This year’s Emmy ballots were unveiled as voting began on Thursday, and right away they made one thing very clear: More actors will receive nominations this year than ever before.
For that, you can thank the Emmy rules in place since 2020, which set the number of nominees in a category according the number of eligible shows or performances in that category. And you can thank the boom in programming as pandemic-era restrictions loosened, which led to 27 Emmy categories growing in size this year and only 14 shrinking.
Emmy rules now dictate that 20 to 80 eligible contenders produce five nominees, 81 to 160 mean six, 161 to 240 mean seven and anything over 241 means eight. For categories with fewer than 20 contenders, another sliding scale determines whether they have two, three or four nominees.
While the increase in eligible programs and performances showed up across most of the 118 Emmy categories, it had a particularly strong effect in the performance categories, where the number of nominees has expanded in 11 of the 18 acting categories.
(For the record, we’re counting lead, supporting and guest performances in comedy series and drama series, lead and supporting performances in limited series and TV movies, and the two short-form acting categories; this tally does not include awards for hosting, narration or voiceover.)
Barring ties that could possibly increase the number even further, the Emmys are on track to have 116 acting nominees this year, four more than the previous high of 112 set in 2018 (and repeated in 2020).
Four of the acting categories – Supporting Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series and Supporting Actor and Actress in a Drama Series – are maxed out at eight nominees, because in each of those categories the number of contenders tops 241. Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series has 265 qualifying performances, Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series has 282, Supporting Actress in a Drama Series has 384 and Supporting Actor in a Drama Series has an astounding 434.
The huge number of acting nominees means that Emmy voters will have a formidable task just scrolling through the entire ballot: The PDF that contains performing nominees is 395 pages long, with an average of eight contenders per page.
The drama supporting-actor section alone takes up 55 pages and includes 136 different shows, most of them with multiple submissions: 13 different supporting actor contenders for “Stranger Things” alone (out of that show’s 22 acting submissions across all categories), 12 for “Yellowstone,” 11 for “Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty” and “Mayans M.C.,” nine for “Gossip Girl” …
The sheer number of entries from shows that have proven to be Emmy favorites – not just the 22 submissions by “Stranger Things,” but 17 overall acting submissions for “Ted Lasso,” 16 for “Succession,” 13 for “Atlanta” and “Barry,” 11 for “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” and 30 (!) for “Saturday Night Live” – are cause for concern. The overall field of contenders may be huge, but in recent years voters have been inclined to lavish their love on a few shows, which in a year like this could overlook a LOT of worthy candidates.
It may take most of the time between now and the June 27 deadline for voters to simply wade through the huge number of submissions; one can only hope they’ve already taken the time to watch more than just the usual suspects.
Other notable lessons from the Emmy ballots:
- Other acting categories that will have more nominees in 2022 than 2021: Outstanding Lead Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series will go from five nominees to six, and so will Lead Actor and Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie. (The limited-series actor category doesn’t actually have enough entries to trigger the move to six nominees, but another Television Academy rule says that if one of two paired actor/actress categories has more nominees, the other will move up to match.) Supporting Actor and Actress in a Limited Series will increase from six to seven nominees, and all four guest-acting categories will go from five to six.
- The four supporting categories top the list of the Emmy categories with the most contenders. Outstanding Directing for a Drama Series is in fifth place, with 237 eligible directors, followed by Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or TV Movie, Voiceover Performance, Writing for a Drama Series, Writing for a Comedy Series and, rounding out the Top 10, Single-Camera Picture Editing for a Drama Series.
- For the most part, the series categories – Outstanding Comedy Series, Outstanding Drama Series, Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series – have more entries this year than in 2021. But for several reasons, almost none of the categories will have more nominees this year. Comedy and drama series automatically get eight nominees regardless of the number of entries; limited series and TV movie have more qualifying shows this year, but not enough to move them up to the next tier. Only one program category, Outstanding Competition Program, will increase its number of nominees, from five to six, because it had 81 entries, exactly the number needed to bump it up.
- The variety-show categories, on the other hand, are a mess. Outstanding Variety Talk Series, which typically has enough entries to give it five nominees, only has 19 this year, which means it’ll lose one nominee. And Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, the category that has never been won by anything other than “Saturday Night Live,” only has eight entries, which will limit nominations to “SNL” and one other show. (It had nine entries last year, which also gave it two nominees.) The Television Academy briefly merged variety-sketch and variety-talk, but reversed course after an outcry over how talk shows shouldn’t have to compete with “SNL” – but the Emmy history of rule adjustments strongly suggests that the Academy should no longer preserve a separate category for a field with so few eligible programs.