With first-round voting performer ballots topping out at more than a dozen pages each, name recognition is important in the increasingly crowded space that is the Emmys, but it alone isn’t enough. Instead what grabbed voters’ attention this year was a combination of star power and consistent body of work on the small screen.
Going into Emmy nomination morning, it seemed pretty unfathomable that an A-lister like Al Pacino wouldn’t get recognized for his turn as the late college football coach Joe Paterno in HBO’s original movie “Paterno,” but that’s exactly what happened. The movie itself scored a nom in the television movie category, undoubtedly aided by the combined star power of Pacino, executive producer and director Barry Levinson and its ripped- from-the-headlines tale. But Pacino himself, who had not done a television project since 2013’s “Phil Spector,” couldn’t beat out more familiar TV names such as Darren Criss (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”), Benedict Cumberbatch (“Patrick Melrose”) and Jesse Plemons (“Black Mirror: USS Callister”) to earn a spot on the ballot.
Similarly, big-name creatives David Fincher and David Lynch were shut out of the drama and limited races, respectively, for “Mindhunter” and “Twin Peaks.” Drama was dominated by returning series, some in their sophomore years (“This Is Us,” “The Handmaid’s Tale”) and some longer-running (“The Americans,” “Game of Thrones”). The limited series category, too, was populated by familiarity, be it new installments of anthologies (“American Crime Story,” “Genius”) or those with a larger pool of year-over-year TV talent (“Godless,” for example).
On the flip side, though, stars such as “The Good Place’s” Ted Danson and “Killing Eve’s” Sandra Oh managed to crack the lead actor in a comedy and lead actress in a drama categories, in great part because of their rich history with voters. Danson was previously nominated 10 times for “Cheers” in the same category (he won twice) and four other times for projects including the dramatic “Damages.” Oh was nominated five times prior, though in the supporting drama actress category, for her work on “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Megan Mullally, too, had the benefit of seven previous noms (two wins) for her role on “Will & Grace” during its first run in the late-1990s/early-aughts, which helped push her into the supporting comedy actress race. That race is dominated by long-running players on “Saturday Night Live” such as Leslie Jones and last year’s winner in the category, Kate McKinnon.
Oscar buzz around Laurie Metcalf for “Lady Bird” early this year certainly kept her in the awards conversation and allowed her to score a supporting comedy actress nom for “Roseanne,” despite the show’s cancellation and shunning from most of Hollywood after Roseanne Barr tweeted racist remarks. Metcalf was previously nominated four times in the 1990s for the role during its first run, winning three. She also scored four other noms in the years since “Roseanne” went off the air the first time.
With such a wealth of talent, some categories ballooned up to eight nominees for awards-round voting. That will inevitably toughen the decision come time to select those who will receive trophies.