That rumbling you heard from the Television Academy headquarters on Thursday morning came from the Emmys’ marquee category, Outstanding Drama Series. In what could be either a seismic shift or a temporary rumble, the category hit several landmarks:
• With “The Crown,” “Stranger Things” and “House of Cards,” Netflix has three of the seven nominees, the first time one network has scored a trifecta in the category since NBC did it with “The West Wing,” “ER” and “Law & Order” back in 2001.
• Hulu joined Netflix with a drama-series nomination “The Handmaid’s Tale,” giving streaming services a majority in the category for the first time.
• Five of the seven nominees (“The Crown,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Stranger Things,” “This Is Us” and “Westworld,”) are first-year shows. That’s the most ever in the category, breaking the 1962 record of four freshman shows came and ending a 55-year streak in which no more than two new shows landed nominations in that category in any year.
• And NBC’s “This Is Us” became the first show from a broadcast network to make it into the category in six years, ending a streak in which the networks that used to dominate the Emmys had watched HBO, AMC, FX and recently Netflix steal their thunder.
Together, those landmarks give the sense that television is changing in a way that the rest of the Emmy nominations perhaps do not. As usual, the Television Academy voters went for old friends and past nominees, most vividly when “Modern Family” hung onto the Outstanding Comedy Series slot that it now seems destined to hold until it goes off the air, its fading relevance be damned.
“House of Cards” was also back, as were its stars Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright and Michael Kelly; Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys landed nominations even though their show, “The Americans,” didn’t get a drama-series nod; old faves Allison Janney (“Mom”) and William H. Macy (“Shameless”) were back in the comedy categories; and of course so was “Veep” star Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who’ll now be favored to set a new record by winning for the same show six years in a row.
But the Emmys wouldn’t be the Emmys if its voters didn’t pick some of the same people year after year. That comes with the job of judging television, where good shows typically remain good.
(Was Louis-Dreyfus any less funny in 2017 just because she was already funny in 2012 through 2016? Of course not.)
The refreshing thing about this year’s nominations is that the Academy has taken the measure of a vast television landscape and recognized that its true heart now lies in the new shows that have hit the air in the last couple of years: “The Crown,” “Stranger Things,” “This Is Us,” “Atlanta,” “Baskets” …
Sure, it would have been nice if they’d added “Fleabag” or “Insecure” or “Brockmire” or “The Good Fight” to that list, and every viewer will have a different list of deserving candidates.
But to embrace the new the way voters did on Thursday shows that the Academy is coming to terms with the fact that the ground is shifting beneath their feet in the confusing, enormous world of television.
Of course, they also left room to make the 42nd season of “Saturday Night Live” the most nominated show of the year (tying with HBO’s “Westworld”). Chalk that one up not to a new show, but to a new president.
One more note: About 12 hours before Emmy nominations were announced, HBO held the Season 7 premiere of its reigning Emmy champ “Game of Thrones” at Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles. The show isn’t eligible for this year’s Emmys — and on the basis of one episode, it’s safe to say that all those new shows honored on Thursday are very lucky that the dragons are sitting this year out.