With the release of the 2021 Emmy nominating ballots, Awards Daily breaks down how many nominees will be in each category, how the nominees are decided, and the biggest surprises on this year’s ballots.
Today marks the official start to the 2021 Emmy season with the first day of nomination voting. After a stressful year, the nearly 25,000 members of the Television Academy can now fill out their ballots for the best television shows of the year in 119 categories (down from last year’s 123).
The first day of Emmy voting is like Christmas morning for those that closely follow the Emmy race, mainly because it’s also the day that the buzzed about nominating ballots are publicly released. These ballots answer a lot of questions when it comes to the Emmys including official category placements, what specific episodes were submitted for writing and directing, and what shows made strategic or poor episode submissions. For the second year in a row, these ballots are especially telling because they also reveal how many nominees there will be in a given category.
The exciting factor of the yearly release of the nominating ballots is that they always come with a couple of shocks and surprises. Just last year everyone was scratching their head as to why two-time Emmy winner Julie Bowen wasn’t submitted for the final season of Modern Family and Twitter went into full chaos mode when it was revealed that indie darling Andrea Arnold was not submitted for the contentious sophomore season of Big Little Lies (a season that went on to be nominated for Outstanding Drama Series).
As expected, the pandemic severely decreased the number of submissions in just about every category. Because of this we are going to see far less nominees this year. All of the comedy acting categories each lost a nomination this year. In fact, all four guest categories will only have five nominees this year as opposed to last year’s six nominees. The only acting categories to see eight nominees will be the drama supporting races.
Submission Breakdown & The Number of Nominees
Last year the Television Academy implemented a new rule to determine the number of nominees in a given category. Under these new rules the number of nominees will be determined by a sliding scale depending on how many submissions there are. Because of COVID shutting down many productions throughout the year there were far less submissions in most categories and because of that less nominees. Last year we saw a wide range in the number of nominees with the lead acting limited series categories with five nominees each while the other lead acting races featured six nominees each and the supporting drama and comedy acting categories featured eight nominees each.
It’s also worth pointing out that the paired acting categories by (lead actor and actress in a comedy series, supporting actor and actress in a drama series) will always match in the number of nominees and will be decided on whichever category has more submissions. Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series are the only fixed categories, with the number of nominees set at eight each. Check out last year’s piece for a detailed layout of the new process.
1-19 submissions: A sliding scale between zero to 4 nominations
20-80 submissions: 5 nominations
81-160 submissions: 6 nominations
161-240 submissions: 7 nominations
> 240 submissions: 8 nominations
Based off of the nominating ballots this is how many nominees we will see in all of the major categories:
Outstanding Comedy Series – 8 Nominees (A Fixed Number) (69 submissions)
Outstanding Drama Series – 8 Nominees (A Fixed Number) (136 submissions)
Outstanding Limited Series – 5 Nominees (37 submissions)
Outstanding TV Movie – 5 Nominees (41 submissions)
Outstanding Variety Sketch Series – 1-4 Nominees (9 submissions)
Outstanding Variety Talk Series – 5 Nominees (20 submissions)
Lead Actor in a Drama Series – 6 Nominees (102 submissions)
Lead Actress in a Drama Series – 6 Nominees (100 submissions)
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series – 8 Nominees (311 submissions)
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series – 8 Nominees (288 submissions)
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series – 5 Nominees (56 submissions)
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series – 5 Nominees (53 submissions)
Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series – 7 Nominees (171 submissions)
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series – 7 Nominees (160 submissions)
Lead Actor in a Limited Series – 5 Nominees (52 submissions)
Lead Actress in a Limited Series –5 Nominees (53 submissions)
Supporting Actor in a Limited Series – 6 Nominees (140 submissions)
Supporting Actress in a Limited Series – 6 Nominees (116 submissions)
Guest Actor in a Comedy Series – 5 Nominees (72 submissions)
Guest Actress in a Comedy Series – 5 Nominees (63 submissions)
Guest Actor in a Drama Series – 5 Nominees (60 submissions)
Guest Actress in a Drama Series – 5 Nominees (65 submissions)
Directing for a Comedy Series – 6 Nominees (101 submissions)
Writing for a Comedy Series – 6 Nominees (104 submissions)
Directing for a Drama Series – 7 Nominees (205 submissions)
Writing for a Drama Series – 7 Nominees (187 submissions)
Directing for a Limited Series/TV Movie – 6 Nominees (87 submissions)
Writing for a Limited Series/TV Movie – 6 Nominees (82 submissions)
How Phase 1 Voting Works
So how are the Emmy nominees decided? Within the Television Academy there are 29 peer groups representing various professions within the entertainment industry from everyone including performers, directors, picture editors, and casting directors. What makes the Emmys distinct from other groups like the Oscars is a) their membership size (in recent years growing to nearly 25,000 members) and b) the fact that these are awards voted on by peers. That means directors are voting on directing. Cinematographers are voting on cinematography. Choreographers are voting on choreography. The exception to this is that casting directors also vote in the acting races. Of course, all members vote in the series races.
For the next ten days members of the various peer groups will be filling out their electronic ballots. For the Emmys voters can vote for as many contenders as they would like. Some vote for only a couple of their favorites while others mark off 20+ names on a given ballot.
With sometimes hundreds of submissions in a given category voters scroll through the ballot selecting their favorites along the way. Each ballot is randomized per voter to either display A-Z or Z-A to eliminate early alphabet bias.
Voters have from now through June 28th at 10pm PST to complete their ballots for the 2021 Emmy Awards. From there the accountants at Ernst & Young will tabulate the nominees in 119 categories. Once the results are determined the nominees will be announced on Tuesday, July 13th.