From “Saturday Night Live” to the Duchess of Sussex to Pete Buttigieg to Fred Willard, here are some areas of interest as the Emmy nominations approach
After a strange television season that was upended by the coronavirus and devoid of official for-your-consideration events that used to dominate April and May, voting has finally taken place for the 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards.
Voting began on July 2 and ended on Monday evening, with the ballots now in the hands of the Television Academy’s accountants. With 123 categories and 23,000 voters, they have a lot of counting to do. So while they do that, we thought the time was right to peruse the Emmy ballots that were posted online and point out a few highlights.
1. Greedy people
It’s unlikely that anybody will beat Louis C.K.’s 2013 record of nine Emmy nominations in a single year, but plenty of people have the potential to score multiple noms this year. Among actors alone, for instance, Giancarlo Esposito was on the ballot twice in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series category, for “Better Call Saul” and “Godfather of Harlem,” and twice more in the guest category for “The Boys” and “The Mandalorian.”
Other actors on the ballot multiple times include Viola Davis (“How to Get Away With Murder,” “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” and “Troop Zero”), Allison Janney (“Mom,” “Bad Education,” “Troop Zero” and “The Kominsky Method”) and Laverne Cox (“Orange Is the New Black,” “A Black Lady Sketch Show,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “Dear White People”), among others.
But the likeliest people to land multiple nominations are ones who created their shows and are also involved in the writing and directing, including Issa Rae, who is eligible for starring in, writing and producing “Insecure,” and also producing “A Black Lady Sketch Show”; Pamela Adlon, who wrote, directed, produced and starred in “Better Things”; Ramy Youssef, eligible for writiting, producing, directing and starring in “Ramy”; Larry David, who stars in, writes and produces “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and was also eligible for playing Bernie Sanders on “Saturday Night Live”; and Kerry Washington, who was on the ballot for acting in “American Son” and “Little Fires Everywhere,” both of which she also executive produced, and for directing an episode of “Insecure.”
Reese Witherspoon, meanwhile, was eligible in the lead drama category for “The Morning Show” and “Big Little Lies,” and in the lead limited series/movie category for “Little Fires Everywhere” — and also eligible for program awards as an executive producer of all three.
Writer-director-producer Ryan Murphy might have had an ace in the hole, though, because he’s involved with so many different shows. He was in the running in separate categories as a director, writer and executive producer on the limited series “Hollywood,” the drama series “Pose” and the comedy series “The Politician,” and also for writing the “9-1-1: Lone Star” pilot. If he somehow manages a nomination in every one of those categories, which to be fair is extremely unlikely, he’ll break Louis C.K.’s record.
2. Posthumous noms
The TV Academy might well recognized quite a few artists who have passed away in the last year but were still on the ballot. Actor Fred Willard, who died on May 15, was in the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series category three times — for “Modern Family” (for which he’s been nominated in the past), “Space Force” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” And director Lynn Shelton, who unexpectedly passed away the day after Willard, was also on the ballot in three different categories, for directing episodes of the comedy series “Dickinson” and the limited series “Little Fires Everywhere,” as well as for the variety special “Marc Maron: End Times Fun.” She may well be the likeliest posthumous nominee, probably for “Little Fires Everywhere.”
In addition, the late actor Robert Forster was in the running for “El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie” and for the “Dynoman and the Volt” episode of “Amazing Stories.” And Brian Dennehy, who died in April, was eligible because of a guest role on “The Blacklist.”
3. Greedy shows
Some of the series on this year’s ballot tempted fate by breaking a cardinal rule: Don’t split the vote. That is to say, they entered multiple episodes in the directing and writing categories rather than picking the one or two episodes that best represented the show. Historically, Emmy-watchers have found that giving the voters more choice isn’t usually a good thing — you might have enough votes to gain a nomination if they were all directed at the same episode, but not if they were dispersed among, say, half a dozen different episodes.
(Of course, this isn’t always the fault of bad strategy on the part of the shows or their platforms or networks because submissions can be made by networks and producers or by individual contenders.)
In the drama directing category, “Better Call Saul” submitted eight different episodes out of the season’s total of 10 — only one of its Season 5 directors, Jim McKay, wasn’t represented. “Party of Five” submitted seven, “Good Trouble” and “Project Blue Book” entered six, “The Mandalorian” and “Pose” submitted five and “Bosch,” “Mayans M.C.,” “Orange Is the New Black” and “Vikings” submitted four. On the comedy side, the final season of “Modern Family” submitted six different episodes, “Insecure” and “The Politician” submitted five different episodes, while “Awkwafina Is Nora From Queens” and “#BlackAF” submitted four each.
