Are ‘Veep’ and ‘Game of Thrones’ Vulnerable at the Emmys This Year? (Column)

Are “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” destined to win this year’s top Emmy prizes, or do competitors detect blood in the water? Both shows took a bit of a hit from critics and fans as their series came to an end — but it may not matter.

We’ll have a better idea in less than a month. After nearly half a year of big-budget FYC events, a final crop of DVD mailers, last-minute premieres landing just under the eligibility wire — and ads, ads and more ads — this year’s Emmy nomination voting finally got underway on June 10 (and ends June 24). 

That means we’re now nearly at the end of the Emmy season’s Phase One, when everything is eligible and even top contenders have to feel some pressure from new shows looking to take their place. 

Phase Two comes after nominations are announced on July 16, and that’s when the real prognosticating begins.

But almost everyone agrees that this feels like an odd year for the Emmys. “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” are not only two of the most awarded scripted series in recent Emmy history; they’re retiring in the same year. This makes it the last chance for the TV Academy to honor the two shows, and voters may feel compelled to give them one more series win as a bit of a “career achievement” honor. 

That could make for an anticlimactic Emmys. “Veep” has won 17 Emmys, including best comedy in 2015, ’16 and ’17, while star Julia Louis-Dreyfus leads all performers in terms of most all-time wins (eight, tied with Cloris Leachman). “Game of Thrones” has won 47 Emmys, including best drama in 2015, ’16 and ’18. TV Academy members clearly love both series.

But wait just a minute. As predictable as the Emmy Awards may have been in the past, a changing industry may also mean that the tide is turning in what Television Academy members select for the winners’ circle as well. 

For one thing, the age of Peak TV gives voters permission to spread their love around. And the Television Academy has expanded its membership ranks with an
eye to bringing in more voices — and, ideally, mixing things up.

Perhaps another concern for “Thrones” and “Veep”: Retiring series rarely win in their last year, partly because there’s often a reason why those shows are going away: They’re not in the zeitgeist like they were at their peak. 

Yet “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” aren’t like most series — and they both ended their runs very much top of mind, for very different reasons. “Thrones” had
the almost impossible task of finishing a complicated story in a short time while appeasing a very vocal fan base. If social media is any guide, fans’ reaction was mixed (to put it kindly).

“Veep” faced another kind of anticipation: With a real-life president of the United States now doing and saying things often more disturbing and offensive than anything that has come out of the mouths of Selina Meyer (Louis-Dreyfus) and her staff, viewers were waiting to see how the show’s return (after a break as the star recovered from cancer) would tackle modern politics. 

At Rotten Tomatoes, Season 8 of “Game of Thrones” was scored 53% Fresh by critics — a far cry from every other season, when reviewers pushed the accolades above 90% and the show was consistently Certified Fresh. (Audiences were even harsher this season, giving the show a 34% vote.) “Veep” performed much better — earning a 96% rating among critics — but earned so-so marks from audience members, whose approval level was at 77%.

That may be good news for other series in the hunt, such as AMC/BBC America’s “Killing Eve” or Amazon’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” “Mrs. Maisel” is the reigning champ in the outstanding comedy series category, but previous winner “Veep” returns to competition after not being eligible last year.

Ultimately, all this talk of tepid reactions or online fan backlash might not matter. As one PR rep recently told me, Emmy voters still gravitate to the biggest, flashiest things — and in an age of so much fragmentation, there are fewer shows that everyone has either seen or heard of. “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” are those shows. 

Add in nostalgia for the end of two of the TV Academy’s most lauded programs ever, and bet against them at your own peril.  

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