The Television Academy’s willingness to nominate a number of newcomers has shaken up the majority of the key races.
Here, Variety breaks down the early odds in 14 categories at the 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
With last year’s winner (HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) no longer in the running, there was a big vacant spot in this category but, interestingly, it wasn’t the only slot to see a different title from the 2019 ballot. AMC’s “Better Call Saul” returned consecutively (with seven overall nominations), as did BBC America’s “Killing Eve” (with eight overall noms), Netflix’s “Ozark” and HBO’s “Succession” (both of which tied for the most noms for a dramatic series this year, with 18 each). After a year away (due to ineligibility), Netflix’s “The Crown” and “Stranger Things” both popped back on the ballot (with 13 and eight overall noms, respectively), as did Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (with 10 overall noms). The wild card in the race is Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian,” a freshman show that snagged 15 noms overall. That was a big surprise, but it may be the only one this category sees: Although “Succession” has been off the air for a year, its momentum just keeps building, putting it out at the front of this pack for the win right now.
Lead Drama Actor
“Pose” star Billy Porter picked up this trophy in 2019, returning to the Academy’s tradition of celebrating a newcomer in this race. If such is the case again this year, “Succession” star Jeremy Strong has the edge: This nom was his first major awards attention for his role as Kendall Roy, as well as his first-ever Emmy attention. But he faces stiff competition from other newcomers to this race, even if not Emmys in general: his co-star Brian Cox and “The Morning Show’s” Steve Carell, who snagged his first drama nom after being beloved in the comedy race for years. Rounding out the ballot are “Ozark’s” Jason Bateman with his third consecutive nomination and “This Is Us’s” Sterling K. Brown with his fourth consecutive nom, now the only series regular from the broadcast drama to be in the running.
Lead Drama Actress
This is one race that is too close to call so early in the competition. Jennifer Aniston, beloved by the Academy from her time on “Friends,” is hot off her SAG win with her first-ever dramatic Emmy nom for “The Morning Show,” while awards bait Olivia Colman slipped into another royal role (and one also beloved by Emmy voters) in “The Crown.” Both “Killing Eve” stars are back in the running again, with Sandra Oh seeing her third consecutive nom and Jodie Comer, the incumbent winner in the category, seeing her second consecutive one. “Ozark’s” Laura Linney is also seeing her second consecutive nom, while “Euphoria’s” Zendaya is a real fresh face: Her inaugural nom in this category is her first-ever Emmy accolade. That newcomer status didn’t hurt Comer last year, and if the goal is to continue to celebrate the next generation, Zendaya is the one to watch. But Aniston and Colman coming back to the small screen in such a big way can’t be counted out either.
Once again, Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” racked up the most overall nominations for a comedy series with 20; this also marks it as the most-nominated ongoing series of the year. While this ensures it will have great visibility during the voting window, in its third season it is not the immediate front-runner that it has been in years past. In part, this is because of voters’ willingness to overlook longer-term favorites for freshmen in the race: Netflix’s “Dead to Me” (four overall noms), HBO’s “Insecure” (eight overall noms), Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method” (three noms) and FX’s “What We Do in the Shadows” (eight overall noms). Also serving up some serious competition are the two series in the running for the final time: NBC’s “The Good Place” (six noms) and Pop’s “Schitt’s Creek (15 noms). HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (four noms) is also in the running. It is “Schitt’s Creek,” which voters came to late in the show’s run, that seems to be the one to beat this year: After overlooking its first four seasons, voters nominated it for four awards for its penultimate season, more than tripling that tally now.
Lead Comedy Actor
This category looks almost identical to last year’s list of nominees, but for newcomer Ramy Youssef (“Ramy”) subbing onto the ballot where incumbent winner Bill Hader (“Barry”) was. (Hader was
not eligible this year.) Given that he won the Golden Globe in January, Youssef has definite heat in the race. What might stop him from taking the trophy is the Academy’s penchant for celebrating legends. Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”) is nominated for the sixth consecutive time; Don Cheadle, Michael Douglas and Eugene Levy are nominated for the second consecutive time for “Black Monday,” “The Kominsky Method” and “Schitt’s Creek,” respectively; and Ted Danson has scored his third consecutive nom for “The Good Place” (but a career 18th nod). Danson and Levy are both nominated for the last time for their respective roles, making this race look like it will come down to the battle of the final seasons.
