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Emmys: Sophomore Class Leads Pack (Column)

What a difference a year makes.

To be fair, last year’s TV set the bar impossibly high, with the debuts of groundbreaking, critically acclaimed series including “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “The Crown,” “Stranger Things,” “Atlanta,” “Better Things,” “Insecure,” “This Is Us” and “Big Little Lies.” I’m sure there are some I’ve neglected.

It was a freshman class for the history books — packed with boundary-pushing, thought-provoking shows across comedy and drama, streaming and cable, and yes, even broadcast. With Dan Fogelman’s family drama “This Is Us,” network TV had its first major heavyweight awards contender in years.

That’s not to say this year’s debuts are a disappointment — Amazon’s charming “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” impressed at the Golden Globes; everyone’s talking about BBC America’s sly thriller “Killing Eve” and Benedict Cumberbatch delivers yet another powerhouse performance in Showtime’s “Patrick Melrose.” And yes, broadcast can claim success as well: ABC has a solid hit in Freddie Highmore’s “The Good Doctor,” as does CBS with “Big Bang Theory” prequel “Young Sheldon.”

But for the most part, the story going into this year’s Emmy race is all about the sophomore class. Did the series live up to the promise of their groundbreaking debut efforts?

The answer was a resounding yes: At least judging by this season’s efforts, the sophomore slump is most assuredly a thing of the past (dare we dread the junior jinx?).

The creative triumph of the new seasons of dramas including “The Handmaid’s Tale” and comedies (in name only) such as “Atlanta” ensure that they’ll be returning to Emmy glory. And they’ll be accompanied by their classmates from last year — all strong contenders for those precious seven nomination slots.

But their achievements leave little room for newcomers in this year’s races. If not for several Emmy heavyweights sitting out this cycle, for reasons both personal (“Veep”) and political (“House of Cards”), there’d likely be no space at all for fresh faces.

So why the drought? Have we hit a creative slump, or is the business struggling to keep up with the demands of a relentless, insatiable cycle? As ever more platforms enter the television space (hello, Apple!), there’s a sheer limit on the number of storytellers and stars who can create the types of shows that can make it to the winners’ circle. And audience’s attention could not possibly get more fragmented.

Yet looking ahead to next year’s Emmys (too soon, I know!), there’s an impressive slate just waiting in the wings. Amy Adams will doubtless be a contender for her turn in HBO’s “Sharp Objects,” set for June; Julia Roberts will mark her TV series debut with Amazon’s “Homecoming”; and Jennifer Aniston will make her return with Apple’s as-yet-untitled morning show drama. In fact, Apple’s slate, which starts rolling out next winter, boasts star power sure to rival its streaming competitors.

But judging by the number of billboards, panels and screeners flooding Hollywood, no one is willing to concede this year’s race just yet.

2018 had barely begun when the first FYC screener arrived — thanks again, “Mr. Mercedes.” It was followed soon after by the first FYC event in February, the first billboard, the first stunt.

The floodgates have been opened — and may the strongest swimmers survive. This year’s calendar boasts a 50% increase in the number of FYC events over last year. In fact, the jockeying for dates on the TV Academy’s calendar was so tight that official events are now sanctioned at locations other than the North Hollywood campus — with two or even three competing events even scheduled on the same night for the first time. And yet the panels are still playing to packed houses, with voters eager to snap selfies with their favorite stars and showrunners.

Both Amazon and Netflix stepped up their games, too, expanding their experiential spaces beyond what they did last year. Amazon invited the public to their Hollywood Athletic Club digs, while Netflix went from 24,000 square feet to 30,000 — taking over Raleigh Studios, and adding another week of panels (for a total of five) above last year’s packed schedule.

So what will it take for a show to break through the clutter? That’s the million-dollar question — and we’ll have to wait (impatiently) until Sept. 17 to get the answer.

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