Emmys: Allison Janney Goes Lead for ‘Mom’ as Campaigns Jockey for Position

After three-straight supporting actress Emmy nominations, including back-to-back wins, “Mom” star Allison Janney will be submitted in the lead actress comedy category for the show’s fourth season, Variety has learned.

Janney’s camp — spurred by press reaction suggesting lead consideration — felt the show had evolved to a place where it was more of a two-hander between Janney and co-star Anna Faris. And after all, changing categories didn’t hurt the 11-time nominee when she did it over a decade ago; Janney won twice in supporting for “The West Wing” and then twice again when she went lead.

These kinds of maneuvers often reflect an organic progression, but they can also be a reaction to the competitive environment. Changing to a thinner category could pave an easier path to recognition, etc. But Janney isn’t exactly moving into a weaker stream. Indeed, the comedy categories on the whole are as competitive as ever. Top lead actress contenders include Ellie Kemper (“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt”), Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”) and the “Grace and Frankie” pair of Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, not to mention reigning champ Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”).

Newcomers on the scene will include Issa Rae and Sarah Jessica Parker for HBO’s “Insecure” and “Divorce,” respectively, as well as Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Amazon’s “Fleabag.” Tracey Ullman could also be in the mix for her latest sketch venture “Tracey Ullman’s Show.”

On the drama side, “Homeland’s” Rupert Friend has moved from supporting to lead as well. He started his run on the series as a guest performer, nominated in 2013. But he was given more to chew on as an actor this year, as his character — ex-CIA operative Peter Quinn — suffered through the aftermath of sarin nerve gas exposure at the end of season five that left him partially disabled and brain-damaged.

Also switching gears is “Bates Motel” star Vera Farmiga. She’s moving from lead, where she was nominated for the show’s introductory season, to supporting — unsurprising, given her decreased screen time for the show’s fifth and final season.

The TV Academy put in clear guidelines for defining guest performances in 2015, but lead versus supporting remains a potentially murky and, as you can imagine, subjective area. And unlike the motion picture Academy, which decides placement during the actual voting, it falls on studios and individual publicists to decide and declare placement at the Emmys.

On the Oscar circuit in recent years, performances like Alicia Vikander’s in “The Danish Girl,” Rooney Mara’s in “Carol” and Viola Davis’ in “Fences” have walked the line between lead and supporting and inevitably fallen on the side of weaker competition. Two of them won the prize. But when placement has been questionable enough, AMPAS voters — so empowered — have collectively called audibles. Contenders like Kate Winslet (“The Reader”) and Keisha Castle-Hughes (“Whale Rider”) were campaigned in supporting only to be nominated in lead, for example. But there’s no such mechanism to reverse course with the TV Academy.

Other category placements of note this year include Shailene Woodley in HBO’s “Big Little Lies.” She has been moved out of a lead footrace with co-stars Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon and into the limited series supporting field.

The entire cast of NBC’s “This Is Us” campaigned in the supporting Golden Globe categories earlier this year, where Mandy Moore and Chrissy Metz picked up nominations. But only Sterling K. Brown was recognized by the Screen Actors Guild, a group that actually does little to clarify the landscape by consolidating lead and supporting categories for TV series. For Emmy consideration, Brown, Moore and Milo Ventimiglia will be positioned as leads, which will keep Moore and Metz from competing against each other and could provide an opportunity for Ron Cephas Jones to get a foothold in supporting.

And while Netflix wouldn’t confirm just yet, Winona Ryder — who received both SAG and lead Globe recognition for the streamer’s hit series “Stranger Things” — will most likely compete in supporting at the Emmys. But nothing has to be set in stone until the official submission deadline on May 1.

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