The countdown to the Emmy awards has officially begun, with excitement brewing over the Television Academy’s nomination announcements earlier this month. The celebration will only intensify in the days leading up to the 70th annual ceremony, taking place at L.A.’s Microsoft Theater on Sept. 17. Given the sheer volume of first-class returning series — and the few fresh additions — to the ballot this year, there’s plenty of suspense in store. Here, Variety breaks down the key races.
After just a year away, “Game of Thrones” is back to being the most-nominated series with a whopping 22 overall. Not to be left in the dust, HBO’s other epic, “Westworld” picked up 21. While quantity matters in racking up Creative Arts trophies, stats won’t guarantee the win here, with last year’s winner “The Handmaid’s Tale” still in the running. Hulu’s dystopian drama picked up 20 noms for its sophomore season, and is generating plenty of headlines. Netflix’s “The Crown” (13 noms), “Stranger Things” (12 noms) and broadcast’s lone nominee, NBC’s “This Is Us” (eight noms), also delivered strong second seasons and respectable Emmy showings, but the final season of FX’s “The Americans,” which picked up four noms overall, could provide an upset if voters want to take advantage of their last chance to recognize the show.
For the past two years, the Academy has awarded this coveted trophy to a first-time nominee (Rami Malek in 2016, Sterling K. Brown in 2017), and this year it has the chance to do so again with a handful of nominees: “Ozark’s” Jason Bateman, previously nominated twice in the lead comedy actor category for “Arrested Development”; “Westworld’s” Ed Harris, who scored two prior Emmy noms for work in limited series and TV movies but not his role on the HBO epic; and “Westworld’s” Jeffrey Wright, bumped up from the supporting drama actor race last year. But this may be the year the freshman streak ends. Brown is back on the ballot for “This Is Us,” as is his co-star Milo Ventimiglia, and Matthew Rhys is seeing his third nom for “The Americans.”
With only one freshman in this race — “Killing Eve’s” Sandra Oh — it would be quite the surprise if she dethroned reigning drama queen Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), who won last year and is poised to do so again. Claire Foy (“The Crown”) and Evan Rachel Wood (“Westworld”) were both up against Moss last year, but struggled to come out on top. It’s not likely they can overtake her this time around, either, despite it being Foy’s last time at Emmy bat in this category for “The Crown.” Keri Russell (“The Americans”), nominated twice prior for the role, is also seeing her last chance to win for it this year in this category and could curry nostalgic favor with voters. “Orphan Black’s” Tatiana Maslany, who won in 2016 and was not eligible last year, is a wild card, nommed for the final time for the BBC America series.
Fresher voices are striking deeper chords this year. FX’s “Atlanta,” which saw a second season focused on standalone character episodes, racked up the most noms with 16; Golden Globe winner “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” from Amazon, followed closely behind with 14; and HBO’s dark comedy “Barry” achieved 13. Rounding out the competition are Netflix’s “GLOW” (10 noms); HBO’s “Silicon Valley” (seven noms); broadcast’s lone representative, ABC’s “Black-ish” (five noms); the return of HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (four noms); and Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” (two noms). This is one category in which the numbers do seem like solid indicators of a show’s chances for an Emmy. Without incumbent winner “Veep” in the race, “Atlanta” and “Maisel” are poised to battle it out for gold.
At first glance, it may seem like 2017’s winner Donald Glover (“Atlanta”) is poised for an easy repeat. But he wasn’t in every episode this season as the show chose to push supporting players into the spotlight. This offers opportunity for marks to be made by current freshmen nominees Ted Danson, Academy beloved for “Cheers” but now nommed for the first time for “The Good Place,” and Bill Hader, an Emmy staple up for lead for the first time for “Barry.” The roster rounds out with returning nominees Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”) and William H. Macy (“Shameless”), and wild card Larry David (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”). Anderson could come from behind, given the emotionally layered work he was asked to do this year, but it’s Glover’s race to lose.
Let’s face it: Anyone who wins this year is breaking a monumental streak. “Veep’s” Julia Louis-Dreyfus set a record with her sixth consecutive win in 2017, but is ineligible this year, paving the way for Pamela Adlon (“Better Things”), Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Allison Janney (“Mom”), Issa Rae (“Insecure”) Tracee Ellis Ross (“Black-ish”) and Lily Tomlin (“Grace and Frankie”). Adlon, Janney, Ross and Tomlin were all nommed last year and didn’t have the heat to take out Louis-Dreyfus then. While an Oscar win for Janney earlier this year strengthens her awards buzz and Tomlin is competing without being up against her co-star to split the vote, the edge goes to a true newcomer: Brosnahan won the Golden Globe back in January and looks to follow it with the Emmy.
HBO won, well, big with “Big Little Lies” last year, but doesn’t have a project in the race this time. That could pave the way for FX to return to the winners’ circle with “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” which sees the most noms (18) of any series in the category. There is some close competition coming from Netflix’s “Godless” (12 noms), which has the advantage of having its star Jeff Daniels in two key acting races, keeping the title in conversation beyond this category. National Geographic’s “Genius: Picasso” (seven noms), TNT’s “The Alienist” (six noms) and Showtime’s “Patrick Melrose” (five noms) certainly put out respectable showings, and perennial Emmy favorite Benedict Cumberbatch could push the latter further onto voters’ radars. Still, it feels like it’s Ryan Murphy’s year to finally take the category with “Versace.”
