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Seven Categories You Should Care About at the Creative Arts Emmys

Why are the two most talked-about shows of 2020 facing off at the Schmemmys?
  • Brad Pitt, The Tiger King, Eddie Murphy and Anna Kendrick are among the nominees at this year's Creative Arts Emmys. (Photos: NBC, Netflix, Quibi)
    Brad Pitt, The Tiger King, Eddie Murphy and Anna Kendrick are among the nominees at this year's Creative Arts Emmys. (Photos: NBC, Netflix, Quibi)

    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, providing insight into how Emmy voters are likely to cast their ballots ahead of this year's award ceremony.

    While COVID-19 protocols are set to make this year's Primetime Emmy Awards look a lot different when they air Sunday September 20 on ABC, one thing that remains the same is that there are far more categories than can possibly be handled out in one night. Hence the Creative Arts Emmys, the ceremony with all of the awards not handed out on the main telecast. Kathy Griffin brilliantly dubbed them the "Schmemmys," and indeed they do have the reputation for being the less glitzy, less important awards, where winners in many of the craft categories like costume, makeup, and cinematography are announced, along with guest actors, animation, and even commercials.

    But with the landscape of television continually expands, the Creative Arts Emmys are home to categories that mean something to even the more casual TV fans. In fact, the 2020 Creative Arts Emmys are the place where two of the most widely-discussed shows of the 2020 pandemic era will compete. Below are seven categories that represent the spots where the most intrigue exists among the nominees.

    It should be noted also that this year's Creative Arts Emmys will take place across five nights, streaming on Emmys.com from Monday, September 14th through Thursday the 17th, followed by a live broadcast ceremony on Saturday, September 19, at 8:00 p.m. EDT on FXX. We've noted when each of the following categories will be presented.

    Outstanding Documentary/Nonfiction Series

    American Masters
    The Last Dance
    Tiger King

    Since the Emmys are far more weighted towards scripted drama and comedy awards (it's where all the actors are!), this category won't make the big show, but it's the one place on the ballot where two of the most talked about shows of 2020 are going head-to-head. At the start of quarantine last spring, with TV scrambling to find programming, two shows established themselves as must-watch, discussion-driving phenomena: The Last Dance, the ESPN/Netflix co-production following the final year in Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls dynasty, and Tiger King, the audacious too-weird-to-not-be-true story about rival big-cat sanctuaries and the bizarre and possibly murderous people who operated them. That both shows are at least in part Netflix productions might mean that campaigning between the two was split. Which could open the door to a couple of other doc series that garnered a lot of attention: Hulu's Hillary, which could capture the votes of wistful Democrats with Emmy ballots, and HBO's true-crime hit McMillions. HBO is very good at the Emmy game, and if there's a dark horse in this race, McMillions could be it.

    Presented: Saturday, September 19

    Outstanding Variety Sketch Series

    A Black Lady Sketch Show
    Drunk History
    Saturday Night Live

    SNL has won this award for the last three years — since the Trump election and the show's star-studded response to it led to the Emmys' grand SNL renaissance — and they're definitely the big dog in the yard here. Especially since the show's quarantine episodes could give the show a very How We Live Now hook. But it's up against two great shows, one in Drunk History, which recently announced its cancellation, so now would be a great time to honor it; and one in HBO's A Black Lady Sketch Show that was one of the most exciting new comedies of the season. It's a show that could use a boost, something an Emmy win can often provide. We'll see if voters can make that happen.

    Presented: Tuesday, September 15

    Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy

    Adam Driver, Saturday Night Live
    Luke Kirby, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
    Eddie Murphy, Saturday Night Live
    Dev Patel, Modern Love
    Brad Pitt, Saturday Night Live
    Fred Willard, Modern Family

    This is a category with quite a few angles to it, although with all due respect to recent Oscar nominees Adam Driver and Dev Patel, none of them involve these two incredibly talented young performers. Luke Kirby won this award last year for his performance as Lenny Bruce on Maisel, so consider him a strong option to repeat. Meanwhile, Eddie Murphy's return to SNL was a huge story, and honoring it with a win seems right.

    On the other end of the SNL spectrum, however, is Brad Pitt, who got a nomination for his deeply memorable cameo appearance as Dr. Anthony Fauci during the show's second quarantine episode. That Pitt was nominated for such a such a brief turn got a good bit of raised-eyebrow attention, but this is a guest-actor category, and Pitt was most definitely a guest. Whether those raised eyebrows will make Pitt a longshot to win is to be determined; just remember that he won an Oscar earlier this year, so goodwill for him in the community is strong.

    Finally, there's the sentimental pick. Fred Willard passed away in May of this year, four months after his final appearance on Modern Family. This is the second time Willard's been nominated for his role as Frank Dunphy on the show – 13 episodes across the show's 11 seasons — and it would be a fine tribute to the late actor and a lifetime worth of hilarious performances to give him one last award.

