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Emmy Nominations Full of Surprises – Most Good, Some Not-So-Good
July 14, 2016  | By Alex Strachan  | 3 comments

No, The Good Wife will not win the Emmy for its farewell season. Downton Abbey might, though.

And with 23 nominations overall, last year’s drama series-winner Game of Thrones is not about to go away anytime soon.

Those were some of the more predictable developments when nominations for the 68th Primetime Emmy Awards were announced Thursday morning at the Television Academy in North Hollywood.

As always, though, it was the surprises that jumped out. Game of Thrones finally broke through in the acting categories that previously eluded it, to go with the usual nods for cinematography, production design, sound editing and visual effects.

Thrones’ acting nominations aside, it was the first-time nominees who took pride-of-place, though.

Critics’ darling Mr. Robot confounded Emmy skeptics — myself included — by earning nominations for best drama, lead actor and writing. And Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany proved third time’s the charm, after being overlooked her first two times out.

The Americans finally got some deserved recognition with five nominations, all in key categories. Series leads Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys (left) both landed their first-ever Emmy nominations.

A nomination is not the same as a win, of course. Chances are, when the Emmys are handed out Sept. 18, the winners will have a similar look and feel to last year’s best-in-show winners.

Right now, let’s just acknowledge those who were invited to the party for the first time, despite the odds.


It’s only natural to focus on drama and comedy series where the Emmys are concerned. After all, those are the programs viewers tune in to see each week, week after week, over months, years and, in some cases, entire decades.

As a genre, though, the one-off limited series — miniseries to you and me — has provided television with some of its finest, most memorable moments. And this past year was a particularly good year for miniseries.

Fargo turned out to be better than probably anyone had a right to expect. American Horror Story, despite its many excesses, is certainly better than anyone had a right to expect it to be either. Hardly anyone would have considered adapting a John Le Carré novel to the small screen, just five years ago, and expect it to compete on the schedule with Preacher and Fear the Walking Dead — and then came The Night Manager.

And when the industry can remake a fondly recalled, much-beloved television classic like Roots — a tall order, that, and dangerous, too — and make it not just credible but unique and special in its own way, you know something quite profound is happening.

None of this explains The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story, though, or O.J.: Made in America, for that matter.

They don’t hand out Emmys for most awkward title — though they seem to have a category for everything else — but it doesn’t matter. The People v. OJ Simpson earned 22 Emmy nominations overall, just one behind the field-leading Game of Thrones, and hardly anyone who saw it will forget it.

It wasn’t just the nuanced, deeply layered performance by Courtney B. Vance (left) as Simpson lawyer Johnnie Cochran, or the eerily real, haunting performance by Sarah Paulson as overwhelmed Simpson prosecutor Marcia Clark. There was a clear-eyed, almost documentary-like feel to The People v. OJ Simpson that transcended its tawdry miniseries roots. This was TV as it should be, and Emmy voters — thankfully — recognized that.

Just to reiterate, because it bears repeating, these are the official Emmy nominees for outstanding limited series: American Crime (ABC); Fargo (FX Networks); Roots (History); The Night Manager (AMC); and The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story (FX Networks)

That’s some list.


Game of Thrones landed 23 nominations, to go with the 12 Emmys it actually won last season.

The Emmys are not a sporting event: Highest score doesn’t necessarily win, and purists have always noted that the bulk of Thrones’ nominations have traditionally come in technical categories.

Something has changed this time around, though. Thrones is not really eligible in the lead actor and actress categories, because of the ensemble nature of the cast, but there was a genuine breakthrough this year in the supporting categories. Past winner, Peter Dinklage, was joined this time by first-time Thrones nominees Kit Harington (right), Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke and Maisie Williams.

And acting legend Max von Sydow landed a nomination for guest actor for the Thrones episode “The Three-Eyed Raven.”

Thrones also landed a pair of nominations for directing, for the episodes  “The Door” (directed by Lost veteran Jack Bender) and “Battle of the Bastards” (directed by Miguel Sapochnik).

“Battle of the Bastards” also earned a writing nomination, for series co-creators David Benioff and D.B. Weiss.

That’s key, because the writing and directing awards are often a harbinger of what will win best series.

Homeland, Ray Donovan, The Knick and Downton Abbey round out the drama directing nominations. Other drama writing nominations went to Downton Abbey, Mr. Robot, The Americans, The Good Wife and UnReal.

Don’t dismiss Downton Abbey’s chances when it comes to the actual handing out of awards. Nostalgia traditionally counts for a lot with Emmy voters, though the face of the membership is gradually changing.


