There was so much hope that after Zoom acceptance speeches and only pandemic pod parties, things would turn around for the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony. And they have — to a degree. Whereas last year only a handful of stars took part on stage in downtown Los Angeles, this time they’re planning a slightly larger event, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer.
It won’t be the thousands of people that usually gather at the Microsoft Theater, but it’s a start to returning to a communal celebration. (At press time, plans are still to host an outdoor gathering, though invites have been limited to four nominees per show.)
The shifting plans for the Sept. 19 live ceremony are not the only thing to keep an eye on as time ticks down to the close of Emmy voting. Here, Variety highlights some important ballot reminders just ahead of the filing deadline.
Limited Series Conundrum
It’s already been said many times over how competitive the limited series race is this season. But there are also complications in the limited series writing and directing categories because some shows come from one visionary while others are treated as more traditionally episodic television, rotating episodes among staff writers and hiring multiple helmers per season. This year, this led to HBO’s “I May Destroy You” taking two directing ballot spots (one for Sam Miller alone and one for Miller with creator Michaela Coel). In the writing category, Disney Plus’ “WandaVision” nabbed three ballot spots for episodes ranging from the premiere (“Filmed Before a Live Studio Audience”), to the Halloween episode in the middle of the season (“All-New Halloween Spooktacular!”), to the penultimate installment (“Previously On”). It’s a tough enough task to compare period pieces (“The Underground Railroad,” “The Queen’s Gambit”) to a whodunnit (“Mare of Easttown”) to a superhero series (“WandaVision”), but asking voters to evaluate one episode against an entire series feels extra daunting.
Sticky Supporting Situation
As has become common in the past few years, the supporting actor and actress race ballots are full of competing co-stars. This year’s supporting comedy actor race features eight nominees who represent a quartet of shows: Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso” takes up four spots (Brett Goldstein, Brendan Hunt, Nick Mohammed and Jeremy Swift), while NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” nabbed a pair (Kenan Thompson, Bowen Yang). The other two spots went to Carl Clemons-Hopkins (“Hacks”) and Paul Reiser (“The Kominsky Method”). A similar pattern follows for the supporting comedy actress race, although there are only seven nominees: three from “SNL” (Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong), two from “Ted Lasso” (Juno Temple, Hannah Waddingham) and then Hannah Einbinder from “Hacks” and Rosie Perez from “The Flight Attendant.” The drama side of the ballot for both supporting actor and actress are dominated by performers from Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” — three for the men (O-T Fagbenle, Max Minghella and Bradley Whitford) and four for the women (Madeline Brewer, Ann Dowd, Yvonne Strahovski, Samira Wiley). “The Crown” also takes a trio of spots on the supporting drama actress ballot (Gillian Anderson, Helena Bonham Carter, Emerald Fennell), leaving Aunjanue Ellis from “Lovecraft Country” to hang out on her own in the eighth spot. And in the limited series/TV movie race, Disney Plus’ “Hamilton” snatched three spots for the guys (Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Groff, Anthony Ramos) and two for the women (Renée Elise Goldsberry, Phillipa Soo). While it’s easy enough to vote down the line on a series during nominations-round balloting, it is tougher to choose just one winner when so many spots are shared by these talented scene partners. If last year is any indication, more often than not, co-stars will split votes, which effectively cancels them out and could allow a single representative from another show to rise to the top. Five out of the six supporting races in 2020 saw this happen, with Yahya Abdul-Mateen II from “Watchmen” the lone performer to best a co-star. This year that seems most likely to happen in supporting drama actor, where five of the nominees are single representatives from their shows: Giancarlo Esposito (“The Mandalorian”), John Lithgow (“Perry Mason”), Tobias Menzies (“The Crown”), Chris Sullivan (“This Is Us”) and Michael K. Williams (“Lovecraft Country”).
Anthony Bourdain died in June 2018 and just a few weeks later was celebrated with two posthumous Emmy nominations. He went onto win both that September and then scored another two posthumous noms (and wins) the following year. All were for his nonfiction series “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” which had ample episodes finished prior to his passing. This year, the late Jessica Walter may follow in his footsteps. The previous Emmy winner (for 1975’s “Amy Prentiss”) died at age 80 in March and received a posthumous Emmy nom in the character voiceover performance category for her role of Malory Archer on FXX’s animated comedy “Archer.” She, too, has another season of that series completed (it premieres Aug. 25) and therefore could find herself back on the ballot next year, regardless of how things shake out for the statue in September.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Short-lived original content app Quibi shut down in December, but its spirit still lives on, thanks to a slew of Emmy nominations. (Technically it shares them with Roku, which picked up Quibi’s content.) Most notably, the continuation of “Reno 911!” nabbed a short form comedy, drama or variety series nom, while the short form performer categories are dominated by Quibi players. “Reno 911’s” Kerri Kenney, “Mapleworth Murders’” Paula Pell and “Die Hart’s” Nathalie Emmanuel are all nominated in short form comedy or drama actress, taking three of the four spots overall. (The fourth went to Keke Palmer for Facebook Watch’s “Keke Palmer’s Turnt Up with the Taylors.”) On the men’s side, four out of five spots went to Quibi series performers: Kevin Hart and John Travolta from “Die Hart” and John Lutz and JB Smoove from “Mapleworth Murders.” (The final spot in that category went to Brendan Scannell for Netflix’s “Bonding.”) While Quibi didn’t draw enough subscribers to keep going for more than six months, it clearly was onto something with its content, spicing up a long-dormant series of short-form races.
Don’t Adjust Your Ballots
If you are confused by seeing Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian” on two cinematography ballots (single-camera half-hour and single camera hour), you are likely not alone. But it was not a mistake. Since episode lengths of that streaming “Star Wars” universe-set drama vary, the show was submitted into both — and the show successfully made it onto both. “Chapter 13: The Jedi,” with director of photography Baz Idoine scored the single-camera hour nom, while “Chapter 15: The Believer” and Matt Jensen is up in the single-camera half-hour race. It’s a rare instance of colleagues from the same show not competing against each other and splitting votes, but it also may be something the Television Academy has to create firmer rules on in the future.
What a Difference a Year Will Make
This year should be the last time documentaries that go the film awards route are allowed to enter into the Emmy race as well. Had that decision been made earlier than June, many of the nominated documentaries would not have made it onto the ballot at all. This includes documentary/nonfiction nominees “Boys State” from Apple TV Plus and “The Social Dilemma” from Netflix, and all three nominees in the exceptional merit docu category: “76 Days” from Pluto TV, “Dick Johnson Is Dead” from Netflix and “Welcome to Chechnya” from HBO. It seems unwise to wonder what could have been, but those Television Academy members who want the documentaries that they award to be ones that fully embrace this medium may play by next year’s rules when marking the 2021 final ballot