With last year’s winners absent, the Emmy® directing races are up in the air for the first time in years. Who are this year’s frontrunners?
As with the Academy Awards, the directing races at the Emmys are a pretty strong indicator of which shows are real contenders to win the top awards of the night. Only once in the past ten years did a show win each of the top awards without a corresponding directing nomination (Mad Men in 2011 and The Office in 2006). Especially in the Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series race, the directing nominations will be particularly telling. Will Stranger Things pull off two nominations? Will voters love This Is Us enough to single out one episode out of the eight submissions? Or will The Americans finally make it in?
The directors branch has very particular tastes in terms of shows they single out in each genre. In both genres, they have a lot of respect for pilots. On the drama side, they love grand expensive-looking shows like Downton Abbey, Boardwalk Empire, and Game of Thrones. In terms of comedy, they have slowly fallen in love with auteur-driven comedies like Louie and Master of None. Because the directors’ names are on the ballots, name-recognition sometimes plays a huge factor from surprise nominees like Stephen Soderbergh or perennial nominees like Lesli Linka Glatter and Gail Mancuso.
2017 will be an interesting year because the repeat winners from the past two years will not be eligible for consideration, at least in the ways they have been in the past. Game of Thrones is on hiatus after winning the drama race for the past two years. Two-time Emmy winner Jill Soloway is not on the ballot for Transparent but instead her new Amazon comedy I Love Dick.
Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series
Two-time Emmy winner Jill Soloway may not be in the race for Transparent, but she could end up back in contention for directing her new Amazon show I Love Dick. The show hasn’t made as much of an impact in pop culture as Transparent, but if voters see Soloway on the ballot, they might bring her back just out of goodwill.
The comedy race has become increasingly predictable as voting directors continuously single out multiple episodes from Silicon Valley and Veep. It’s hard to tell whether voters will slowly move on from either comedy, but the directors branch tends to continuously nominate even as the rest of the Television Academy goes in different directions. Either way, big names like David Mandel and Mike Judge at the very least seem assured nominations.
Auteur-driven television is becoming the most celebrated type of comedy at the Emmys, and after a DGA nomination, it would be shocking if voters didn’t nominate Donald Glover for “B.A.N.,” one of the single best episodes of television in 2016. Aziz Ansari was nominated last year for the first season of Master of None making it likely that he’ll return for the episode “The Trip” unless they instead rally behind the buzzed about “Thanksgiving” episode. Louis CK is the king of auteur comedy, and even though Louie hasn’t returned, he is back on the ballot for directing an episode of Better Things.
More than any other branch, directors tend to make room on their ballots for network comedies. No other sitcom on TV is as popular as black-ish. Unfortunately, ABC submitted eight episodes for consideration, making it unlikely that any episode is singled out unless voters rally behind the buzzed about “Lemons.” Voters have awarded Gail Mancuso with the Emmy multiple times for directing Modern Family, and this year, she is back on the ballot raising the question of whether or not she can sneak back into the race.
Other than the major Emmy friendly shows, there are a couple of unlikely contenders that the directors branch has the opportunity to embrace. Voters haven’t nominated Girls in a few years, but they might choose to bring Lena Dunham back in the final year of the show. There are three episodes of Transparent to choose from, and one is directed by indie favorite Andrea Arnold. After becoming the talk of the industry for Moonlight, Barry Jenkins is on the ballot for directing an episode of Dear White People as well as Justin Simien who deserves recognition for transitioning his indie passion film into a Netflix series.
- Atlanta – “B.A.N.” (Donald Glover)
- Veep – “Groundbreaking” (David Mandel)
- Silicon Valley – “Server Error” (Mike Judge)
- Silicon Valley – “Intellectual Property” (Jamie Babbit)
- Veep – “Justice” (Dale Stern)
- Master of None – “The Trip” (Aziz Ansari)
- Veep – “Blurb” (Morgan Sackett)
- Better Things – “Sam (Pilot)” (Louis CK)
- Modern Family – “Do You Believe in Magic” (Gail Mancuso)
- Transparent – “If I Were a Bell” (Andrea Arnold)
Other Episodes in the Race: Girls (“All I Ever Wanted,” Lena Dunham) Dear White People (“Chapter V,” Barry Jenkins), Dear White People (“Episode I,” Justin Simien), I Love Dick (“A Short History of Weird Girls,” Jill Soloway).
Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series
With Game of Thrones on hiatus and DGA nominee American Crime Story not a drama series, past nominees are almost no help in terms of navigating this year’s wide open Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series race. An unusual amount of new shows are in contention as well as many Oscar nominated directors.
Earlier this year, DGA voters singled out the Duffer Brothers for directing the pilot of their show Stranger Things as well as Jonathan Nolan for directing the finale of Westworld. Both of these episodes are likely to make it into the Emmy race, and on top of that, both shows have other episodes in contention although in recent years voters have spread the wealth across multiple shows.
The Crown submitted the second episode “Hyde Park Corner” which features grand African landscapes as well as the heartbreaking sequence of Elisabeth finding out about her father’s passing. Knowing that voters love overwhelmingly grand and expensive dramas from Downton Abbey to Boardwalk Empire, Stephen Daldry is likely the frontrunner to win the directing award this year.
