Why This Matters: The Emmys have become the best means for networks and streaming services to brand themselves as quality.
The 71st annual Emmys are — in a way — a celebration of endings.
HBO’s supernova, Game of Thrones, ended its run this year and while the ending proved controversial, the fantasy epic hauled in a record-setting 32 nominations, making its win for outstanding drama series nearly a lock. Game of Thrones already has taken the drama win three times, and overall it’s been nominated 161 times with 47 wins.
Also ending is another supernova of sorts: HBO’s Veep concluded this year as well, and it has been nominated every year that it’s been on the air. Veep has been named outstanding comedy series three times, and star Julia Louis-Dreyfus has won the Emmy for outstanding comedy actress every season, or six times so far. Louis-Dreyfus is now positioned to be the actor who has won the most Emmys ever. If she wins this year — and that’s considered likely — she will hit nine, breaking a tie with Cloris Leachman.
Less nominated but also highly impactful to the TV business is the end of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, which was TV’s most-watched comedy for years and has earned billions of dollars for its producing studio, Warner Bros., over its long run as syndication’s highest-rated sitcom. Other big shows, such as Fox’s Empire and The CW’s Supernatural, are also headed into final-season runs.
Among all those endings, not a first, but a rare occurrence: TV’s biggest awards show is going hostless, Fox Entertainment CEO Charlie Collier said last week at the TCA Summer Press Tour. The last time the Emmys aired without a host was in 2003, when the show also aired on Fox. Before that, it went hostless in 1998 on NBC and in 1975 on CBS.
A Season of Endings
Part of what factored into that decision was the number of endings TV is facing this year, Collier said.
“It’s our job to assess how to elevate the program … and what’s interesting about this year is how many amazing shows we’re saying goodbye to: Game of Thrones, Empire, Veep, Big Bang Theory — this is new to me, I’ve never worked on the Emmys before,” he said. “You have to look at trade-offs: If you have a host and opening number, that’s 15 to 20 minutes you don’t have to salute the shows. Our production team has had to balance those trade-offs. I think it will give us more time to honor those shows.”
It also was not lost on Fox that the Academy Awards telecast fared just fine without a host. “The Oscars did very well,” Collier said, noting that the show’s ratings actually went up this year. “That was something we paid attention to. This is a unique year for some of America’s favorite shows and producers came to the conclusion that spending more time on those was the right thing to do.”
Host or no, this Emmys also comes before an ending of another sort. By Emmys time next year, The Walt Disney Co. will have launched Disney+, which will include movies and series from the likes of Marvel, Pixar and Star Wars, and has the potential to be its own sort of Death Star. WarnerMedia’s HBO Max also should be online by then with streaming services from Apple and Comcast/NBCUniversal not far behind. All of that is likely to change the business of television — already in the throes of high disruption — even further and more foundationally.
This year, though, the Emmys feels familiar. HBO once again led all comers with a record-setting 137 nominations after losing the lead to Netflix last year, with 112 nods for Netflix in 2018 compared to 108 for HBO, but the premium net tied the streaming service last year in wins with 23 each. HBO has a good shot this year to hit the trifecta with Game of Thrones, Veep and limited series Chernobyl all well-positioned to win. That said, Netflix, with 117 total nods this year, has strong contenders in all three categories, too.
HBO and Netflix far outstripped the competition, with NBC coming in third with 58 total nominations and Amazon Prime Video in fourth with 47.
‘Thrones’ Likely to Reign
Of the three series categories, Game of Thrones seems like the safest best to take home the win. After earning a record-setting 32 nominations, nothing even seems close in terms of production values and sheer scale. That said, the conclusion of Thrones created controversy in the fandom with 1.7 million people (and climbing) signing a petition asking HBO to redo the finale.
“There are very, very few downsides to having a hugely popular show,” HBO president of programming Casey Bloys said at TCA. “But one I can think of is when you try to end it, many people have big opinions on how it should end and how they should see the characters’ stories come to an end. I think [the petition] shows a lot of enthusiasm and passion for the show, but it wasn’t something that we seriously considered.”
Some awards-season observers believe the controversy just fanned the flames of the fandom.
“I think controversy is often key to a show’s legacy,” said Richard Licata, CEO of Licata & Co., a leading TV-awards consultant. “[Controversy] kept Thrones in the Emmy conversation, and once and for all solidified its status as a cultural television phenomenon. I think the provocativeness has and will help it make multiple trips to the podium. This is the last time the TV industry can validate Thrones and whether it wins or not, it is walking away with the most nominations in Emmy history.”
Also validating Thrones — or at least creators and executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss — is the fact that they made a $200 million overall deal with Netflix last week.
Beyond Thrones, also nominated in the outstanding drama category are BBC America’s Killing Eve; AMC’s Better Call Saul; HBO’s Succession, just back for season two; Netflix’s Bodyguard and Ozark; FX’s Pose and NBC’s This Is Us.
Other than Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones has not done well in the acting categories, although it always has multiple acting nominations. This year, four of the six supporting actress nominations come from the Thrones cast, including Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth), who submitted herself after HBO declined to do so. Also nominated in the category are Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) and Maisie Williams (Arya Stark).
