Emmy Nominations: 6 Key Takeaways, From ‘The Crown’ to ‘Hamilton,’ on 2021 Ballot

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The year that has passed between the announcement of the 72nd and the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Award nominations has been one of dramatic change. From the presidential election and subsequent inauguration to the COVID-19 vaccine finally rolling out, allowing more productions to resume, the type of content, let alone its volume and origin, has fluctuated with the times. Last year, for example, we were talking about Quibi’s entrance into the Emmy race, but now that streamer has shut down.

And of course, all that affected the 73rd annual Emmy nominations, announced July 13.

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Such former Television Academy darlings as HBO’s “Succession” and Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” were still facing production delays that kept them from completing and releasing new seasons by the end of this year’s eligibility window. They sat out the race, paving the way for first-time nominees such as Amazon’s “The Boys” and HBO Max’s “Hacks” to jump in.

The combined power of HBO and new streamer HBO Max (which had barely launched when 2020’s FYC was happening) pushed it to the top of the leaderboard for most nominations by network this year (130), just barely sneaking past Netflix (129). Disney Plus came in a respectable third with 71 nominations, and fourth place — once again no doubt aided by juggernaut “Saturday Night Live” — went to NBC, the lone broadcast network to break into the top 5, with 46 noms. (That fifth spot went to Apple TV Plus, which, boosted by freshman comedy “Ted Lasso,” picked up 35 noms.)

On the studio side, Warner Bros. Television Group came out on top with 79 nominations, including three in comedy series (helped by the aforementioned “Ted Lasso”), one each in drama series and competition program and one for the long-awaited reunion special for “Friends.”

Here are some of the other major takeaways from this year’s Emmy nominations.

Voting Down the Line
Once again, the Television Academy proved it had its favorites, and it stuck with them. While the 2020 Emmy nominees were heavy with above-the-line teams for “Succession,” “Schitt’s Creek” and “Watchmen,” there were similarly strong showings for 2021 nominees “The Crown,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Ted Lasso” and “WandaVision.” Both Netflix’s “The Crown” and Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” received their fourth nominations in the drama category and are clearly not losing any favor with voting members of the Academy. “The Crown” tied for the most overall noms this year with 24, including drama series, two for drama directing, drama writing, lead drama actor (Josh O’Connor), two for lead drama actress (Olivia Colman, Emma Corrin), supporting drama actor (Tobias Menzies), three for supporting drama actress (Gillian Anderson, Helena Bonham Carter, Emerald Fennell), guest drama actor (Charles Dance) and guest drama actress (Claire Foy). “The Handmaid’s Tale,” meanwhile, nabbed 21 nods, including in drama series and lead drama actress (Elisabeth Moss), in addition to drama writing, drama directing, three in the supporting drama actor category (O-T Fagbenle, Max Minghella, Bradley Whitford), four in the supporting drama actress category (Madeline Brewer, Ann Dowd, Yvonne Strahovski, Samira Wiley) and two in the guest drama actress category (Alexis Bledel, Mckenna Grace). On the comedy front, Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso” scored 20 noms for its first outing, including three in comedy directing, two in comedy writing, four in the sup – porting comedy actor category (Brett Goldstein, Brendan Hunt, Nick Mohammed, Jeremy Swift), two in the supporting comedy actress category (Juno Temple, Hannah Waddingham), lead comedy actor (Jason Sudeikis) and comedy series. Meanwhile, Disney Plus’ “WandaVision” picked up the second-most noms overall with 23, including in the limited/anthology series race, three for limited/anthology series writing, limited/anthology series directing, lead limited series/TV movie actor (Paul Bettany), lead limited series/TV movie actress (Elizabeth Olsen) and supporting limited series/TV movie actress (Kathryn Hahn).

