"It feels telling that Watchmen, which grapples with systemic racism in ways that somehow get more prescient as time goes on, was the most nominated program of the year, with 26 honors to its credit," says Jen Chaney. "While it’s always a little foolish to try to guess what motivates Emmy voters as they make their choices, it doesn’t seem like much of a stretch to suggest that recent upheavals in the real world may have had an influence. The nomination period, which ran from July 2 to July 13, took place during this country’s ongoing reckoning with racial injustice and inequity. While the Emmy Awards have been taken to task for not being more inclusive long before this year, voters may have felt more motivated than ever to do a better job on that score in the midst of nationwide protests sparked by the death of George Floyd." As Chaney notes, this year's Emmy representation wasn't all positive. Latinx shows were woefully missing. Yet this was a record year for Black acting nominations. For instance, says Chaney, "five of the eight nominees for Supporting Actor in a Comedy — Mahershala Ali (Ramy), Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Sterling K. Brown (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel), William Jackson Harper (The Good Place), and Kenan Thompson (Saturday Night Live) — are Black. To put that in historical perspective, in the three decades separating 1979, when Robert Guillaume was the first Black actor nominated in this category, and 2009, when Tracy Morgan was nominated for 30 Rock, only six Black men total were nominated in this category, including Guillaume and Morgan. (Only Guillaume has won.)" Chaney also thinks coronavirus impacted Emmy nominations. "Another extraordinary factor likely at play this year was the fact that nomination considerations were being made during a pandemic that shut down TV production, which seems likely to have had an impact on what was rewarded," says Chaney. "Yes, some people in Hollywood have still been working. Zoom-focused programming is being created. Writers’ rooms are up and running. Ideas are still being pitched and deals are still being made. But more than at any other point in recent history, the members of the Television Academy have been faced with (theoretically) more time to check out screeners. And there were certainly some pleasant surprises on Tuesday morning that suggested voters took at least some advantage of that time."
There's too much TV for this year's Emmy nominations to really get it right: "For the past couple of years, the Emmys have gotten a little bit closer to getting it right," says Justin Kirkland. "But even in a year full of welcomed surprises (What We Do in the Shadows! Zendaya! Major love for Schitt’s Creek!), there’s always work that needs to be done. In an industry that's continually reckoning with its failure at diversity and inclusion, it's refreshing to see the Academy highlight the incredible work of BIPOC performers in many categories this year. That Supporting Actor in a Comedy category is marvelously comprehensive. But somehow, other categories continue to celebrate the type of snooty prestige that makes awards shows like these feel antiquated. This year, the Emmys got more right than they have in a while. Seeing underdog series like Schitt’s Creek and The Good Place rise to the top is a satisfying treat. Even favorites like Succession and Watchmen feel fun to root for. That said, to get everything right is impossible, if for no other reason than there's simply too much television being watched by all this year. Even Quibi landed nominations, and statistically speaking, no one really watched Quibi. In a perfect world, this would mean the best-of-the-best would rise to the top for nominations. And even though there are some highlights, the Emmys still have some gaping holes for shows and performers they simply overlooked."
Emmy nominations were somewhat reflective of our quarantine lives: "People who still believe covid-19 is a dire threat haven’t strayed far from home and perhaps have already recognized that a fresh discovery on TV is an increasingly rarer commodity," says Hank Stuever. "Others tend to settle in with a show that is pretty good rather than really great. (Looking at you, Ozark, nominated again this year for outstanding drama series, which it isn’t, but let’s not fight when there is so much else in this year’s crop of nominees on which to agree.) And then there are those who got bored and started to go out to restaurants and bars, go on 'safe' mini-vacation trips, lured into unguarded social contact by misinformation or their own stubbornness. The rate of contagion then spiked. Don’t you wish they could just sit still and watch a little more TV? The Emmy’s 2019-2020 eligibility cycle, which ended May 31, sort of straddles the before-and-after aspect of our quarantined lives. The shows, of course, are all about the world that no longer exists, in which people gather, travel, dine, carouse, hug, kiss, sob, attend weddings or funerals and, sometimes quite messily, kill. Their lives are spattered in one another’s many fluids, and they hardly care. This can provoke many feelings at once: envy of their pre-pandemic freedom; an abstract worry that they’re not safely distanced from one another; and, most of all, gratitude to these characters — and the people who brought them to us — for the welcome reprieve from our reduced worlds."