It would be nice to see Lifetime’s “Flint” provide an upset, because a win would bring more attention to the real-life water crisis still ongoing in Flint, Mich., on which the movie is based. But it faces stiff competition: HBO’s “The Tale” (two noms) and “Paterno” (two noms), both takes on topical stories, and the premium cabler’s “Fahrenheit 451” (five noms), which, although set in a futuristic world, depicts political themes not unfamiliar to today. All three are aided by star power, but only “The Tale’s” star (Laura Dern) saw an acting nom. There is a slim chance the Academy could try to right the snub of “Paterno’s” Al Pacino by awarding the movie the trophy, but most likely Netflix’s “Black Mirror” will repeat for the win, this time for “USS Callister,” which taps the zeitgeist with its heroine-defeating-the-misogynist story. It grabbed the most noms of any project in the category (seven).
Limited Series/Movie Actor
Last year a newcomer broke through a pack of veteran performers, and this year the category is swaying towards making that a new tradition. Darren Criss is nominated for the first time in an acting category for his turn as serial killer Andrew Cunanan in “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story.” He’s up against John Legend — seeing his first nomination ever, and putting him this close to EGOT status — who embodied the titular messiah in “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert.” Consistent Emmy favorite Benedict Cumberbatch is back on the ballot, this time for “Patrick Melrose,” and could see a surprise win, as he did back in 2014 when he triumphed over “Fargo” star Billy Bob Thornton. “Genius: Picasso’s” Antonio Banderas, “The Looming Tower’s” Jeff Daniels and Jesse Plemons from “USS Callister” round out the options. Plemons may well be the wildcard this year.
Limited Series/Movie Actress
Two-time nominee in the category and six-time nominee overall, Sarah Paulson has been a staple on “American Horror Story” since 2013. But the race is tight: The category becomes complicated because of the powerful performances across a vast array of projects. Jessica Biel grabbed her first-ever Emmy nom for limited series “The Sinner,” while Laura Dern picked up her second nom in the category for TV movie “The Tale.” Thrice-nominated for lead drama actress, Michelle Dockery slid into this new category with her first nom for “Godless”; perennial Emmy darling (13 previous noms with four wins across drama and comedy) Edie Falco also scored her first nom in this category for “Law & Order True Crime: The Menendez Murders”; and Regina King picked up her fourth Emmy nom (but first in this category) for “Seven Seconds.” This may be one category that’s a tough toss-up.
Variety Talk Series
It’s going to be hard to dethrone the king. HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” is not only the incumbent winner in the category, snagging the trophy in 2016 and 2017, but it also scored the most noms out of all series nominated in the category this year (with nine). While it seems apparent that the shows that got the most political will get the attention and the award, there are strong candidates in Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” (two noms), TBS’ “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” (four noms) and CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (three noms). Walking the line a bit more between heartfelt and hard topics is ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (two noms) and rounding out the list is long shot CBS’ “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (four noms). It’s worth noting that “Full Frontal” is the lone series to be hosted by a woman. In a year dominated by discussions about parity, it would make quite a statement for her to finally come out on top.
Variety Sketch Series
Last year’s winner, “Saturday Night Live,” received 21 nominations overall this year, which helped keep NBC in third place for most noms by network. While it is the one to beat, the other nominees each bring their own perspective to the race. IFC’s “Portlandia,” which has been nominated in the category since 2015 and scored two noms this year, is up for its final season. Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” has also been nommed since 2015 and has two noms; HBO’s “Tracey Ullman’s Show” is nominated for the second year in a row and scored two noms. Freshman series “At Home With Amy Sedaris” from TruTV and “I Love You, America With Sarah Silverman” from Hulu round out the list, with just one nom each.
Reality Competition Series
Your eyes do not deceive you: The 2018 nominee list is identical to 2017. After winning the category for the past three years, NBC’s “The Voice” is back on the ballot with 10 nominations overall. VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” also scored 10 noms overall this year and is the favorite to upset “The Voice” after picking up another reality host Emmy last year and hitting its 10th season milestone this year. CBS’ long-time contender “The Amazing Race,” which has 10 wins under its belt, picked up four noms this year, while Lifetime’s “Project Runway” picked up three, as did NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior.” Bravo’s “Top Chef” scored one nomination. Chances are “The Voice” will once again be singing a happy tune.
Two-time winner RuPaul is the frontrunner once again, picking up a third consecutive nomination for “RuPaul’s Drag Race.” He faces competition from other competition series hosts Ellen DeGeneres (“Game of Games”), Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn (“Project Runway”), and Jane Lynch (“Hollywood Game Night”), as well as unstructured reality program host W. Kamau Bell (“United Shades of America With W. Kamau Bell”). DeGeneres’ star power puts her high on the list, but RuPaul seems poised perfectly for the win.