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. Leading up to the 72nd Emmy Awards, he'll be taking a hard look at the shows that were nominated (and those that were not) searching for insight into how Emmy voters are likely to cast their ballots ahead of this year's award ceremony.
This is not the way the Emmy Awards work. Not for shows in their 5th and 6th seasons. Since 1968, only three shows — The Lucy Show in '68, The Bob Newhart Show in '77, and Family Guy in 2009 — scored their first ever Outstanding Comedy Series nomination in their fifth season or later. Three in a span of 52 years. None of them went on to win the Emmy. And yet that's exactly what Schitt's Creek seems poised to do at this year's 72nd Annual Emmy Awards.
The Canadian series about a wealthy video store magnate (Eugene Levy) and retired soap opera actress (Catherine O'Hara) who lose all their money amid a scandal and have to move with their two adult children (Annie Murphy and series creator Dan Levy) to the one asset they have left: the tiny Canadian town of Schitt's Creek, began rather humbly, as a CBC series picked up by obscure American cable network Pop TV. As the show came into its own, it slowly gained word-of-mouth attention, and then — as has happened with non-streaming series like Breaking Bad, Parks and Recreation, and You — became a crossover hit when its episodes were added to Netflix in January 2017. It would still be another two and a half years, after the show had aired its fifth and penultimate season, that the Emmy Awards came around to Schitt's Creek. Last year saw the show that many had long championed as unheralded finally break through with four nominations, including Comedy Series, Lead Actor for Eugene Levy, and Lead Actress for Catherine O'Hara. None of those nominations led to wins, but a foot had been firmly planted in the doorway.
With its final season, Schitt's Creek went from a cult comedy to the show everybody was talking about. Word of mouth finally seemed to crest, riding the wave of the feel-good vibes and arch comedy of the show. By the time the series finale, "Happy Ending," aired during quarantine back in the spring, Schitt's Creek was a bright light for many in a dark time. So when the Emmy nominations approached, with major 2019 contenders Veep and Fleabag no longer an option, Schitt's Creek began to seem more and more like the zeitgeist's choice for Outstanding Comedy Series. And indeed, with 15 nominations, including nods for almost all of its principal cast members, no other comedy looks to have as much broad support from Emmy voters.
With that in mind, let's take a look at Schitt's Creek's nomination haul and break down where it stands the best chance of winning big:
It's hard to look at a nomination haul that robust and talk about snubs. But it's probably worth shouting out some of the supporting performers who were probably not destined for nominations anyway but for whom that door slammed shut once lead performers Dan Levy and Annie Murphy were placed in the supporting categories. So Emily Hampshire, Noah Reid, and Sarah Levy, you are recognized.
If Schitt's Creek wins Outstanding Comedy, which it's currently favored to do, it will be an essentially unprecedented achievement that runs counter to the way the Emmys tend to operate. The Emmys don't come around on shows in their fifth and sixth seasons. In fact, they usually do the opposite: hold onto their faves long past the point where they're delivering award-worthy TV. Part of the reason why this is possible is that we're at a bit of an ebb for new comedy series, or at least new comedy series that Emmy voters have latched onto. This is the first year since 2013 that no first-year comedy has been nominated in the top category.
The show's next best bet for a big win is Catherine O'Hara in Best Actress. It's her second nomination in a row, and last year's champ, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, is absent. O'Hara has been the spotlight cast member for the show's entire run, her delightfully out of touch Moira Rose being a peculiar comedic concoction that's unlike anything else on TV, right down to her speaking pattern. It's a character that draws upon O'Hara's long, career as a comedic actress, and if there's any kind of career-accomplishment aspect to anyone's vote, O'Hara should get it. That said, don't count out Rachel Brosnahan. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel star picked up this award two years ago, and with 20 nominations, her show doesn't seem to be any less of an Emmy fave in 2020.
It's interesting to ponder the Emmy cases for Dan Levy and Annie Murphy. As supporting nominees whose characters are arguably leads, they'd likely get a leg up on the competition when it comes to screen time. And if Emmy voters like Schitt's Creek as much as they seem to, it's pretty much impossible not to be in love with both of these performances. But the competition in both categories is intense. Not only from last year's winners (Marvelous Mrs. Maisel's Tony Shalhoub and Alex Borstein) but from Emmy faves like Sterling K. Brown (Maisel) and Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live); a two-time Oscar-winner (Ramy's Mahershala Ali); and last-chance nominees like D'Arcy Carden and William Jackson Harper (The Good Place).
The 72nd Emmy Awards are set to air September 20th on ABC.
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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.