Sorry, Emmy Contenders – Fewer Actors Will Get Nominations This Year

Under the Television Academy’s current rules, fewer entries means fewer nominees — and this year’s pandemic-fueled drop is particularly pronounced in the performer categories

Illustration by Jane Go / statuette (c) Television Academy

The pandemic’s impact in halting TV productions and delaying airdates has kept many contenders from competing for Emmys this year, but it hasn’t kept the competition from being robust in all the major categories.

And in a different way, COVID has managed to make a number of big races even tougher. That’s because under current Emmy rules, fewer entries can mean fewer nominees — and in more than 40% of the acting categories, nine out of 21, this year’s field will have fewer nominees than last year.

That’s going to make things more difficult for lots of performers who might be on the bubble, from Jane Levy, Lena Waithe, Ralph Macchio, Kenan Thompson, Allison Janney and Maya Erskine in the lead comedy categories to guest contenders like Anya Taylor-Joy, Judi Dench, Morgan Freeman, Aziz Ansari, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Patrick Dempsey.

Because of rules that were established in 2020, the size of most Emmy categories is now determined by the number of submissions in the category. If a category has 20 to 80 entries, it gets five nominees; 81 to 160 mean six nominees; 161 to 240 mean seven nominees; and 241 or more mean the maximum eight nominees.

With fewer entries in most categories, more than two dozen of the Emmys 119 categories will have fewer nominees this year than they did last year, while only four will have more nominees. (Some “juried” and “area” categories determine the number of nominees differently, while Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Drama Series automatically get eight even though the scale would only give them five and six, respectively.)

The drop is most pronounced in the performer categories, particularly in comedy. Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, both of which had six nominees last year, will only have five this year; the two supporting comedy categories, meanwhile, will drop from eight to seven nominees.

All four of the Outstanding Guest Actor and Actress in a Comedy and Drama Series categories had six nominees in 2020, and all four will drop to five in 2021. And in one final performer category, Outstanding Host for a Reality or Competition Program, the number of nominees will also fall from six to five.

The only performer category that will get bigger is the one in which the role could be played from home, Outstanding Character Voice-Over Performance. It had six nominees last year and will go up to seven this year, courtesy of its 184 entries.

The shrinking categories will make things even more competitive up and down the ballot. For instance, the comedy guest nominees typically include a number of “Saturday Night Live” hosts or guests: Last year, Eddie Murphy, Adam Driver and Brad Pitt were nominated in the guest-actor category, and Maya Rudolph and Phoebe Waller-Bridge in guest actress — but that still left room for seven nominees from other shows. This year, “SNL” contenders include Dave Chappelle, Dan Levy, Chris Rock, Regé-Jean Page, Daniel Kaluuya, John Mulaney, Kristen Wiig, Rudolph and Taylor-Joy, enough to completely fill the actor category and grab the majority of the actress one.  

But that would push out Morgan Freeman (“The Kominsky Method”), Aziz Ansari (“Master of None”) and Anthony Head (“Ted Lasso”), and make things difficult for Andrea Anders (“Ted Lasso”), Judi Dench (“Staged”), Tina Fey (“Girls5eva”) and Issa Rae (“A Black Lady Sketch Show”), among many others.

And here’s another category that has really been squeezed: Outstanding Variety Sketch Series, which was originally slated to merge with Outstanding Variety Talk Series until protests got the Television Academy to reverse its decision, only has nine entries. Under Emmy rules, that means it gets two nominees except in the case of a tie.

If “SNL” gets the first of those slots, which is pretty much guaranteed, that leaves only one more spot for a show from this group: “The Amber Ruffin Show,” “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” “How to With John Wilson,” “Studio C,” “That Damn Michael Che,” “Tiffany Haddish Presents: They Ready,” “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” and “Ziwe.”

Good luck everybody, and welcome to an Emmy race in the face of a pandemic that makes everything more difficult.


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