Things looked more stirred than shaken with this year's nominees: "Netflix may have trounced HBO with 160 nominations to the premium cabler’s 107, but Watchmen led the year’s programs with 26 nominations, including Outstanding Limited Series," says Danette Chavez. "With Fleabag resting in peace, the path to victory is once again clear for The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, which scored 20 nominations and has had a great showing in years past. Last Week Tonight With John Oliver continues to dominate the Outstanding Variety Talk Series conversation, and the infatuation with Killing Eve, Ozark, and Stranger Things remains very much active. There were several heartening developments, including a nomination for variety sketch show newcomer A Black Lady Sketch Show, and genuine surprises, like Apple TV+ nabbing 18 nominations in its debut year (that’s six more than Quibi, which remains a thing.) But this year’s Emmy nominations mostly feature the usual suspects and ongoing omissions."
Baby Yoda was robbed!: The Mandalorian may have tied for fifth place with 15 nominations, but what about a nomination for Baby Yoda? "Baby Yoda was not nominated for an Emmy for his work in The Mandalorian," says Brady Langmann. "It was a performance so great that it incited a cultural panic, provided a just cause for the eating of that adorable little face, triggered obsessions that have still not wavered, and reached a picture-in-the-Merriam-Webster-dictionary echelon of cute that has left kittens and human babies and seals and that little mutt from Paw Patrol on the fringes of society for nearly a year now. The other nominees could never compare. And they know it. Has Nicholas Braun adorably peeked out from behind a corner? No. He’s too tall for that. What about Jason Bateman? Jason Bateman could not put some Star Wars joystick in his big adult mouth and munch on it so adorably that it powder-kegs a whole goddamn illicit Etsy market for merch with his face on it. There’s the biggest meanie of them all, Brian Cox, who would never, ever, know the meaning of cute, even if Werner Herzog hurled His divine Baby Yoda himself at his face."
Only a handful of shows on ad-supported networks scored five or more Emmy nominations: Killing Eve, Better Call Saul, This Is Us, Pose and Mrs. America were among the highly decorated shows from ad-supported networks. "The ad-supported shows have an obvious handicap at a time when viewers are inundated with programs and new platforms offering a wide menu of on-demand and blurb-free programs," says Cynthia Littleton. "There are content restrictions for Better Call Saul and This Is Us that the scribes behind HBO’s Succession, Netflix’s Ozark and other highly nommed premium shows don’t have to consider when plotting their fictional worlds. Even more than the tighter content guardrails, producers of ad-supported shows lament that visibility is a bigger problem. Scribes working in ad-supported cable have more leeway than ever with sponsors to push boundaries, which explains why so few broadcast TV dramas have grabbed noms over the past 16 years, since 2006 when Fox’s 24 bagged the top series prize."
Emmy voters aren't totally enamored with A-listers: "Is it notable for you that several A-listers were snubbed, or are we done expecting that movie stars 'slumming it' in TV will automatically rake in awards?" asks Inkoo Kang. "Star power still counts for something — Meryl Streep and Laura Dern were nominated for Big Little Lies’ beyond-disappointing second season, Cate Blanchett for Mrs. America, Olivia Colman and Helena Bonham Carter for The Crown, Toni Collette for Unbelievable and Mahershala Ali for Ramy. But the absence among the nominee ranks this morning for Russell Crowe for The Loudest Voice in the Room, Al Pacino for Hunters, Nicole Kidman for Big Little Lies and Reese Witherspoon for Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere, *and* The Morning Show is quite something." Daniel Fienberg adds: "I can rationalize a lot of the 'big star' snubbing. Like with Reese Witherspoon, she’s the executive producer on all three of those shows and she steered them knowing that she didn’t have the showiest part in any of them. So I think part of her is very, very pleased for Meryl and Laura, for Kerry Washington and for Jennifer Aniston. And with Russell Crowe, well, The Loudest Voice in the Room was mediocre and got entirely upstaged by Bombshell (which also wasn’t great), plus it aired sometime in the 1800s, by our time-vortex standards. But once Julia Roberts didn’t get a nomination last year for Homecoming — and Janelle Monae was ignored this year basically for replacing her — it was clear that Emmy voters aren’t as star-obsessed as we might have thought/feared. It’s a relief that it isn’t all A-list all the time, because in that world, Shira Haas doesn’t get a nomination and she surely deserved it (and really deserves to at least be in the conversation against Regina King and Cate Blanchett)."
