Though the 2020 Emmy nominations followed a premiere calendar that started in the summer of 2019 and extended until this past May, also known largely as “The Before Times,” we should have expected them to embrace the chaos of our current time. And indeed they have.
I mean, let’s be clear: For the most part, the 2020 Emmy nominations are pretty predictable (you can check out the list of major categories here ). The plethora of Ozark and The Kominksy Method nominations reveals the median age of voters, and there was hardly a “risk” taken in any category. There are a few interesting surprises, including the TV Academy’s apparent love of Netflix’s Unorthodox and the appearance of What We Do in the Shadows for Outstanding Comedy series, but overall it’s a lot of familiar faces in familiar roles. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Here are 5 takeaways from this year’s nominations:
It used to be fairly clear: a drama was an hourlong format, a comedy was a half-hour. The lines started blurring when HBO and FX started putting out half-hour vignette-style series and Netflix and Amazon created hourlong comedies. That’s really only the tip of the iceberg, though. Lumping in TV movies with limited series for acting awards? Extremely passé for fields that are becoming increasingly crowded. SNL hanging around the comedy category? Why not create a Variety Acting field for sketch and comedy specials?
More than anything, we know there are too many Emmy categories and that they are a mess because Quibi has multiple nominations. Quibi! They’ve muscled in to the short-form arenas with flashy movie stars, and the TV Academy loves a movie star.
The most major problem, perhaps, is that there are no hard rules about a lead versus supporting actor. There were three leads in the series Unbelievable, but only one got a nomination: Toni Colette, in the Supporting Actress (?) category. Look, you’re going to get pileups regardless when you have an excellent ensemble cast; Succession actors dominated both the lead and supporting categories this year. But it’s such a game of who to nominate in which category because of where they might win, versus where they actually belong, that it’s all a farce. Then again, that more or less sums up the Emmys as a whole. (And hey, Colette did get a nomination while Merritt Wever and Kaitlyn Dever were snubbed).
This may not be as much of a problem for the 2021 Emmy nominations, but here’s an example of how it affected 2020: Reese Witherspoon starred in three high-profile series this year (Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere, The Morning Show), and put in great work for all of them. She received no nominations. So when I weep for snubs (in the major categories) for The Great, On Becoming a God in Central Florida, Little America, Outlander, Evil, and Rhea Seehorn in particular, I have to think “well, Reese Witherspoon was in three major productions across three networks that were each made for the Emmys, and didn’t even get a glance.”
But there were plenty of interesting quirks related to Peak TV in the 2020 nominations. What We Do in the Shadows received a nomination for Outstanding Comedy, but nothing for its actors on whose backs the show fully rests. Paul Mescal, the tender-hearted lead of Normal People, was recognized, but his equally outstanding co-star Daisy Edgar Jones was not. Neither was the deeply affecting series itself. Messy. (Also, seriously nothing for The Great??)
TV writers and editors like to joke that Netflix releases 50 new TV shows every week, but it’s not really that far off. Once the mega streamer decided to corner the market on all things TV, it just became a content bonanza. Some of that is going to obviously filter on over to the nominations, just given the sheer number of series to choose from. This year, Netflix leads the pack with 160 (!) nominations. To put that in perspective (you can also refer to the list below), HBO came in second place with 107. NBC was a distant third at 47. Nothing else reached above 36. That is insane. (And again, too many categories!)
Keep in mind that there is also a correlation between the number of Emmy voters a given network has, and the nominations and winners themselves. HBO has historically dominated this facet of the Emmy game, but increasingly it feels like the question facing the TV industry is simply “who can complete with Netflix”? Who indeed?
Since the end of 2019, five new major streaming platforms have debuted, all with new original content. Some of those shows have been better than others, but as noted above, even Quibi (!) came out with some Emmy nominations this year.
Considering their newness, check out which networks and platforms got the most nominations this year. Look at Disney and Apple getting in there with the big boys:
Apple TV+: 18
That is no chump change. And look, we all knew that The Morning Show was going to get a ton of nominations, not only because it has movie stars but because Apple started that Emmy campaign before the show even debuted. But The Mandalorian? As Best Drama? I … my heart …
I’m not mad about it, because it means Baby Yoda could win an Emmy. It won’t, but it could. That’s kinda extraordinary. The Mandalorian’s nomination may be the only “risk” pick of any major category. It’s genuinely surprising. It’s also kinda delightful. It’s wonderfully puzzling! All the things I want from good Emmy nominations. Unfortunately, it stands alone in this.
We’ll end on an upbeat note. The nominees for 2020 featured a lot of diversity, and if there was one thing we really needed to see in the Emmys this year, it’s that. And even more surprising (in the best of ways), it spans the actor and actress categories for dramas, comedies, and limited series. It’s about time, but there’s still more work to do.
The 72nd annual Primetime Emmy Awards will air Sunday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.
Allison Keene is the TV Editor of Paste Magazine. For more television talk, pop culture chat and general japery, you can follow her @keeneTV
For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.