Emmy Entries Plummet This Year, Dropping Almost 40% in Key Categories

Fewer submissions will mean fewer nominees in most of the acting categories

Emmy statue
Emmy statue. (Getty Images)

The number of comedy and drama series that qualified for Emmy Awards this year is down almost 40% over last year’s totals, according to ballots that went up online on the Television Academy’s website on Thursday, the first day of nomination voting.

The lack of qualifying shows, which is due largely to production slowdowns caused by the pandemic and by last year’s actors and writers strikes, is likely to result in more than a dozen fewer acting nominations this year, with most of the acting categories losing nominees.

Only 73 comedy series and 107 drama series qualified for this year’s awards, compared to 118 comedies and 171 dramas last year. The drops continued through most of the program categories, with limited or anthology series falling from 61 to 49, television movies dropping from 48 to 42 and talk series falling from 19 to 14.

Outstanding Scripted Variety Series, the category that includes “Saturday Night Live” and “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver,” fell off the ballot completely. The Television Academy said that it had fewer than eight submissions (the number it had last year), and its nominees would be selected through a second round of voting by members who volunteer to watch all the submitted episodes.

The only program categories with more entries this year than last are live variety special, which went from 25 to 26, and pre-recorded variety special, which went from 75 to 79.

Overall, in the 13 program categories for which figures exist for this year and last year, the number of submissions fell by about 27%. In the marquee drama and comedy series categories, the drops were 37% and 38%, respectively.

The smaller fields of contenders do not affect the number of nominees in the Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series categories, which are fixed at eight. But if they had been subject to the same rules as other categories, comedy series would have fallen from six to five nominees and drama series would have dropped from seven to six. The talk series category will likely drop from five to four nominees under Emmy rules that say that in categories with 8-19 submissions, the number of nominees is determined by dividing the number of submissions by 4 and rounding to the nearest whole number (14 divided by 4 is 3.5, which would round up to 4).

In the acting categories, the drop in submissions was even more dramatic. Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series, the Emmy category that typically has the most submissions of any category, fell from 434 last year to only 217 this year, a 50% drop. Overall, the number of actors in longform categories who made the ballot dropped by more than 40%.

Emmy rules set the number of nominees according to the number of eligible entries, with categories that have 20 to 80 submissions getting five nominees, ones with 81 to 160 getting six, ones with 161 to 240 getting seven and ones with more than 240 entries getting eight. Because of those rules, most of the acting categories – 10 out of 16 – will have fewer nominees this year than last year.

Barring ties, Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series will drop from six to five nominees, as will Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited or Anthology Series or Movie. The supporting and guest acting categories in drama will also drop by one. The supporting categories in comedy, meanwhile, will drop by two, from eight nominees last year to six this year.

Six categories will retain the same number of nominees, but just barely. Because 81 actors are on the ballot for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama, that category has exactly the minimum number needed for six nominees – and because Emmy rules also say that actor and actress categories in the same genre will have parity in the number of nominations, Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama will also have six nominees despite only having 67 submissions.

Likewise, the supporting categories in limited series and the guest categories in comedy will retain last year’s totals of seven and six nominees, respectively, despite the actress totals falling short in both areas.

Nominations for the 76th Primetime Emmy Awards will be announced July 17.

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