Lead Comedy Actress
Another tight race, this category is split in half when it comes to odds at the moment. Although Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini’s performances support and complement each other on “Dead to Me,” in the running for an award they are in danger of canceling each other out. “Black-ish’s” Tracee Ellis Ross has a bit of an uphill battle as well after being knocked off the ballot last year. On the other side of things are “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s” Rachel Brosnahan, a three-time consecutive nominee (including one win); “Insecure’s” Issa Rae, who is seeing her second acting nomination; and “Schitt’s Creek’s” Catherine O’Hara, who has nabbed a second consecutive nom. Momentum is undoubtedly with Brosnahan and O’Hara at the moment, but Rae is also nominated as the executive producer of her HBO comedy and the sketch series “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” which puts the three on a par with one another when it comes to visibility.
All the nominated series in 2020 focus on important cultural and societal issues, but judging from the sheer volume of overall awards noms alone (26, the most of any program this year), HBO’s “Watchmen” is poised to go all the way in this category. The visibility of the title in so many places on the ballot aids its chances, but so does its thoughtful and timeless discussion of race in America. FX on Hulu’s “Mrs. America” (10 overall noms) is equally important with its look at the movement for and against ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s and ‘80s, while Hulu’s “Little Fires Everywhere” (five noms) looks at the race, class and family divides in 1990s suburbia, and Netflix’s “Unbelievable” (four noms) examines sexual assault, both through the perspective of survivors and the cops that investigate their cases. Netflix’s “Unorthodox” (eight noms) is a bit more niche, focusing on the restrictions one Jewish woman feels in her ultra-Orthodox Satmer community in Brooklyn and the freedom she experiences upon escaping. For many, though, the more specific a story is, the more grounded and relatable it ends up feeling, which could see “Unorthodox” playing spoiler in September.
Netflix’s “Black Mirror” was moved to the drama series race for the first time this year after nabbing the trophy for a trio of unique installments for the past three consecutive years, but the streamer still dominated with four out of five nominees: Kerry Washington-starrer “American Son,” “Dolly Parton’s Heartstrings: These Old Bones,” the “Breaking Bad” followup “El Camino” and the interactive “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” follow-up “Kimmy vs. The Reverend.” The fifth entry is “Bad Education,” which HBO snatched up after it made the film festival rounds. Based on a real-life story of a beloved education official embezzling and featuring a heavy-hitting ensemble cast led by Hugh Jackman and Allison Janney, “Bad Education” is emerging as a fast front-runner in a race that has been infused with terrific new energy.
Lead Limited Series/TV Movie Actor
The majority of the nominees in this category shared the challenge of putting their stamp on a known name, be it a real-life individual who has made headlines, or a well-known character from a book. The exception is Jeremy Pope, a newcomer to the Emmy race, who took on the role of an up-and-coming screenwriter in an alternate version of 1940s Tinseltown in “Hollywood.” That may make him stand out from the pack in a good way, garnering a little extra notice from voters. But right now all eyes are on Mark Ruffalo, who, like last year’s winner Jharrel Jerome (“When They See Us”), went through an intense physical transformation to portray twins in “I Know This Much Is True.” “Watchmen’s” Jeremy Irons, “Bad Education’s” Hugh Jackman and “Normal People’s” Paul Mescal are also in the running. Mescal is the biggest wildcard in this race considering he, too, is a newcomer, while Jackman has a little extra heat on him because “Bad Education” is so top of mind in the TV movie race.
