What a difference a year can make when it comes to Emmy eligibility. In the 12 months since the window opened for series to compete at the 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards, quite a number of once heavy-hitters opted to sit on the bench, while multiple-time champ “Veep” returned for one final Emmy ceremony.
Out of last year’s seven drama series contenders, only two are eligible to be back on the ballot: HBO’s “Game of Thrones” will compete for the final time, as the fantasy epic launched its last season in mid-April, approximately six weeks before the close of eligibility (May 31), and NBC’s family tearjerker “This Is Us” is also in contention for its third season.
While FX’s Soviet spy series “The Americans” took its final lap around the Television Academy voting pool last year, the other four series (HBO’s “Westworld,” Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale,” and Netflix’s “The Crown” and “Stranger Things”) are airing new seasons too late to be considered.
This means that not only is the drama series race thrown wide open — perhaps giving past Emmy favorites such as AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and Netflix’s “House of Cards” a chance to get back in after sitting 2018 out, or welcoming true newcomers such as FX’s “Pose” or Netflix’s “Bodyguard” — but so also are the various acting categories.
In fact, only one woman nominated in the lead drama actress category in 2018 is eligible again this year: “Killing Eve’s” Sandra Oh. “The Americans’ ” Keri Russell, “The Crown’s” Claire Foy and “Orphan Black’s” Tatiana Maslany all completed their runs last year: Both “The Americans” and “Orphan Black” aired their final seasons in the 2018 eligibility window, while “The Crown” will return, but jump forward in time so Olivia Colman will take on the role of Queen Elizabeth II. Elisabeth Moss (“The Handmaid’s Tale”) and Evan Rachel Wood (“Westworld”) have third seasons premiering outside the eligibility window.
The supporting drama actress category follows a similar pattern: only Lena Headey (“Game of Thrones”) is eligible again from last year’s ballot that also saw Alexis Bledel (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Millie Bobby Brown (“Stranger Things”), Ann Dowd (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), Vanessa Kirby (“The Crown”), Thandie Newton (“Westworld”) and Yvonne Strahovski (“The Handmaid’s Tale”).
Meanwhile, half of last year’s eligible male acting contenders are once again possibilities for this year’s ballot.
In the lead actor in a drama categories, last year “The Americans” star Matthew Rhys was nominated (and won), and “Westworld” stars Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright were also nominated. All three will sit out this year’s race (although Wright is up in the limited series/TV movie lead acting category for “O.G.”). The other three nominees last year (“Ozark’s” Jason Bateman and “This Is Us’” Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia) are eligible once again. On the supporting side, both “Game of Thrones” players Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage are eligible again, but Joseph Fiennes (“The Handmaid’s Tale”), David Harbour (“Stranger Things”), Mandy Patinkin (“Homeland”) and Matt Smith (“The Crown”) are not.
Overall, the absence of juggernaut series such as “The Crown,” “Stranger Things” and “Westworld” is bound to impact the ballot in a much larger way, as all three are period pieces that rack up a number of Creative Arts nominations as well.
“Westworld” was tied for the most Emmy noms its first year in the running (with 22; it earned four wins) and earned the second-most Emmy noms (trailing only “Game of Thrones”) last year with 18 (three wins). Last year alone “The Crown” received 11 noms (five wins) and “Stranger Things” saw 10 noms (one win).
Meanwhile, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” which cleaned up in its first year in the running with 13 nominations and eight wins and followed that up with a sophomore run that saw 18 nominations and three wins, has managed to sneak some late Season 2 episodes into this year’s voting period so it won’t be completely shut out. Since the show dropped episodes weekly, the final few aired just after the 70th annual Primetime Emmy eligibility window closed, back in June. Therefore, Hulu is submitting those episodes for some key awards, such as writing, directing, guest actor, guest actress, single-camera cinematography and production design.
Over in comedy, five of the eight series nominated last year are eligible again: HBO’s “Barry,” ABC’s “Black-ish,” Netflix’s “GLOW,” Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and Netflix’s “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” The latter dropped the second half of its final season this year, potentially seeing five noms for four seasons. FX’s “Atlanta” and HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Silicon Valley” all have return dates to be determined and therefore must sit out this year’s race.
But a key return on the comedy side is “Veep,” which took a year off so its star Julia Louis-Dreyfus could recover from breast cancer treatments before delivering its final season.
“Veep” is certainly the one to watch this year, as its return to an increasingly more competitive landscape, as well as a much darker real-world of politics, will prove if absence makes the heart grow fonder. The last time it was in the race, in 2017, it earned five wins out of 12 nominations, including comedy series and lead comedy actress for Louis-Dreyfus. “Veep” had a three-year streak for comedy series wins at the time, and Louis-Dreyfus had a record-making six consecutive wins streak, earning the trophy for every year she was eligible for the role.
The absence of series such as “Atlanta” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” also leaves openings in the male acting categories: Last year, lead actors Donald Glover and Larry David, respectively, earned spots on the ballot, which are now up for grabs. However, the lead actress in a comedy race is extremely tight, as all returning nominees (from “Better Things’ ” Pamela Adlon to last year’s winner “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s” Rachel Brosnahan) are still eligible and strong contenders, while there are many freshmen, including “Russian Doll’s” Natasha Lyonne and “Shrill’s” Aidy Bryant, looking to break in, too. And then there is Candice Bergen, who famously took herself out of the running during the original run of her CBS sitcom “Murphy Brown” after winning five times but is back in the race for the revival this year.
On the anthology limited series side, Ryan Murphy’s “American Crime Story,” which won for its first two installments, will not have an entry this year. Neither will National Geographic’s “Genius,” which was nominated for “Picasso” in 2018, nor “The Alienist,” nominated in 2018 and subsequently renewed with the same cast, which should resurface in the drama race when it delivers its next season. And “Big Little Lies,” which swept the limited series categories in 2017 with 16 nominations (eight wins) also won’t return until after the eligibility period ends — and will be pushed into drama when it does, too.
The Television Academy determined this year that the return of past season characters on this season’s instalments of FX’s “American Horror Story” and USA’s “The Sinner” makes them dramas instead of limited series. HBO’s anthology “True Detective” featured a new story, setting and characters and is therefore still in contention in the limited series race. So there is plenty of room to round out the five eventual nominees with truly new blood such as Netflix’s “When They See Us,” FX’s “Fosse/Verdon” or Showtime’s “Escape at Dannemora.”