Better Call Saul was especially snubbed: The Breaking Bad spinoff "had a decent morning with seven nods overall, including outstanding drama, plus one for its digital shorts where (Rhea) Seehorn’s Kim Wexler teaches legal ethics," says Alan Sepinwall. "But (Bob) Odenkirk, who has been nominated every previous year of the series, and who has never been better than he was throughout its fifth and best season, got bumped by, most likely, Steve Carell from Apple TV+’s The Morning Show. Carell is the bigger name (in part because, once upon a time, he edged out Odenkirk for the role of Michael Scott on The Office), and Apple, which pushed the middling Morning Show to eight nominations, has more marketing muscle than AMC. Seehorn is even less of a name than Odenkirk, but she’s been giving the best dramatic performance on television for years now, with no Emmy recognition, and the trend unfortunately continues here. But even nominations that should have been gimmes for Saul — Vince Gilligan for directing that stunning desert episode! Cinematography for that same episode, or the one with Jimmy’s reflection! — weren’t there."
Better Call Saul's Rhea Seehorn's repeated snubbing is unconscionable—and infuriating: "Better Call Saul has been showered with nominations since it debuted in 2015; this is the fifth consecutive eligible year that the show has been up for Outstanding Drama Series. (Deservedly so!)," says Miles Surrey. "And yet, despite the cast—Bob Odenkirk, Jonathan Banks, Giancarlo Esposito—consistently being recognized with their own nominations, Seehorn keeps getting left in the dust. Everyone is doing great work on this show, but as Kim Wexler, Seehorn has turned into Better Call Saul’s undisputed MVP. She is, quite simply, giving the best performance on television right now—for my money, only Jeremy Strong’s devastating, insular work on Succession deserves similar plaudits. Naturally, Seehorn was snubbed again—as was, shockingly, Odenkirk, despite doing his finest work on the series to date. Again, the Academy clearly has Better Call Saul on the brain; there’s no excuse to snub Seehorn in a Supporting Actress category that ballooned to eight nominees this year. It’s a travesty. If Seehorn is once again ignored after the sixth and final season of Better Call Saul, it will be the most embarrassing oversight by the Emmys this century. And my faith in the Emmys giving Seehorn justice is eroding quicker than Kim Wexler’s moral compass."
The Emmys played it safe this year: The 2020 nominees "represented more of the same—not a new feeling from an oft-frustrating contest, but a disappointing one nonetheless," says Alison Herman. "On the drama side, Game of Thrones was swapped out not for an audacious newcomer like Euphoria or even The Morning Show, but The Mandalorian, another hugely expensive genre exercise bankrolled by the most dominant force in entertainment. (Elsewhere in the category, 2019 nominees Bodyguard and Pose were swapped out for Stranger Things and The Handmaid’s Tale, no longer the upstarts they were back in 2017.) Nor did a post-Fleabag comedy field fare much better. FX’s sublimely silly What We Do in the Shadows was the most pleasant surprise, picking up a trio of well-deserved writing nods for its troubles. Netflix’s Dead to Me, while a solid exploration of grief, reads like category fraud; there are several genres, including thriller, I’d assign to it before 'comedy,' increasingly a catch-all term in Emmy-speak for 'sub-40-minute episodes.' Insecure’s inclusion is earned but long overdue, especially after Issa Rae’s nomination for Outstanding Actress in 2018. The rest are dependable ringers, from gimmes (The Good Place) to groaners (The Kominsky Method)."
All the streaming platforms were winners, while AMC, FX and Showtime were losers: Aside from HBO and Netflix's triumphant day, "this was the year of 'stuff people were watching while stuck at home,' which meant streaming had a very good year," says Emily VanDerWerff. "Hulu grabbed 26 nominations, compared to 20 in 2019 (and if you 'count' FX on Hulu’s nominations toward Hulu’s total — though they’re more properly FX nominations — that number goes even higher). What’s more, it saw strong support for shows like Ramy and The Great, which just missed the Comedy Series category but got major nominations in acting, writing, and directing. Prime Video fell substantially to 30 nominations from 47, but it didn’t have Fleabag this year, and Marvelous Mrs. Maisel got another 20 nominations for a season I had all but forgotten existed, so call it a wash. The real surprises were how well new streaming platforms performed. Apple TV+ grabbed 18 nominations, including eight for The Morning Show (though no Drama Series nomination). And Disney+ did one better than that with 19 nominations, including a groundbreaking Drama Series nomination for The Mandalorian. No streaming platform has ever cracked the Drama Series race in its first year eligible. (Netflix’s first year eligible was technically 2012, but it only really started ramping up its campaign once House of Cards debuted in 2013. So this is a technicality, but I’m inclined to give Disney+ the win.)" VanDerWerff adds of FX, AMC and Showtime's disappointing showings: "The ways in which these once-and-future Emmy powerhouses struggled a bit in 2020 nods toward how the TV landscape is changing. The broadcast networks had a soft year as well, but we’re not used to thinking of the broadcast networks as Emmy players anymore because cable so thoroughly supplanted them as the Emmy centerpiece. Now the same thing is happening to cable as streaming takes over. RIP to cable’s Emmy dominance, except ...(HBO)."
