Emmy Voters Go International, Not Sentimental

Steve Pond’s Emmy Analysis: “This Is Us” and “black-ish” get rude sendoffs from the TV Academy, which set up a battle between “Succession” and “Squid Game”

Succession Squid Game
"Succession" (HBO), "Squid Game" (Netflix)

Faced with one of the most crowded and competitive Emmy races in history, Television Academy voters ignored 2021, went international rather than sentimental and set up a fascinating showdown for top drama series between a vindictive American media baron and some casual Korean killers.

The 20,000-plus Academy voters produced a slate of nominees that included two of last year’s winners in the Outstanding Comedy and Drama Series categories, eight previous nominees that returned to the race after not being eligible last year, five new shows and one returning show that had never before been nominated. It was a reasonable way to take the measure of a bewildering and overstuffed year, in which shows returning to production after COVID-19 delays pushed the number of competitors to record levels.

But it was also a result that suggested that last year was something of an anomaly at the Emmys. In the Outstanding Comedy Series category, only two of the seven returning nominees from 2021 were able to repeat the pattern for 2022. “Ted Lasso” and “Hacks,” both of which won multiple awards last year, are back, while previous nominees “black-ish,” “Cobra Kai,” “Emily in Paris,” “The Flight Attendant” and “PEN15” were not, edged out by returning nominees from previous years (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Barry,” “What We Do in the Shadows” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and by two new shows: “Abbott Elementary” and “Only Murders in the Building.”

On the drama side, only two of last year’s nominees were eligible this year, and neither made the cut. That wasn’t a surprise for “Bridgerton,” but it was something of a shock for “This Is Us,” with a well-received final season that would only garner a single nomination, for song.

Paired with a similar result for “black-ish,” which received only costume and hair nominations, it indicates Emmy voters were notably unsentimental to long-running, departing shows – though “Ozark” was an exception with 13 nods for its fourth and final season.

In general, though, there were just too many Emmy heavyweights returning to the race to leave much room for sentiment, or for the class of 2021. Those shows were edged out by the return of “Succession,” which looked stronger than ever with a field-leading 25 nominations, and by the resurgent “Euphoria” (grabbing a series nod for the first time), “Barry,” “Stranger Things,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” “Better Call Saul” and more.

Poor “Yellowstone,” meanwhile, rode a wave of publicity suggesting that this might be the wildly popular show’s year to finally break through with voters – it then wound up without a single nomination. (Its spinoff limited series, “1883,” did garner three noms.)  

The voters also continued a trend from recent years, honoring the same shows with multiple acting nominations – not just the record-breaking 14 for “Succession,” but nine for “Ted Lasso,” seven for “Hacks,” five for “Squid Game” and four each for “Ozark,” “Euphoria,” “Severance,” “Abbott Elementary” and “Only Murders in the Building.”

Of the 21 comedy and drama series that received acting nominations, a remarkable 17, including every single nominated drama series, received multiple noms, with nominated series averaging almost four acting nods.

The problem may be due partly to the huge number of shows, which could cause Emmy voters to throw up their hands and fall back on the usual suspects. But it’s also a product of the Emmys’ voting procedure, which doesn’t limit the number of votes a member can cast in any particular category but instead instructs, “Vote for all entries in this category that you have seen and feel are worthy of a nomination.” That rule means you don’t have to pick and choose or attempt to spread your vote around – you can vote for every cast member of, say, “Succession” or “Ted Lasso” and still distribute votes to other shows, a strategy that could result in the most viewed and most popular shows hogging the acting nominations.

Of course, the big news was also that the Emmys went international with the 14 nominations for “Squid Game,” the first show not in English ever nominated in a top series category. While Television Academy rules have kept international shows at arm’s length for most of the Emmys’  history, Netflix had a sensation on its hands with the South Korean show and opted not to push it off on the International Emmy Awards, as it did with its French show “Lupin.”

The result was a huge step in the K-Pop, K-TV, K-film revolution. As of 2019, no South Korean film had ever been nominated for an Academy Award and no non-English television series had ever made it into a top category at the Emmys – but “Parasite” won the Best Picture Oscar that year, and now “Squid Game” has broken through with the Emmys after winning for its ensemble at this year’s SAG Awards.

But “Squid Game” may have a tough time getting over the final hurdle and actually winning in the Outstanding Drama Series category; “Succession” looks as formidable as ever. Those 25 nominations for the HBO show make it clear that you shouldn’t go up against the ruthless Roy family and expect to win, although those pink-suited guys in “Squid Game” are pretty damn ruthless, too.

Let’s sit back and watch what could be one brutal battle.