Among limited series, Ryan Murphy’s “Hollywood” submitted episodes by all five of its directors, while “The Eddy,” “Mrs. America” and “Mrs. Fletcher” submitted episodes by all four of its directors, and “Watchmen” submitted four of its six directors for Emmy consideration.
In the series writing categories, the animated comedy “Bob’s Burgers” was the champion with 10 different episodes submitted, the same as last year. Another comedy, “South Side,” submitted eight, while the Showtime comedy “Shameless” and the dramas “Better Call Saul,” “Party of Five” and “68 Whiskey” submitted six each.
“Mrs. America” had the most writing submissions among limited series, with five, while “Mrs. Fletcher,” “Sacred Lies” and “Self Made” each submitted three episodes.
While conventional wisdom says that it’s best for a show to stick to one or two submissions so as not to split the vote, last year’s results don’t entirely bear that out. The shows that submitted the most entries in comedy directing last year — “The Kids Are All Right” with seven, “black-ish” with five and “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Insecure,” “Modern Family,” “SMILF” and “Superstore” with four — were all shut out, though none of them were favorites for a nomination. And among the shows that were nominated for directing, “Fleabag” was the only one that only submitted a single episode; “Barry” and “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” each submitted two episodes and were nominated for both of them, while “The Big Bang Theory” submitted two and was nominated for one.
And in drama directing, “Game of Thrones” was nominated for all three of its submissions, while “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Killing Eve” and “Ozark” submitted two and were nominated for one each. But “Better Call Saul,” which might have had a real shot at a nomination, submitted nine episodes and wasn’t nominated for any of them. The show did, however, receive a writing nomination after submitting seven different episodes, making it the only drama series to be nominated after entering more than a single episode. On the comedy side, “Russian Doll” was nominated for two of its three entries, while “The Good Place” got a nod for one of its two.
4. A touch of royalty
The Emmys might get a bit royal this year, depending on the nominations in the Outstanding Narrator category. That’s because one of the entries there, for the Disney+ nature movie “Elephant,” was none other than “Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex,” which is how the former Meghan Markle appeared on the Emmy ballot. Of course, she and her husband, Prince Harry, are taking a leave from their royal duties, so maybe she’s not much closer to royalty these days than, say, the cast of “The Crown.”
The duchess also faced some formidable competition from a slate of contenders that included past winners David Attenborough (who has won the last two years in a row) and Peter Coyote, as well as Angela Bassett, Sterling K. Brown, Jeff Daniels, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Neil Patrick Harris, Allison Janney, Ben Kingsley, Lesley Manville, Julianna Margulies, Michael McKean, Lupita Nyong’o, Rosamund Pike, Natalie Portman, Robert Redford, J.K. Simmons, Emma Stone, Lena Waithe, Sigourney Weaver and Michelle Yeoh.
Oh, and there were a couple of pretty distinguished sports stars in the mix, too: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the first name on the ballot for narrating “Black Patriots: Heroes of the Revolution,” while famously hotheaded tennis champion John McEnroe was there for his extremely funny job on the Netflix series “Never Have I Ever.”
5. A political party?
No doubt some votes were cast to send a message about our current political climate, with Alec Baldwin and Larry David on the ballot for their “Saturday Night Live” impersonations of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. But oddly enough, one of Bernie’s former foes was also in the running in the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series category, where former Democratic presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg was submitted for hosting “Jimmy Kimmel Live!”
Fortunately, he didn’t take over the show at a time when Kimmel would have felt compelled to extend the hosting offer to all the other Democratic candidates in the interests of equal time. Buttigieg dropped out of the race on March 1, and hosted an audience-free Kimmel show 11 days later.
6. He’ll get EGOT
Two songwriters could join the EGOT circle that step if they’re nominated. At the moment, five living people — all songwriters — have won Grammy, Oscar and Tony Awards but not Emmys, putting them an E short of the Emmy-Grammy-Oscar-Tony grand slam. Two of the five were on the Emmy ballot this year: Stephen Sondheim as an executive producer of the streamed variety special “Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration,” and Benj Pasek as one of the writers of two songs, “Next Year” and “Dayenu,” that appeared during a streaming variety benefit show called “Saturday Night Seder.”