As mentioned before, one of the biggest mistakes any series can make is simply submitting too many episodes for consideration in the directing and writing categories. This has hurt shows like Better Call Saul and House of Cards before, and it seems like they haven’t learned from past mistakes. Better Call Saul submitted seven episodes for the directors to choose from. Without a standout episode, it will likely be left out again. This is Us is on track to be a major contender for Outstanding Drama Series, but after submitting a ridiculous eight episodes for directing consideration, NBC risks the chance of missing out on an easy nomination for the broadcast hit.
Shows like Homeland, Ray Donovan, and Mr. Robot seem to be losing steam this year compared to all of the new shows gaining traction, but the directors branch might keep them around. Amongst her peers, Lesli Linka Glatter is extremely popular and that could result in her being a sole nomination for Homeland in its sixth season. Last year Ray Donovan had a breakout moment at the Emmys most surprisingly with a directing nomination. Mr. Robot had a disappointing sophomore season, but after Sam Esmail took over directing duties for all ten episodes, the directors branch might choose to honor him for his singular vision.
Ava Duvernay (Queen Sugar), Tom McCarthy (13 Reasons Why), and Baz Luhrmann (The Get Down) are all Oscar nominees in a category that benefits from name recognition. None of these shows seem like obvious Emmy contenders, but now that voters can mark off as many contenders as they please, some might include peers whose careers they are envious of.
Overall, it will be interesting to see if the directors branch honors a show like The Handmaid’s Tale especially since most of their past nominations hint at an older male voting demographic. If it breaks into the race, it might be a hint at a much broader fan base opening up the possibility of the series being a dark horse drama contender.
- The Crown – “Hyde Park Corner” (Stephen Daldry)
- Westworld – “The Bicameral Mind” (Jonathan Dolan)
- Stranger Things – “Chapter One: The Vanishing of Will Byers” (The Duffer Brothers)
- Homeland – “America at First” (Lesli Linka Glatter)
- Stranger Things – “Chapter Three: Holly, Jolly” (Shawn Levy)
- Ray Donovan – “Rattus Rattus” (David Hollander)
- Mr. Robot – “eps2.0_unm$sk-pt1.tc+eps2.0_unm4sk-pt2.tc” (Sam Esmail)
- The Handmaid’s Tale – “Offred (Pilot)” (Reed Morano)
- Westworld – “Chestnut” (Richard J. Lewis)
- This Is Us – “Memphis” (John Requa, Glenn Ficarra)
Other Episodes in the Race: The Get Down (“Where There is Ruin, There is Hope for a Treasure,” Baz Luhrmann), Billions (“Golden Frog Time,” Karyn Kusama), This Is Us (“The Trip,” Uta Brieswitz), Westworld (“Trompe L’Oeil,” Frederick E.O. Toye).
Outstanding Directing of a Limited Series or TV Movie
2017 is gearing up to be a tight race between three major limited series (Feud: Bette and Joan, Big Little Lies, and The Night Of). The nominations for directing might be an indicator of which show has the upper hand. Steve Zaillian won the DGA award last winter for directing the first episode of The Night Of, and voters might even embrace a second episode directed by documentarian James Marsh. Big Little Lies is eligible as one massive submission and is helmed by Jean-Marc Vallée, almost guaranteeing a nomination.
The biggest question of the directing race this year will be what episodes of Feud and Fargo voters nominate after FX submitted four and five episodes respectively. Feud is likely the frontrunner in almost every category, and Ryan Murphy might actually win his first Emmy in the Outstanding Directing of a Limited Series or TV Movie race, although beyond that it’s hard to gauge what other episode might be singled out. The third and possibly final season of Fargo was surprisingly underwhelming, and voters might not know how to filter through the five submitted episodes besides the Noah Hemley directed episode “The Law of Vacant Places” if they even nominate the show at all.
Besides major contenders like Big Little Lies and The Night Of, HBO has an overwhelming amount of eligible programs for directors to pay attention to. Oscar winner Paolo Sorrentino is eligible for directing all ten episodes of The Young Pope. Voters always make room for at least one HBO film no matter the quality, and this year, voters have the option of honoring The Wizard of Lies and/or The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. Being directed by a Hollywood staple like Barry Levinson makes The Wizard of Lies the more likely option.
More than any other branch the directors seem to avoid a group mentality when it comes to limited series and TV movies. In the past couple of years, they have singled out multiple left field series for their direction from Houdini to The Missing. If any series fits that bill this year, it would be the heavily campaigned Genius, especially the pilot directed by Ron Howard.
- Feud: Bette and Joan – “And The Winner Is… (The Oscars of 1963)” (Ryan Murphy)
- The Night Of – “The Beach” (Steve Zaillian)
- Big Little Lies – (Jean-Marc Vallée)
- Fargo – “The Law of Vacant Places” (Noah Hawley)
- The Wizard of Lies – (Barry Levinson)
- Genius – “Einstein: Chapter One” (Ron Howard)
- The Night Of – “The Art of War” (James Marsh)
- Feud: Bette and Joan – “You Mean All This Time We Could Have Been Friends?” (Gwyneth Horder-Payton)
- The Young Pope – (Paolo Sorrentino)
- The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – (George C. Wolfe)
Other Episodes in the Race: Guerrilla (“Episode 101,” John Ridley), Black Mirror: Nosedive (Joe Wright), The Missing (Ben Chanan), Sherlock: The Lying Detective (Nick Hurran).