    Presented: Saturday, September 19

    Outstanding Character Voiceover

    Hank Azaria, The Simpsons
    Nancy Cartwright, The Simpsons
    Leslie Odom, Jr., Central Park
    Maya Rudolph, Big Mouth
    Wanda Sykes, Crank Yankers
    Taika Waititi, The Mandalorian

    This category boasts an interesting mix of old and new, plus at least one decently controversial option. Obviously, The Simpsons has been has been a giant in animation — and specifically in voice performances in animation — for decades, and they've got two of their most celebrated voice artists nominated here. It's curious that Azaria would be nominated so soon after all the controversy with voicing Apu and all, but apparently Emmy voters didn't hold that against him. Tony-winner and Hamilton alum Leslie Odom, Jr. was phenomenal on Central Park, but that show's under-the-radar status likely dooms his chances. Similarly, the general bewilderment that Crank Yankers is even still a show dooms Sykes' chances.

    The two most intriguing nominees are Rudolph and Waititi. Rudolph is nominated three times this year — twice in the Guest Actress category, for The Good Place and Saturday Night Live — and once here. If you've watched even a little bit of Big Mouth, you know what a powerhouse performance Rudolph continuously delivers; if that's not award-worthy voice acting, it's tough to imagine what is. But the case for Taika Waititi is strong. Not only is The Mandalorian the only one of the nominees in this category to also be nominated in Outstanding Drama (a more "prestigious" category, which could carry weight with voters), but Waititi is also an producer of What We Do in the Shadows, an Outstanding Comedy nominee. That kind of clout could carry him to a win.

    Presented: Thursday, September 17

    Outstanding Animated Program

    Big Mouth
    Bob's Burgers
    BoJack Horseman
    Rick and Morty
    The Simpsons

    You'd think The Simpsons would historically dominate this category, and in a way they have. Eleven victories certainly counts for something. But given that the show's been on for 31 seasons, that's a less dominant number than it initially seems, and they've only won once since 2008. Of course, that one year was last year, so maybe voters think they've hit a new stride. Rick and Morty and Bob's Burgers have both won in this category before, but it's the two Netflix shows that are the most interesting contenders. Is this the year Big Mouth gets rewarded for being one of the funniest, sharpest shows on TV? Or, more crucially, will BoJack Horseman win in their last year of eligibility?

    Presented: Saturday, September 19

    Outstanding Actress in a Short-Form Comedy or Drama Series

    Jasmine Cephas Jones, #FreeRayshawn
    Anna Kendrick, Dummy
    Kaitlin Olson, Flipped
    Rain Valdez, Razor Tongue
    Kerri Kenney-Silver, Reno 911!

    The short-form acting categories have been knocking around since 2016, mostly recognizing work on Adult Swim or on streaming platforms like YouTube, Vimeo, or Go90. This year, though, the reason to pay attention to the short-form categories is that they're jam-packed with Quibi nominees. Will the embattled provider of mini TV shows get some good news at last? Quibi has four of five nominees in both Actor and Actress in a Short-Form Series. The Actress category is the most interesting one, pitting Anna Kendrick and her Cody Heller-produced sex-doll show against It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia star Kaitlin Olson against Kerri Kenney-Silver looking to procure some long-overdue awards love for Reno 911!. I'd put my money on Kendrick, but it'll be intriguing however it shakes out.

    Presented: Thursday, September 17

    Outstanding Variety Special (Pre-Recorded)

    Dave Chappelle: The Kennedy Center Mark Twain Prize for American Humor
    Dave Chappelle: Sticks and Stones
    Hannah Gadsby: Douglas
    Jerry Seinfeld: 23 Hours to Kill
    John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch
    Tiffany Haddish: Black Mitzvah

    Five out of six of the nominees in this category are Netflix, in case you were wondering where all the juice in prestige stand-up comedy specials is. Chappelle won this category two years ago, but the fact that he's up against himself makes the likelihood he cancels out his own vote pretty high. Hannah Gadsby lost out for her groundbreaking special Nanette last year — as did Beyoncé's Homecoming — to a Carpool Karaoke special, but there's no James Corden to be found this year, and the Emmys have been known to give make-up awards, so don't count Gadsby out. Seinfeld is a legend, of course, and Haddish is an incredibly exciting young performer, but truth be told, the only acceptable outcome in this category is a triumph for John Mulaney and the Sack Lunch Bunch, if for no other reason (and there are plenty of good reasons) than to see what kind of socially distanced celebration we'll get out of Mulaney and his juvenile companions.

    Presented: Saturday, September 19

    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, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.

    TOPICS: 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards, Quibi, Big Mouth, A Black Lady Sketch Show, Hillary, John Mulaney & The Sack Lunch Bunch, The Last Dance, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, McMillions, Modern Family, Saturday Night Live, The Simpsons, Star Wars: The Mandalorian, Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness, Anna Kendrick, Brad Pitt, Dave Chappelle, Eddie Murphy, Luke Kirby, Taika Waititi