Adapted for the Academy’s Acclaim
Existing IP has long been a source for television creatives to stretch their talents, and it continues to pay off with awards attention. Ten series up in the drama, comedy and limited/anthology categories were adapted from previous works, be they beloved film franchises, novels or com – ics. Returning nominees here are “The Handmaid’s Tale” and Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian” in drama, which are seeing their fourth and second nominations, respectively. First-timers hit each genre ballot, though. Comedy features Netflix’s “Cobra Kai” (an extension of “The Karate Kid” uni – verse) and HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant,” inspired by Chris Bohjalian’s novel of the same name, while drama also includes “The Boys,” which comes from the comics of the same name; Netflix’s “Bridgerton,” based on Julia Quinn’s novel series; and HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” adapted from Matt Ruff ’s 2016 novel. And then in the limited race, the majority (three out of five) of nominees fit the bill with “WandaVision,” Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” and Amazon’s “The Underground Railroad.”

Reality Race Shake-up
Every year the Emmy race looks a little different due to new series that capture the zeitgeist and therefore voters’ attention. But in 2021, some specific reality races have been further shaken up due to stalwarts in certain categories now submitting in new ones. This is most prevalent in the hosted nonfiction series or special cate – gory, which welcomes new nom – inee “United Shades of America With W. Kamau Bell” from CNN as a rookie on that ballot. Previously, that show submitted, nominated and even won in the unstructured reality program category. Other nominees in this race this year include CBS’ “Oprah With Meghan and Harry: A CBS Primetime Special” and CNN’s “Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy,” and previous nominees (when the category was called informational series or special) “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman” from Netflix and “Vice” from Showtime By contrast, this year’s unstructured reality race is dominated by newcomers, including Bravo’s “Below Deck,” Disney Plus’ “Becoming” and Netflix’s “Indian Matchmaking.”

Marquee Musicals
The Television Academy has long had a love of live musical events and even dipped its toe into celebrating original scripted musicals on television, from “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend” to “Glee.” This year, though, it went above and beyond by getting in on the trend of lauding the Tony Award-winning “Hamilton.” Filmed onstage and streaming on Disney Plus, LinManuel Miranda’s stage musical earned a dozen Emmy noms, including cleaning up in the limited series/TV movie acting races: Miranda and Leslie Odom Jr. were both nominated in the lead actor category there, while Daveed Diggs, Jonathan Groff and Anthony Ramos all nabbed supporting actor noms, and Renée Elise Goldsberry and Phillipa Soo earned supporting actress noms. Thomas Kail also picked up a coveted directing nom, and the project landed on the variety special (pre-recorded) ballot too. But that was not the only love shown to musical projects: National Geographic’s “Genius: Aretha” scored three noms, including lead limited series/TV movie actress for Cynthia Erivo; Apple TV Plus’ “Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” nabbed four noms; Peacock’s freshman “Girls5eva” earned a comedy writing nom; James Corden’s “Carpool Karaoke: The Series” returned to the Emmy ballot; and even the recently canceled “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” picked up five noms, including choreography and guest comedy actress for Bernadette Peters.

Not Much Variety After All
The Television Academy originally planned to combine the variety talk series and variety sketch series categories into one this year, but reversed the decision. Admittedly, the content and production process for each kind of show is different enough that they should warrant their own categories. However, since the Academy uses the sliding-scale rule for these categories, the number of submissions in each determines the number of eventual nominees. Variety talk series in 2021 netted 20 entries, which just pushed it into the realm of five nominees, but variety sketch only had nine, resulting in two nominees. Of the talk shows that made the cut, all five were hosted by men (shutting down four-time consecutive nominee “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” from TBS); four were hosted by white men (the exception being Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah”). By the numbers, variety sketch offered a more diverse showing with its two nominees being HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” and the incumbent winner from NBC, “Saturday Night Live,” but with such low numbers overall, celebration would seem premature. Had the categories been combined, there would still only be five nominees in the category. But perhaps it would be a more interesting and inclusive overall race that way.

Party on Their Minds
Just a day before the nominees were announced, the Academy announced plans for a partially in-person ceremony this year. While not too many details have been fleshed out, let alone finalized, it is pushing the industry back toward the large parties of the past, rather than the mostly isolated pods videoconferencing into the ceremony that dominated 2020. For some nominees, the idea of gathering and sharing in the success was as exciting as the nomination itself. “Seeing everybody on Zoom roundtables, everybody’s felt quite distant and so the idea of being all together in one place, I think it’s going to be a really wonderful, wonderful way to celebrate coming back together,” says supporting drama actress nominee Anderson.

Antonio Ferme contributed to this report.

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