Lead Limited Series/TV Movie Actress
This may prove to be the hardest race for voters to decide. It is the first time Oscar winners Cate Blanchett and Octavia Spencer can be awarded for their small-screen work — Blanchett for portraying the polarizing Phyllis Schlafly in “Mrs. America,” which she executive produced, and Spencer for embodying the titular entrepreneur in “Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker,” which she also executive produced. It is also the first time Shira Haas, of “Unorthodox,” has been been celebrated in this category, let alone at the Emmys overall, and it sees the returns of awards favorites Regina King (“Watchmen”) and Kerry Washington (“Little Fires Everywhere”; she also executive produced) to the category for the first time since 2018 and 2016, respectively. King and Washington have the advantage right now, thanks to the combination of their track records with the Academy (King is a three-time Emmy winner, including in this category in 2018, and Washington is a four-time prior nominee), and their emotional performances in timely tales.
Variety Talk Series
If this category and therefore this graph looks the same as it did for the last couple of years, it is not a printing error: The Television Academy voters really did select the same exact shows again. The difference this year is the category is down a nominee overall, resulting in only five on the ballot. Given that pattern, it’s fair to assume the winner will be the same as well: HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” (nine noms), which has won the category for the past four years and is still churning out biting commentary on the state of news, politics and, now, the coronavirus. Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” (five noms), TBS’ “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” (two noms) and CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (three noms) all pivoted perfectly amid the need to remotely produce content during the pandemic and should not be counted out. Admittedly, ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live” (three noms) seems to be at the bottom of the pack: Despite Kimmel’s status as Emmy host, he has come under fire recently for performing in blackface.
Variety Sketch Series
With only three nominees in the category this year (HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” Comedy Central’s “Drunk History” and NBC’s “Saturday Night Live”) there is no reason voters won’t have ample time to familiarize themselves with what each unique one has to offer. “A Black Lady Sketch Show” (three overall noms) is the potential spoiler in the race, being that it broke in during its freshman season. “Drunk History” (three overall noms) has been nominated consecutively for the last five years but has yet to win, making it the long shot of the bunch. Juggernaut “SNL” (15 overall noms) is still the favorite, coming off three consecutive wins and a landmark 45th season that required a pivot to “at home” production, which breathed new life into the broadcast staple.
Just a few short years ago, it was VH1’s “RuPaul’s Drag Race” that provided the upset in this category, but now, after two consecutive wins, it is the one to beat and has scored 10 new nominations overall for the year. But if anyone can snatch the crown, it is likely Fox’s “The Masked Singer” (two overall noms), which scored its first-ever Emmy attention after being surprisingly snubbed last year. Both shows kept social media abuzz this season, although the former did so more for controversy surrounding contestants than the format itself, and are the front-runners in the race. Giving them a run for their money, though, are Netflix’s “Nailed It” (two noms), back for a sophomore nom after being the lone newcomer to crack last year’s ballot; Bravo’s “Top Chef” (four noms), which has been nominated consecutively since 2007; and NBC’s “The Voice” (six noms), a four-time winner that pivoted to at-home production to finish out its season, which did keep contestants, coaches and the audience on their toes.
With rumors swirling that RuPaul may retire, Academy voters will likely want to award him yet again. But it’s not that the “RuPaul’s Drag Race” host needs a leg up in the competition: He is the incumbent winner in this category, having won the past four years. In 2020 he faces his stiffest competition from the hosting teams of “Queer Eye” (Karamo Brown, Anton Porowski, Tan France, Bobby Berk and Jonathan Van Ness) and “Shark Tank” (Daymond John, Barbara Corcoran, Mark Cuban, Lori Greiner, Kevin O’Leary, and Robert Herjavec), both of which have been long-beloved but not-yet lauded. The return of “Top Chef’s” dynamic duo Padma Lakshmi and Tom Colicchio (who haven’t been on this ballot since 2009) and newcomer Nicole Byer of “Nailed It” are keeping things interesting, but the real wild card the “Making It” Duo (Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler) — only Poehler shows up on the Emmys website, which may confuse voters.