Can HBO Trade Victory Laps for Launching Pads at the Emmys?

The network has the rare opportunity to do what's never been done before.
  • While Game of Thrones is still favored to win Outstanding Drama Series, Succession has seen its odds increase dramatically since nomination day. (HBO)
    While Game of Thrones is still favored to win Outstanding Drama Series, Succession has seen its odds increase dramatically since nomination day. (HBO)

    Joe Reid isn't just Primetimer's managing editor. He's also an awards expert and one half of the popular podcast, This Had Oscar Buzz. So who better to break down each of the main Emmy categories in the run-up to the 71st Primetime Emmy Awards on September 22?

    When the nominees for this year's Primetime Emmy Awards were announced in July, the sheer number of nominations for Game of Thrones and Veep suggested that this year's Emmys could well be a victory lap for the two departing HBO series. Two months in, strong seasons for two sophmore HBO series (coupled with some surprising outcomes at last weekend's Creative Arts Emmy Awards) have things looking quite a bit different. As we've discussed before, Barry has a good shot at besting Veep for Outstanding Comedy. Even more astonishingly, there's a chance (albeit a smaller one) that Succession could actually beat Game of Thrones for Outstanding Drama.

    After weeks of breaking down the key races in this year's 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, we're finally down to the big kahuna. Who are the favorites? The underdogs? And can HBO pull off the hat-trick to end all hat-tricks? Read on...

    Outstanding Drama Series

    The Nominess:

    • Better Call Saul
    • Bodyguard
    • Game of Thrones
    • Killing Eve
    • Ozark
    • Pose
    • Succession
    • This Is Us

    Total Nominations:

    • Game of Thrones: 32, setting an all-time record in its final season.
    • Killing Eve: 9, including a pair of Best Actress nods.
    • Ozark: 9, including a directing nomination for Jason Bateman
    • Better Call Saul: 9, including three acting nods, though none for the great Rhea Seehorn.
    • This Is Us: 9, including four acting nods but none in writing/directing.
    • Pose: 6, including Billy Porter for Lead Actor.
    • Succession: 5, with zero acting nominations (which is insane).
    • Bodyguard: 2, with its second nod coming in the writing category.

    The Frontrunner: Game of Thrones. No explanation needed.

    The Likeliest Spoiler: Here's where things get interesting. All year, this category has been Game of Thrones' to lose. All the year's major dramatic contenders — The Crown, The Handmaid's Tale, Westworld, Stranger Things — moved out of season to avoid the steamroll. But given the mixed critical reaction to Thrones' final season, a sweep on Sunday could feel like a dispiriting default win. Which may have inspired voters to go another way.

    Here's an even more intriguing theory: What if HBO has been using its considerable influence and marketing prowess behind another of their shows in order to set that series up as the heir apparent and next-big-thing on the network? We've been wondering for months what comes next after Thrones and Veep are gone. Victory laps for both shows on Sunday are still quite likely, but suddenly, dark-horse candidates like Succession and Barry don't look quite so dark. While nomination totals for Succession were underwhelming, those were announced before the current second season began airing — a season that's seen Succession take a leap to, at the very least, media-darling status (we call this the Mad Men echelon). The ratings numbers may not be in the same ballpark as Thrones, but the buzz is there. An upset win at the Emmys could put a lot of eyeballs on HBO's excellent new drama. It's a theory espoused by at least one priminent TV critic, Vanity Fair's Joanna Robinson, who's covered both Thrones and Succession intensely:

    The case for Barry in this regard is even stronger, since its high nomination count already indicates that voters appreciate it.

    Historically the Emmy legacy hand-off has been a tough one to pull off. For one thing, networks rarely have the kind of control to pull the strings behind the scenes in this way. For another, networks with retiring Emmy faves rarely have heirs apparent lined up like this. Emmy voters tend to like what they like. And thus far, there's been zero indication that they've stopped liking Game of Thrones.

    The Feel-Good Long-Shot: In less Machiavellian news, Better Call Saul is the drama of choice for anyone who's ever thought Jimmy McGill could use a break for once in his life.

    Prediction: Who wouldn't want to bet on the sexy prospect of HBO pulling an industry coup and shocking the industry with a win for Succession and its four total nominations. The far safer prediction is a final win for Game of Thrones, with Emmy voters kicking the what-comes-next can down the road for one more year.

    The 71st Primetime Emmy Awards air at 8pm ET Sunday September 22nd on Fox.

    Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, The Herald Sun, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: 71st Primetime Emmy Awards, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Succession