The two remaining supporting actress slots are taken by strong contenders: Killing Eve’s Fiona Shaw and Ozark’s Julia Garner. WIth the Game of Thrones cast facing the possibility of canceling each other out, and considering the quality of both Shaw’s and Garner’s performances, it’s not a lock that one of the Thrones ladies will take home the win.
Emilia Clarke, who played Daenerys Targaryen, is the lone Thrones-er to be nominated as lead actress, along with both leads from Killing Eve, Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer. Oh won this category last year and odds are she’ll win again, with her chameleon co-star, Comer, close behind, although again two stars from the same series always risk splitting the vote.
Thrones’s men are no less dominant, with Dinklage grabbing his eighth nod as Tyrion “The Imp” Lannister. Considering his central role in the final season, he has to be considered the leader. Also nominated are Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as Jamie “Kingslayer” Lannister and Alfie Allen as Theon Greyjoy.
Better Call Saul has two in the supporting actor mix: Jonathan Banks as cleanup man Mike Ehrmantraut and Giancarlo Esposito as Gus Fring. Both broke out in Saul sequel Breaking Bad. House of Cards’s Michael Kelly and This Is Us’s Chris Sullivan also scored noms.
Kit Harington, who portrayed Jon Snow, central hero of Thrones, won a nomination in the lead actor category after he famously checked himself into rehab while the show’s final season was still airing. Also nominated in this category are Pose’s Billy Porter; Better Call Saul’s Bob Odenkirk, who has been nominated every season the show has been on the air; Ozark’s Jason Bateman; and This Is Us’s Milo Ventimiglia and past winner Sterling K. Brown.
Like Game of Thrones on the drama side, Veep has been a dominant force in comedy, although it has not been anywhere near the ratings monster that Thrones has been. This year, the political satire is up against last year’s winner, Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, setting up both the shows and their leading ladies — Louis-Dreyfus and Rachel Brosnahan — in what are being seen as head-to-head competitions.
That said, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag is on the upswing, coming off three wins — outstanding comedy series, program of the year and individual achievement in comedy — at the Television Critics Association (TCA) Awards on Saturday, Aug. 3.
With Louis-Dreyfus, Brosnahan and Waller-Bridge in the race, it barely seems like there’s room for anyone else, but also deserving are Russian Doll’s co-creator and star Natasha Lyonne, Schitt’s Creek’s Catherine O’Hara and Dead to Me’s Christina Applegate.
Supporting actress in a comedy feels more wide open, although Mrs. Maisel’s Alex Borstein has a good shot at repeating last year’s win. Her strongest competition is possibly Barry’s Sarah Goldberg, who gave an impressive rapid-fire monologue this season. Fleabag earned two supporting actress nods, one for this year’s best-actress Oscar winner, Olivia Colman, the other for Sian Clifford, who plays Fleabag’s neurotic sister. Saturday Night Live’s Kate McKinnon scored her seventh nomination, after having won twice, while GLOW’s Betty Gilpin grabbed her second nomination.
Overall, comedy is fully stuffed with HBO’s Barry; Netflix’s Russian Doll, which was named outstanding new program at this year’s TCA Awards; NBC’s The Good Place; and Pop TV’s dark horse, Schitt’s Creek, also nominated.
Barry’s best chances for Emmys are probably in the acting categories, with both star/creator Bill Hader and supporting actor Henry Winkler poised to repeat. Winkler has strong competition from within his own show, with Anthony Carrigan (Noho Hank) and Stephen Root (Monroe Fuches) nominated for supporting actor.
Also nominated are The Kominsky Method’s Alan Arkin, a two-time Oscar nominee; Mrs. Maisel’s Tony Shalhoub, an Emmy vet with three wins under his belt as the star of USA Network’s Monk; and Veep’s Tony Hale, who has won this category for this role twice before and was the series finale’s beating heart.
Hader is the man to beat among the lead comedy actors. His competition comes from Black Monday’s Don Cheadle; Black-ish’s Anthony Anderson; The Kominsky Method’s other Oscar winner, Michael Douglas, who won the Golden Globe in January for this role; Schitt’s Creek’s Eugene Levy; and The Good Place’s Ted Danson.
Crowded Field for Limited Series
Finally, the already competitive limited-series category got even more competitive toward the end of the eligibility period with the late entries of HBO’s Chernobyl and Netflix’s When They See Us. Both shows are considered highly worthy of the honor, but Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora, which has won every limited-series award this year, remains firmly in the conversation
Also nominated in this category are FX’s Fosse/Verdon — with Oscar nominee Michelle Williams fresh off her TCA win and a strong contender to be named outstanding lead actress in a limited series or TV movie — and HBO’s Sharp Objects.
With as many as 520 original scripted shows available for viewers to watch, according to FX’s most recent count, the Emmys have become instrumental in helping viewers find quality shows while helping networks brand themselves as premium watching experiences. That will likely be all the more true with the coming onslaught of subscription streaming services.
“I remember when people would say there was no [return on investment] on Emmys,” Licata said. “That has changed dramatically with the expansion of the global TV market because otherwise, you kind of disappear into the ether. After spending millions and millions of dollars on creating programming, why wouldn’t you just go a little bit further and create quality noise for your shows by winning an Emmy?”