The 2019 Emmy race for Outstanding Drama Series has somehow become the most and least predictable category of the year. It seems like there has never been as clear of a predestined win as the final season of Game of Thrones. In all likelihood nothing is beating the dragon juggernaut. At the same time the other six nominees are wide open and welcome to plenty of surprises.
Complicating the drama categories this year is the absence of just about every usual Emmy contender. The Americans ended on a high note last year. Stranger Things, The Handmaid’s Tale, The Crown, Westworld, and Homeland are all taking the year off. There are endless rumors and theories on twitter that the competing networks are trying to stay clear of an impending Game of Thrones sweep (some of those rumors are more plausible than others). In fact the only other past nominees eligible this year are This Is Us and Better Call Saul.
This is great news for a handful of new shows that probably would go unnoticed in a much more crowded field. On top of the new shows entering the conversation this year there is a surprising amount of dramas in their second and third seasons stating to gain traction as well as a limited series switching categories.
The question isn’t if Game of Thrones will be nominated or even if it will win. The only real question is just how many nominations and wins will it receive and will the finale be strong enough to beat the records it’s already set? Game of Thrones already holds plenty of titles: most wins in a single year for a drama (12), most cumulative wins for a drama Series (47), most wins for a single episode (6), and most cumulative nominations for a drama series (128). There’s a good chance the show will continue its winning streak and beat all of its own records.
The only record the fantasy epic surprisingly doesn’t claim is the most nominations by a show in a single year. That record is currently held by NYPD Blue with 27 nominations. The closest Game of Thrones has gotten was in both 2015 and 2016 earning 24 nominations. To beat the current record Game of Thrones will have to clean up with acting, writing, and directing nominations and get back into the cinematography category after being left out last year.
Better Call Saul and This Is Us are the only other returning nominees and in all likelihood will return. Both did well at the recent guild awards and are fresh off of well-received seasons. Interestingly enough the area that both of these dramas have struggled in recently is getting nominations for their ensemble players even after multiple SAG wins for This Is Us. With so many categories up in the air this might be the year we see both shows receive more nominations for their large ensembles. Will Rhea Seehorn and Giancarlo Esposito finally be singled out for Better Call Saul after years of praise from critics and fans? Is this the year that Susan Kelechi Watson is finally nominated for This Is Us? Will Mandy Moore and Justin Hartley be nominated after their surprising snubs last year?
House of Cards was the first Netflix show to break to be nominated at the Emmys, and over the years the political drama has earned 53 nominations including five for Outstanding Drama Series. Normally a show with that kind of record would be considered a near-lock in its final season, but now it’s going to be interesting to see how voters respond to the show in the #MeToo era. The sixth season was delayed due to rewrites after the sexual abuse allegations against Kevin Spacey. After being rewritten with Robin Wright as the sole lead the final season seemed to come and go without much attention. Critics felt it was a slight improvement from the previous season and Wright earned universal praise. Scores on Metacritic and Rotten Tomatoes complicates things a bit as both received harshly negative scores from audiences. Still, Emmy voters tend to stick with what they know, and in its final season House of Cards picked up a number of well-respected actors including Patricia Clarkson, Diane Lane, and Greg Kinnear.
Pose is by far the flashiest of the new dramas that takes audiences into a world that many had no idea existed. The Ryan Murphy production made history as the first show primarily starring trans and queer people of color. Voters may not be familiar with the underground world of 80s ball culture, and the core ensemble doesn’t feature any household names. However, once voters screen the pilot, they’ll be completely won over by what is likely Ryan Murphy’s most sincere project to date.
Homecoming was one of the most buzzed about new dramas last fall especially for being the first major series for Julia Roberts. On top of that, Homecoming stemmed from a popular podcast and was directed by Emmy-nominee Sam Esmail. On paper it should be a major Emmy contender, but after critics championed the show, it left the Golden Globes empty handed and was largely forgotten by guild voters. Maybe it premiered too late in the year to garner enough attention, or maybe voters were turned off by the slow first few episodes. Either way as voters finish the extremely bingeable 30 minute episodes they’re bound to put it back into contention.
Bodyguard became the most watched drama in UK history when the finale aired last September. That immense popularity made way for Richard Madden’s first Golden Globe. Its success in the UK can be tricky in determining its popularity over here in America. Emmy voters have a soft spot for cult BBC dramas like Sherlock and Luther but they’re also more American than other voting bodies and the show has had more a muted response over here. Beyond Madden’s Golden Globe win the show also won an ACE award for its editing but was left out by the major guild groups.
As the television landscape has expanded it’s become increasingly for white collar dramas to excite Emmy voters. That’s why it’s all the more surprising that Succession has excited industry voters in a major way. On top of a Golden Globe nomination for Kiernan Culkin the Shakespearean inspired drama was nominate for two WGA awards and even won a DGA award. It’s likely that Succession will continue to excite Emmy voters especially as HBO prepares to release the second season this summer.
TRYING TO BREAK IN
Mid-season shows have a notoriously difficult time breaking into the Emmy race which is what made the recent success of The Americans all the more exciting. This year there are multiple sophomore dramas with a good chance of breaking into the drama race.
Last year Killing Eve was able to capture the zeitgeist at almost the right moment. Debuting in April it went on to break ratings records and went on to earn Emmy nominations for Lead actress and writing. If it had premiered a little earlier in the year it might have even broken into the top drama category. The second season debuts in a few weeks and as long as the show continues to excite audiences it will likely earn that drama series nomination it just missed out on last year.
The second season of Ozark continuously showed up at various guild awards earlier this year proving that industry voters are still obsessed with family crime sagas. After five nominations last year (including two for Jason Bateman) Ozark has a good chance of breaking into the top drama category for the first time especially now that it’s the most high-profile Netflix drama in the conversation.
Recently, shows like Showtime’s Billions and CBS’s The Good Fight have been on the bubble of breaking into the Emmy race with no success. Both dramas have an immense amount of support from critics as well as a surprising following on Twitter. Still, both have been completely ignored by the HFPA and just about every guild group. Now that the drama races are more fluid both shows have a stronger opportunity of earning their first nominations.
Last year The Sinner was one of the most buzzed about limited series of the year and became the first major awards push of Jessica Biel’s career. In the second season USA restructured what was originally thought of as an anthology series around Bill Pullman’s detective character. Beyond a nomination for Biel the first season went largely unnoticed at the Emmys. If voters are sticking with The Sinner it might be able to earn more nominations, especially after Bill Pullman received SAG recognition.
In The Conversation
Game of Thrones
Better Call Saul
This Is Us
House of Cards
The Good Fight
Readers, what seven dramas do you think will be nominated this year at the 2019 Emmys? Are there any other shows you think should be a part of the conversation?