Pasek’s usual songwriting partner, Justin Paul, did not work on the “Saturday Night Seder” songs, so he won’t be able to finish his own EGOT this year. Neither will Elton John and Alan Menken, who are an Emmy short but aren’t on the ballot.
7. She’s in charge
In recent years, the Emmys have raised eyebrows with the paucity of nominated female directors — which, two years ago, was a grand total of four women and 40 men. (Last year the number was more than doubled, to a grand total of nine — one of whom, Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi of “Free Solo,” even won.)
It’s possible that things could change this year, but the odds are against them because only about 28% of the directors whose work was eligible for Emmys are women: 248 women vs. 629 men. The ratio was best in the comedy-series category, where women made up more than a third of the submitted directors (67 women v. 121 men) and worst in the variety field, where they made up about 14%, with only 16 women and 95 men.
One female director notably missing from the ballot: British filmmaker Andrea Arnold, who directed the second season of “Big Little Lies” but then had her work recut by one of the show’s executive producers, Jean-Marc Vallee, who’d directed the first season.
8. Blurred lines
Could the lines between film and television get any murkier? With one theatrical movie after another losing its theater booking and premiering on streaming services or VOD, the line has indeed blurred this year — but even before the coronavirus changed people’s viewing habits and studio’s release strategies, the roster of directors who worked in TV was impressive.
On this year’s directing ballots, the names included Taika Waititi, David Fincher, Damien Chazelle, Paolo Sorrentino, M. Knight Shyamalan, Steven Frears, Spike Jonze, Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, Rodrigo Garcia, Nicholas Winding Refn, Lisa Cholodenko, Michel Gondry, John Carney, Andrew Stanton, Jodie Foster, Tyler Perry, Nicole Holofcener, Kasi Lemmons, Dee Rees, Andrew Dominik and Derek Cianfrance, among others.
In the acting races, meanwhile, more than 40 Academy Award-winning actors were on the ballot — and unlike some years, when they are concentrated in the limited-series and television-movie categories, this year’s crop of Oscar winners were spread evenly across the drama, comedy and limited-series and movie categories.
9. Nominated from New York, it’s “Saturday Night Live!”
“SNL” is the most-nominated show in Emmy history, and in recent years it has been a juggernaut when it comes to acting nominations in the supporting and guest categories. Over the last decade, the show has averaged almost six acting nominations a year — and in the past four years, it’s averaged almost eight.
So the question isn’t whether it will be nominated, it’s how many nominations it’ll get and who will get them. The Emmy ballots classified these 18 performers as eligible in the supporting categories: regular guest star Alec Baldwin, plus cast members Beck Bennett, Aidy Bryant, Michael Che, Pete Davidson, Mikey Day, Chloe Fineman, Heidi Gardner, Colin Jost, Kate McKinnon, Alex Moffat, Kyle Mooney, Ego Nwodim, Chris Redd, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, Melissa Villasenor and Bowen Yang. The guest actors submitted for Emmys for either hosting or appearing on the show include another 11 performers: Larry David, Adam Driver, Will Ferrell, Scarlett Johansson, John Mulaney, Eddie Murphy, Brad Pitt, Maya Rudolph, RuPaul, Harry Styles and Phoebe Waller-Bridge as guests.
10. Tie me up
For years, it’s been impossible to determine how many times Emmy nomination voting results in a tie. But that will change this year, when we’ll finally know exactly how many ties took place.
That’s because of a recent rule change. In the past, almost every category had a specified number of nominees, usually five or six — but that number could be expanded by ties or by the “2% rule,” in which additional nominees would be added if their vote total was within 2% of the final nominee’s total. Last year, for instance, more than two dozen Emmy categories were expanded, either by ties or by the 2% rule — but the Television Academy never revealed which ones were the result of ties and which came from the rule. (It seems logical, though, that 2%-rule expansions happened far more frequently than outright ties.)
This year, though, the 2% rule has been eliminated — so we’ll know for sure that every category that has more nominees than it’s supposed to have was expanded by a tie. That’s a piece of information we’ve never had from the Emmys before — and if you’re obsessive about these things, it’s an intriguing bit of info to know.
Emmy nominations will be announced on Tuesday, July 28, with final voting taking place in late August. The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards are scheduled for Sept. 20, with Jimmy Kimmel hosting; the Television Academy will reveal details about the format of the show at a later date.