Academy members are doing their best to pay attention to the vital and varied TV landscape. Multiple noms for accomplished actors including Ann Dowd, Donald Glover, Matthew Rhys and Ahmed demonstrate voters’ willingness to dig deep through their ballots.
Yet they also refuse to relinquish their death grip on their most infamous and tiresome habits: Gravitating to star power — despite the debatable worthiness of the project the talent takes on — and clinging to the familiar, returning again and again to past nominees, even though these programs and performances may not be at their peaks.

Consider the limited series race. Too many nominations for “Genius” — a middling vehicle not quite worthy of Geoffrey Rush’s talent — meant that there was less room for “American Crime,” “Shots Fired” and “The Young Pope,” all of which garnered far more critical acclaim. The heap of nominations for “The Wizard of Lies” was to be expected, but that film was less potent than it could have been.

Freshmen series and fresh faces make the cut, but loyalty to legacy nominees take away from worthy candidates
Mike McQuade for Variety

Admittedly, not all the high-wattage actors in contention made the final list: Standout performances from Jude Law in “The Young Pope” and Oprah Winfrey in “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” — which would have been locks in years past — were ignored by Emmy voters.

But a blind and increasingly indefensible loyalty to star power pervades the rest of the list. Legacy noms are taking up slots that could have gone to more worthy fare and performers. In an era in which a few dozen excellent shows are airing at any given time, it’s long past due time to stop automatically giving Emmy nominations to “Modern Family,” “Ray Donovan” and “House of Cards.” William H. Macy of “Shameless” and “Homeland’s” Mandy Patinkin are wonderful actors, but their yearly nominations might as well be an automated reflex at this point.

On the drama side, “House of Cards” — which limped through its fifth season — took a slot that might otherwise have gone to “The Leftovers” or “The Americans,” a show the Academy recognized last year but somehow snubbed this time out. Aside from the great Ann Dowd, the outstanding casts of the “The Leftovers,” “Rectify,” “Halt and Catch Fire,” “Billions” and “Legion” were ignored as well.

And on the comedy side, “Atlanta” was on the only new series to break into the race — yet this year has been characterized by a slew of fresh, funny, poignant half-hours. It’s hard to argue that “Catastrophe,” “Insecure,” “Fleabag” and “One Day at a Time” deserved to be shut out of all of the core comedy categories. At least Pamela Adlon got recognized for “Better Things.”

One of the great things about TV right now is that fans could easily have a vociferous debate about what the best shows are — and everyone would be right. Viewers are spoiled for choice. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is very different from “Stranger Things”; both are nothing like “Atlanta” or “Black-ish.” The tightly wound, British propriety of “The Crown” is a far cry from the California cool of “Big Little Lies.”

The good news is that the ceremony should be widely watched, given how many crowd-pleasing shows were nominated. And when they get their final ballots, Emmy voters will have a chance to reward those deserving shows. They can move on from the past — this September, and well after that.

More TV

  • Upcoming Fantasy Shows Like 'Game of

    10 Upcoming Shows to Watch if You're Mourning 'Game of Thrones'

    Millions of people’s Sunday night routines are ruined now that “Game of Thrones” is over, and there are holes in their hearts as big as the hole in The Wall that are aching for a new fantasy series to fill them. Several prequel series are on their way, but as there’s no word on just [...]

  • Game of Thrones Composer Ramin Djawadi

    'Game of Thrones' Composer Ramin Djawadi: 'I'm Still in Denial'

    Since the first season, Ramin Djawadi has composed the music for “Game of Thrones” and created the epic tunes, including the iconic theme song, heard over the series’ most memorable moments. With the series finished, he talked with Zane Lowe on Apple Music’s Beats 1 about his experience on the show and an upcoming 20-city [...]

  • TUPAC SHAKUR black panther collection

    ‘Defiant Ones’ Director to Helm Docuseries on Tupac, Who Assaulted Him in 1993

    Director Allen Hughes, who helmed the award-winning HBO documentary “The Defiant Ones,” has closed a deal with Tupac Shakur’s estate for a five-part docuseries for which he will have full access to all of the late rapper’s released and unreleased recordings, writings and poetry, according to an announcement from his rep. The announcement says the [...]

  • Ellen DeGeneres -- The Ellen Show

    Ellen DeGeneres Extends Daytime Talk Show Run Through 2022

    Ellen DeGeneres is sticking with her daytime talk show. DeGeneres announced Tuesday that she has signed a new deal to continue hosting “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” through 2022. There had been rumors for some time that DeGeneres was planning to leave the show when her current contract was up in 2020, something she leaned into [...]

  • How YouTube Is Trying to Get

    How YouTube Is Trying to Get Will Smith His First-Ever Emmy Nomination (EXCLUSIVE)

    YouTube could be the key to Will Smith finally earning a Primetime Emmy nomination — or win. The superstar Formerly Known as the Fresh Prince has been nominated for two Academy Awards, five Golden Globes and one Screen Actors Guild Award, and has won four Grammys (out of eight nominations). Yet a Primetime Emmy nomination [...]

  • Carpool Karaoke with Celine Dion on

    James Corden Gets Celine Dion to Sing 'Baby Shark,' Sail the Vegas Seas (Watch)

    Anyone who has seen Celine Dion’s long-running Las Vegas show knows she plays the comedienne almost as much as chanteuse, with a goofball quality that came in especially handy on a Monday night edition of James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke.” The 15-minute segment ended with Dion and Corden trading carpooling for ship-pooling and sailing around Las [...]

  • Greg KinnearPhoto Call with Greg Kinnear,

    Greg Kinnear Cast in Amazon Comedy Pilot 'Good People' From Lee Daniels, Whitney Cummings

    Greg Kinnear has signed on to star in the Amazon comedy pilot from Lee Daniels and Whitney Cummings, Variety has learned. Kinnear joins previously announced cast members Lisa Kudrow and Cummings, the latter of whom is co-writing the series with Lee Daniels in addition to starring and executive producing. Titled “Good People,” the half-hour project [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content