Forget drama series—limited series are now the best thing on TV: "With the exception of the occasional buzzy HBO or network-TV event, miniseries never used to be a huge draw," says Judy Berman. "But some combination of compact storytelling, binge-ready format and all-star casts that might not want to be tied down with a multi-season project has made them the most vital format of the peak TV era. This year’s Emmy nominees in the limited series category include some of the very best, most thematically ambitious shows of the past season: Cate Blanchett as Phyllis Schlafly in the second-wave feminist postmortem Mrs. America, the searing serial-rape procedural Unbelievable, the emotional escape-from-Hasidic-Brooklyn drama Unorthodox, Damon Lindelof and Regina King’s remix of the classic comic Watchmen. (I didn’t love the fifth nominee, Little Fires Everywhere, but as a Reese Witherspoon literary adaptation with a laudable social message and an A-list cast, it was pretty much a lock for the Big Little Lies slot.) Now, compare that to a drama-series slate glutted with expensive, low-substance genre shows like The Mandalorian and Stranger Things—a trend that looks to be Game of Thrones' true legacy—and the repetitive recent seasons of once-great programs like The Crown, Killing Eve and The Handmaid’s Tale. Ozark increasingly seems to be the 'golden age' antihero saga’s last stand—and the predominance of female-driven shows in the miniseries category further supports that conclusion."
The Morning Show's acting nominations were particularly egregious: "Someone has to say it: The Morning Show is confounding at best, infuriating at its worst," says Candice Frederick. "The series exploring the rampant toxic corporate structure is not nearly as smart as it thinks it is, even committing the cardinal sin of sacrificing its characters of color to advance the storylines of their white counterparts. Thus, the nods for lead actors Jennifer Aniston, Billy Crudup, Mark Duplass and Steve Carell should—like the rightfully absent nomination in an outstanding drama series—not exist. Save those slots for performances that deserve it."
Shows featuring non-Black minorities, especially about the immigrant experience, were overlooked: "Six words: Netflix breakthrough Never Have I Ever," says Lorraine Ali. "Mindy Kaling’s teen comedy about the trials of an Indian girl growing up in the San Fernando Valley was totally snubbed, and that’s a crime. It is, hands down, one of best comedies in the Emmy eligibility period, and it was passed over. Hulu’s Ramy, arguably one of the sharpest half-hour series on television, was also locked out of the comedy series category even though it had all the markings of a show primed to make the cut: Its creator won a comedy acting Golden Globe and the show itself won a Peabody. Adding to the slight, the snubs come in a year when the comedy series category was expanded to eight frontrunners! What gives? Still, Ramy did make history as the first Muslim American sitcom to earn an Emmy nomination — three, in fact, with co-creator/star Ramy Youssef for comedy actor and director and Mahershala Ali was nominated for his supporting role in the series."
Emmy nomination fun facts: Jovan Adepo and Louis Gossett Jr. will compete against each other for playing the same character on Watchmen.
Schitt's Creek's Annie Murphy on her first Emmy nomination: "It’s crazy," she says. "I can’t believe it. All of the cliches are ringing uncomfortably true. I can’t think of any other ways to describe it other than surreal and an honor. At this point, it’s so incredible just the fact that this is our last season and it’s not just the actors being recognized, it’s hair and makeup and the writers and directors and editors. All these people who are so talented and have been working so hard to succeed are being recognized, too." Murphy also shared that she choked on bacon while learning about her Emmy nomination.
Catherine O'Hara is thrilled her entire Schitt's Creek family was nominated: "It's the best," she says. "I'm sorry we can't get together with each other, it's so sad, but I'm thrilled. Especially because Eugene and I were lucky enough to be nominated last year, but now to have Daniel and Annie nominated too, that's just the Rose family, we're all nominated together. It's so lovely."
Damon Lindelof was touched by Watchmen's leading 26 nominations: "I expect nothing in this day and age, and I think that it's hard to put too much stock and invest in award shows," he says. "But at the same time, we all have to acknowledge that they mean something because it's our peers. I didn't really realize how much I cared until my heart started racing." Was there any nomination in particular that he felt particularly moved by? "Every single one is one that I am deeply appreciative of," he says. "You know, Lou Gossett Jr. getting nominated was really emotionally impactful just because I've worshiped him from afar as just a lover of cinema and storytelling since I was a kid. He bowled me over, and he did such incredible work. And then like Liza Richardson, who was our music supervisor, who worked on The Leftovers. I really feel like just the music supervision is an art form, and it was just great to see her sort of singled out and recognized for that."