That would explain how Silicon Valley broke out with 11 nominations, second only to Veep’s comedy field-leading 17 nominations. Veep’s fictional vice-president-cum-president Selina Meyer may have trouble getting the votes she needs to stay in office, but Veep clearly has no trouble winning over Emmy voters — the fifth-year HBO comedy has to be rated the odds-on favorite to win the lion’s share of comedy awards when the Emmys are handed out Sept. 18.

Transparent’s 10 nominations include one likely contender to actually win: Jeffrey Tambor, who’s fast becoming to lead comedy actor what Julia Louis-Dreyfus already is to lead comedy actress.

The Big Bang Theory, which even sitcom devotees will admit has seen better years, managed seven nominations overall. More attention is likely to be devoted to black-ish, which landed three nominations, including a best actor nod for series star Anthony Anderson (right).

Perennial comedy winner Modern Family scored four nominations overall, including a nod for comedy series. Once again, though, the consensus is that its best years may be behind it.


It shouldn’t surprise anyone that this was Mr. Robot’s Rami Malek’s first Emmy nomination. The surprise, a pleasant one at that, is that Emmy voters noticed Mr. Robot at all.

Tatiana Maslany, too, finally landed the lead actress nomination many genre fans thought was unfairly denied her the last two years, for the clone thriller Orphan Black.

The rule changes, which encourage more diversity, coupled with a (slightly) younger voting membership, are clearly having an effect.

There’s still a way to go, though, as Empire’s followers will no doubt argue. Despite a repeat lead-actress nomination for Taraji P. Henson, Empire landed just three nominations overall, equaling it — better check that blood pressure now — with Gotham.

First-timers Malek (right) and Rhys’s competition in the drama lead-actor category — if “competition” is the right word; the more politically correct expression is “fellow nominees” — include Bob Odenkirk, for Better Call Saul; Liev Schreiber, for Ray Donovan, Kevin Spacey, for House of Cards; and Kyle Chandler, for Netflix’s Bloodline.

Chandler’s nomination is his second; he was nominated in 2011, for Friday Night Lights — an unintended reminder, perhaps, that despite being one of the seminal drama of its generation, Friday Night Lights never did get the respect it deserved from the Television Academy.

After all, in the end, respect is what it’s all about. It was a shame to see The Good Wife virtually ignored at the very end of its run, and a shame not to see Julianna Margulies get a last turn in the spotlight for crafting one of the most memorable characters on entertainment television in the past 15 years.

The point is, though, that television drama is experiencing an embarrassment of riches right now. It was too much to hope that Eva Green might get a look-in for Penny Dreadful, or that Hoon Lee might be considered for a supporting nod for Banshee.

In a television age when a Tatiana Maslany or a Keri Russell are in direct competition with a Julianna Margulies or a Michelle Dockery for a finite number of acting nominations, it’s best to sit back and admire and respect those who were recognized, while taking the time to remember those who weren’t.

Emmy voters will always find time for a Dame Maggie Smith, no matter how crowded that category may be with more deserving candidates, but this was also the year that Lena Headey, Emilia Clarke and Maisie Williams got a well-deserved look-in for the first time.

That alone makes this Emmy season worthwhile.

The awards ceremony is Sunday, Sept. 18 on ABC.

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Craig Ferry
This thing that jumped out at me was the Emmys' perpetuation of the late night boys' club. Six slots with no room for Samantha Bee, who is the freshest host in the category.
I understand the absence of Colbert, who is amazingly still struggling to find his legs, but not Bee, who hit the track full tilt if not full frontal.

Outstanding Variety Talk Series
“Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” (HBO)
“Late Late Show With James Corden” (CBS)
“Jimmy Kimmel Live” (ABC)
“The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” (NBC)
“Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee” (Crackle)
“Real Time With Bill Maher” (HBO)
Jul 16, 2016   |  Reply
I found this article hard to follow, and here's why: instead of a narrative, it would have been more straightforward to list each of the categories, who the nominees were, and then offer analysis and commentary about the nominated programs or talent within that category. The way it's written, I need to fight to figure out the context for the comments about the shows or actors. Just a friendly suggestion for next time.
Jul 15, 2016   |  Reply
No acting nominations for Roots bothers me. With the new ways to make and watch TV these days means a lot of good shows, too many to pick. I think after winning (person or show)a certain number of awards like with Modern Family you should be "retired" (like what Oprah did when she pulled herself from daytime awards) and make room for shows that have yet to win and maybe fan favorites can finally get invited to the party. Also networks still have yet to figure out how to deal with the popularity of steaming and need to find a new way to compete with the changing ways of watching TV. Still congrats to the nominees!
Jul 15, 2016   |  Reply
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