Emmy Nominations Analysis: A Deep-Dive Into What’s Working and What’s Not

Emmy Nominations Analysis: A Deep-Dive Into What’s Working and What’s Not

If a TV executive fell into a coma 15 years ago, woke up on Tuesday and was handed the list of Primetime Emmy nominations that had just been announced, that person would probably have a lot of questions about how much has changed. There are now roughly 500 shows on TV, but several of the acting categories are at least half-filled by performers from one show? There are now eight slots in both the drama series and comedy series categories, but only one was filled by a show from a broadcast network? And one of the most nominated shows of all is a non-English-language drama?

For that hypothetical TV exec, or anyone else, let’s break down how we got here and what it all means.

In 2017, the TV Academy stopped issuing nomination ballots with a fixed number of slots per category and instead began instructing members to nominate as many achievements in each category as “you have seen and feel are worthy of a nomination.” As I’ve written before, the unintended byproduct of this has been “group think.” In short, noms are still being spread amongst a small handful of “prestige shows” — those from popular networks/platforms that have strong word-of-mouth and substantial campaigns behind them — that all, or at least most, members are watching. If voters were still forced to identify a finite number of nominees, many would make a more deliberate effort to spread their votes amongst a larger number of shows.

This year, the biggest beneficiaries of this selection process were the drama Succession (HBO), the comedy Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) and the limited series The White Lotus (HBO) — all excellent shows, to be sure, but worthy of acting noms numbering 14 (including seven of 12 in the drama guest acting categories), 10 (including six of 16 in the comedy supporting acting categories) or eight (including eight of 14 in the limited/anthology/TV movie supporting acting categories), respectively? At a time when there is so much good TV out there, I’m not so sure.

Another matter of concern is the degree to which the TV Academy appears to be creatures of habit, to the extent that one wonders if voters even know which season of a show they’re voting for. No disrespect intended, but there is really no other explanation for the drama lead actress noms of Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh for the final season of Killing Eve (BBC America), which stands at 55 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, or Reese Witherspoon for the second season of The Morning Show (Apple TV+), which clocked in at 67 percent.

The problem with reflexive nominations of popular performers who have been nominated before is that it deprives others — often lesser known performers and/or performers from lesser known shows — of nominations that they truly deserved. For instance, the three aforementioned performers bounced, among others, Severance (Apple TV+) breakout Britt Lower, Mandy Moore for the final season of This Is Us (NBC) and Kelly Reilly for the fourth season of Yellowstone (Paramount+).

The voters’ snub of Yellowstone, one of the highest-rated shows on TV, extends far beyond Reilly; the show, which is one of the few loved by people on both coasts and in the “flyover” states, was completely shut out across the board, which is absurd. Its first three seasons collectively attracted a single nom, but that was before lockdown, when the industry and media caught up with and fell in love with the Western. It began to receive tons of coverage; Paramount+ aggressively promoted it; and its fourth season garnered top noms from both the PGA and SAG. But it was apparently too much to ask TV Academy members to give it a fair hearing. They have consistently demonstrated that if they are not on-board with a show from the start, they simply drop it and move on — unless those shows begin streaming their backlogs on Netflix, as did Breaking Bad and Schitt’s Creek.

Speaking of streamers, their infiltration of the Emmys is only increasing. Thanks largely to the TV Academy’s decision to count cabler HBO and its streaming sister HBO Max as a single entity, HBO/HBO Max led the field with 140 noms. But every other platform that landed 30 or more noms was a streamer that didn’t even have a series on the air a decade ago: Netflix (105, propelled by 14 for the first season of Squid Game, which becomes the first non-English-language show ever to earn a series nom — the vast majority have heretofore been entered only at the International Emmys), Hulu (58, including a comedy series nom for Only Murders in the Building, noms for two of that show’s three leads and both leads of the comedy The Great, and three of the five limited/anthology series nominees), Apple TV+ (51, led by Ted Lasso’s 20 and Severance’s 14), Disney+ (34, with Moon Knight accounting for eight) and Amazon Prime (30, carried, as usual, by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which had 12).

The streamers’ ascension has, not coincidentally, overlapped with the declining presence of the broadcast networks at the Emmys. As recently as 2011, every comedy series nominee hailed from a network. The same was true of drama series in 1998. Now, it seems like voters have the attention span for only one network show at a time. For a number of years that was CBS’ drama The Good Wife, then NBC’s drama This Is Us or ABC’s comedy Black-ish; and now it’s ABC’s rookie comedy Abbott Elementary, the sole network show nominated for best drama or best comedy this year. (Meanwhile, for their final seasons, This Is Us and Black-ish both fell off a cliff — This Is Us, for a season rated 100 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, was nominated only for original music and lyrics, and Black-ish, for which Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross were consistently nominated in past years, registered only costume and hairstyling noms.)

One can find endless omissions to mourn (Sarah Goldberg for HBO’s BarrySam Elliott and Isabel May for Paramount+’s 1883! Maude Apatow for HBO’s Euphoria! Sadie Sink for HBO’s Stranger Things! Selena Gomez for Only Murders in the Building!) and no shortage of inane decisions by the TV Academy to bitch about (like the idiocy of allocating slots for only two variety sketch series — predictably NBC’s Saturday Night Live and HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show — when highlighting, say, five, would hurt no one, and might help drive eyeballs to a few other worthy shows).

But let’s close by celebrating a few more good things. Rhea Seehorn, the beating heart of AMC’s Better Call Saul, has, at long last, been nominated for her work on that show. Five wonderful performers from Squid GameLee Jung-jae, Jung Ho-yeon, Park Hae-soo, Oh Young-soo and Lee You-mi — were singled out. NBC’s Late Night with Seth Meyers has finally cracked the variety talk category, even as its size has been contracted to just five slots (it was going to be just four until the late-night talkers revolted a few weeks ago). The great Nathan Lane, with his guest comedy actor nom for Only Murders in the Building, has moved into sole possession of the record for most guest acting noms (his costar and son on the show, James Caverly, deserved to be nominated alongside him). And former president Barack Obama is an Emmy nominee for his narration of Netflix’s Our Great National Parks, and will probably win (you may recall that former president Donald Trump wanted nothing more than an Emmy for The Apprentice, but never got one).