EmmyWatch: Will HBO Rule Dramas Again in 2016?

Will HBO repeat at the 2016 Emmy Awards?

It hasn’t even been a month since HBO took home the Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series prizes at the 67th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. Feels like months ago, doesn’t it? Even so, the Emmy eligibility window for 2016 started back in early June and with the Fall TV season in full swing, maybe there are some new contenders that will fill in some departing or ineligible shows or perhaps sweep out the cobwebs. One can only hope. And, yes, it is a rather foolish exercise to try and predict these things roughly a year out. Call me crazy, but let’s take a look at where the Drama Series race stands.

For those with short term memory, here were the nominations for 2015 Outstanding Drama Series:

  • Better Call Saul
  • Downton Abbey
  • Game of Thrones *winner*
  • Homeland
  • House of Cards
  • Mad Men
  • Orange is the New Black

So, we know a few things for certain right now. First, Mad Men ended its run, of course, so it’s not eligible next years. That’s one vacant slot. We also know the reaction to Orange is the New Black was more muted than with previous seasons, but there’s no reason to believe it absolutely won’t receive another Drama Series nomination next year. Let’s call that one on the bubble. Finally, we know what isn’t going to take the place of Mad Men. HBO’s True Detective Season Two is the butt of a national joke, famously becoming an Andy Samberg punchline in last month’s Emmy telecast. Even if some revisionist thinking takes place over the new few months, I sincerely doubt any small amount of goodwill could turn around the damage in time to merit a slot in the top seven.

So what’s looking good for slots roughly one year from now?

Sight unseen, of course, there’s no reason to think that Game of Thrones or House of Cards won’t repeat. Coming off the big win and a year where it received not only a record number of nominations for the series but also a record number of wins for any series in Emmy history, GOT will almost certainly repeat in the top seven next year, barring any shockingly steep drop in quality. Similarly, House of Cards is headed into a fourth season that could see Frank and Claire Underwood (Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright) pitted against each other in a scandalous (and potentially repetitious of ABC’s Scandal) separation / divorce storyline. If Season Four is the series’s last, then it could further guarantee attention. Better Call Saul is a lesser known quantity. Based on the successful first season and on Vince Gilligan’s tremendous talents, I am personally very confident in an equally successful second season, provided Gilligan finds a consistent storyline for his sophomore season.

Downton Abbey will be there too because it’s ending its series run in 2016. Will the Television Academy feel sentimental about it’s final season and start throwing it awards? Of course, it depends on the quality, but early buzz out of the UK (where it is currently airing) seems good so far. That brings us to Homeland which, in its fifth season, appears to be continuing with its series renaissance initiated by Season Four. So, assuming it doesn’t drop any deuces by the end of its season, that’s likely five slots locked with Orange standing close by – six slots already identified… a depressing thought.

So what takes the Mad Men slot?

Showtime’s The Affair has broadened its perspective in Season Two, incorporating Maura Tierney’s and Joshua Jackson’s characters in the he said/she said narrative. Early reactions to the second season have been largely positive, which is good given the widespread critical disappointment in the resolution of Season One. You do have the sense that critics are really holding their breath, though, and the Television Academy obviously didn’t recognize the show last year. Aside from the much-buzzed performance of Maura Tierney, The Affair would be fighting an uphill battle to make it into the top seven. You just don’t come back from a total shut out like that easily.

Similarly, HBO’s own The Leftovers‘ second season seems to have sparked critical love for the series that Season One never saw (an 80 on Meteoritic over Season One’s 65), but how much of a chance does it stand when Season One was also ignored by the Television Academy? The second season seems to have rebooted the storyline, focusing this time on a town untouched by the rapture, so that helps entry into the series for those unfamiliar with it previously. Empire and Penny Dreadful saw some Emmy play this year (less than many anticipated), and their second seasons are equally assured and beloved when compared to their first. The Walking Dead also seems to be prepping a sixth season that, by early accounts, may be its best yet. And Netflix’s Bloodline and Daredevil have second seasons in the works, but it is not yet known if they will air in time for the 2016 Emmy eligibility window. The same goes for Starz’s cult hit Outlander.

My money, though, is on a new series to fit that sixth or seventh slot. And HBO is (shock) right up there with candidates to fill them. Of the new series we know, PBS’s Indian Summers wants to be Downton Abbey 2 (or at least was anticipated to be as much by viewers), but I can count on my right hand the number of people I know who have watched beyond the languidly paced first episode. ABC’s Quantico appears to be a huge hit, but, like the Shonda Rhimes series that inspired it, it’s likely relegated to ratings victories over awards attention. Fear the Walking Dead had the highest first season rating of any comparable series in recent memory, but almost no one LOVED the show. And, if The Walking Dead couldn’t crack it, then what makes anyone think its spawn series could? Lifetime made waves this summer with its hour-long dramedy UnReal, but yeah… no. Finally, the biggest series of the summer had to be USA’s Mr. Robot, but USA has yet to prove an Emmy player. Plus, it’s chances seem much stronger with lead actor Rami Malek who will undoubtedly receive critical attention for his pivotal role and hypnotic performance.

So that leads us to shows that are relatively site unseen. I’m assuming that Fox’s The X-Files reboot competes in the Limited Series category, but if for some reason it’s ruled to compete in the Drama Series then it will likely show up there. Netflix saw strong critical notices (but almost no Emmy love) for its graphic and suspenseful Marvel series Daredevil, and early buzz about its lesser known property Jessica Jones seems strong. But that property has almost no name recognition outside of the Marvel faithful, and its strongest play may be in lead actress Krysten Ritter’s gritty performance.

No, my money is on one (or both) of HBO’s newest high-profile drama series: the Martin Scorsese-produced Vinyl (to air in January 2016) or the futuristic Western Westworld (premiere date TBD in 2016). Both have substantial talent behind them. Both have tremendous, awards-friendly casts. Both are already buzzed about for either their trailers (Vinyl looks like Boogie Nights hooked up with GoodFellas) or for their on-set antics (Westworld‘s extras were signed up to almost literally have sex on set). If I had to choose, then I would most likely put my money behind Vinyl given its pedigree and proven Emmy love for the creators of Boardwalk Empire. But that’s site unseen. It could completely underwhelm, leaving room for a surprise or two in the final seven.

So, at this point, roughly a year out, the Outstanding Drama Series race looks something like this:

  • Better Call Saul
  • Downton Abbey
  • Game of Thrones
  • Homeland
  • House of Cards
  • Orange is the New Black
  • Vinyl

The upcoming Golden Globes, DGA, and SAG seasons will certainly provide some attention as to which series continue to be in awards bodies’ favor. Those won’t have the benefit of rewarding new 2016 shows, though, so neither Westworld or Vinyl will show up there. It’s also very possible that Westworld won’t even debut until Summer 2016 after Vinyl and Game of Thrones have run their seasons, assuming HBO keeps their prestige dramas to Sunday nights. If so, then that would obviously push its Emmy eligibility off until 2017.

What else have we missed? Sound off in the comments if you think another dramatic series I haven’t mentioned here warrants mention as a possibility, and keep reading as we move ever closer to the 2016 Emmy season.

These things tend to show up faster than we realize.

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