EmmyWatch: Who Leads the Race Coming Out of the Nominations?

It’s one week now after the Emmy nominations, and I’ve time to absorb the implications of what’s been nominated. The trouble with the Emmys is that, between nomination day and the close of voting (voting runs for a 2-week period from August 17 through August 28), there aren’t many significant indicators of how the winds are blowing within the Television Academy. Unlike the Oscars, where every awards-giving group possible seems to hold their awards ceremonies directly in the path of greatest influence, the Emmys just seem to happen in a bit of a bubble. You really have no idea what lies within the hearts and minds of Emmy voters, and all you can really look at is the work submitted by series and actors as representations of their best work over the course of the year to identify any significant patterns or milestones achieved that would potentially attract votes.

As someone who pays attention to the months leading up to the Emmys ceremony, it’s incredibly frustrating to try and predict. As someone who enjoys watching the Emmy ceremony, it makes for a much more exciting show when the end results aren’t so easily predictable. I mean, right now at this point in the Emmy cycle, who out there can guarantee that they know the winner of the Outstanding Drama Series Emmy? Last year, nearly everyone was predicting Breaking Bad for its well-received farewell season. But the year before, who would have guessed the same show would win the Drama Series award for the first half of its final season? This year, signs should point to Mad Men taking home a trophy for its final season. Common logic would tell you that. However, while the final episodes were much beloved, the first half of the season was widely seen as a bit of a letdown. People claimed Matt Weiner and crew were spinning their wheels in storytelling. Then, there’s the problem of the missing Direction nomination. How could Matt Weiner miss out on directing the most discussed episode of the series in years? Interestingly enough, the last time a dramatic series won the Drama Series Emmy without a directing nomination was back in 2011 when Mad Men won. Before that, you have to go all the way back to the late 90s when The Practice and Law & Order won to find series winning without directing nominations. But this isn’t the Oscars. It can happen.

But if it’s not Mad Men, then what will it be? The only nominated drama series with all the major nominations plus three acting nominations is Game of Thrones, but I’m extremely hesitant to proclaim that series the frontrunner given its fantasy roots (Lost is the only winner in decades that could be considered within the same genre) and its divisive season. Maybe not divisive enough to prevent a boatload of nominations (a series-leading 24 nominations) but perhaps too divisive to merit wins. After all, this was the season of Sansa’s rape and of burning children and of a saggy midsection. It may the big dog on the block, but I have difficulty seeing it in the winner’s circle. Given its broad Emmy support in major categories, House of Cards would have won last year had it not been for the Breaking Bad juggernaut. This year, it’s down slightly in nominations, and it missed out on both Writing and Directing bids. HomelandDownton AbbeyBetter Call Saul? And Orange Is the New Black seems to have fallen victim to the much-reported category placement. Right now, if you put a gun to my head, I would say it’s Mad Men‘s to lose despite the oddly absent direction nominee. But as I’ve said before, the Television Academy apparently thinks the show directs itself and isn’t afraid to reward the entire experience even if they omitted its direction.

Comedy Series nominees have broader chances at winning because more series hit the critical nominations than in their Drama Series counterparts. LouieSilicon ValleyTransparent, and Veep all received nominations for both Writing and Direction. Silicon Valley, frustratingly, received no acting nominations, so conventional logic would put that down a peg below the rest. The highest profile series out there right now is Amazon’s Transparent with multiple acting nominations, including a surprise nomination for Gaby Hoffman, so that would seemingly put it squarely out in front. And deservedly so. In a year where Caitlyn Jenner and the first transgender houseguest on the reality series Big Brother are all over the news, it seems fitting that a critically acclaimed series about a man coming out to his family as transgender would take the prize. It’s only drawback would be its placement on Amazon Prime, and I have a strong suspicion that members of the Television Academy aren’t going to be so eager to embrace alternate content delivery platforms. After all, it was a few decades before HBO finally started taking home major awards with Sopranos and Sex And The City. Still, Transparent has my vote right now, unless…

There is another way to look at the Comedy Series category. Even though it received no Writing or Direction nominations for the first time in its series run, Modern Family definitely sticks out among the rest of the crowd. I know. I know. Everyone groans when Modern Family wins another award. And with due cause. I like the show, but it’s time to move on. Still, if you look carefully at the nominations, then you’ll see a pattern emerge. Louie (dark Indie), Parks and Recreation (absurdist blending with open-faced emotion), Silicon Valley (techie), Transparent (dark – some say too dark – indie), Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (wildly absurdist), and Veep (political) all have very specific types of humor. Call them niche comedies, if you want. Modern Family is the only nominee in the batch of seven to broadly appeal to all members of the Television Academy. It could conceivably win again in what would be a record-breaking win besting Frasier‘s series streak by simply being nice enough to appeal to anybody. As Sasha with the Oscars, the most likely candidates for “best” anything are the ones you can sit your entire family in front of without offending anyone. Modern Family excels at that. I’m not predicting it to win right now, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it did.

So that leaves us roughly here in terms of most likely to win three weeks ahead of the voting window opening:

Outstanding Drama Series

  1. Mad Men
  2. Game of Thrones
  3. Better Call Saul
  4. House of Cards
  5. Homeland
  6. Downton Abbey
  7. Orange Is the New Black

Outstanding Comedy Series

  1. Transparent
  2. Modern Family
  3. Veep
  4. Silicon Valley
  5. Louie
  6. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
  7. Parks and Recreation

Stay tuned to Awards Daily TV and our Water Cooler podcast for continued discussion on the Emmy awards. Starting August 10, we will be publishing a series of “Making the Case” articles that explores each of the 14 major nominees across Outstanding Drama and Comedy Series and how each could conceivably win the big prize. As I’ve said before, without an obvious front-runner, the awards themselves become a lot more interesting.

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