Throughout Emmy season, IndieWire will evaluate the top contenders for TV’s most prestigious prize, and it all starts here. At the bottom of this page are IndieWire TV Critic Ben Travers’ predictions for Best Actress in a Limited Series or TV Movie. This article will be updated throughout the coming months, along with all our predictions, to reflect an up-to-the-minute state of the race. Make sure to keep checking IndieWire for the latest coverage on the 2020 Emmys, including breaking news, analysis, interviews, podcasts, FYC event coverage, reviews of all the awards contenders, and more. The Creative Arts Emmy Awards will be given out the week of September 14. The 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will take place virtually on Sunday, September 20. (See our awards calendar for a more detailed breakdown of important dates.) ABC is broadcasting the ceremony.
Last Year’s Winner: Michelle Williams, “Fosse/Verdon”
Still Eligible: No.
Hot Streak: Understandably, it’s been a while since an actress won this category two years in a row — Helen Mirren won in 2006 and 2007, first for HBO’s “Elizabeth I” and then for “Prime Suspect: The Final Act” — but Regina King could maintain an awards season hot streak all her own with a nomination and/or win in 2020. The beloved performer won back-to-back Emmys in this category for “American Crime” in 2015 and 2016, snagged another nomination in 2017, and then won again in 2018. (The last one was for Netflix’s “Seven Seconds.”) She wasn’t nominated for an Emmy in 2019, but did win an Oscar and a Golden Globe (for “If Beale Street Could Talk”), so if the TV Academy sparks to “Watchmen” she’d be up for film or television’s most prestigious honors for more than a half-decade straight.
Fun Fact: “American Horror Story” reinvigorated network appetites for anthology series, but Ryan Murphy’s landmark FX program has yet to surpass the TV Academy’s original favorite miniseries: “Prime Suspect.” Helen Mirren’s PBS police procedural would likely be ruled an ongoing series if released under today’s Emmy rules, but its six nominations (and three wins) in the category have it tied with “American Horror Story” — for now.
Notable Ineligible Series: “Fargo” (Season 4 did not finish shooting before production was suspended.); “The Undoing” (HBO has pushed the release date to Fall 2020); “American Crime Story” (“Impeachment” has not premiered), “True Detective” (Season 4 has not premiered), “The Alienist” (Season 2 did not premiere in time), “The Good Lord Bird” (delayed), “Big Little Lies” (Season 2 is eligible as a drama series), “Genius: Aretha” (delayed)
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The State of the Race
Another year, another A-list battle in the Limited Series races, and the 2020 actress contenders are stacked with particularly heavy hitters. Let’s start with Regina King. The three-time Emmy winner is back in her favorite category with “Watchmen,” HBO’s critical and ratings hit that gave King a chance to don the cape and tights without losing an ounce of dramatic substance. Her turn may be thrilling and fun, but the nine-episode season provided plenty of moments for the actor to dig deep.
But before King can add another trophy to her mantle, she’ll have to get through some towering veterans. “Mrs. America” landed Cate Blanchett her first Emmy nomination (after being snubbed as Guest Actress for last year’s “Documentary Now!” episode), and FX on Hulu (aka FX and Hulu) are putting a big campaign behind their executive producer and lead. Blanchett’s trademark precision and immersion are evident in every episode of the series, and the biggest hurdles she’ll face in snagging votes are a) the competition, and b) that nagging “likability” issue. (Voting for Blanchett is not an endorsement of her character, conservative speaker Phyllis Schlafly, but voters often vote with their hearts, and Schlafly is purposefully hard to love.)
That being said, Hulu will have its hands full with “Little Fires Everywhere,” after Kerry Washington landed her fourth acting nomination for the eight-part adaptation. Washington is also nominated as an executive producer three more times: for Best Limited Series (“Little Fires Everywhere”), TV Movie (“American Son”), and Variety Special (Live), for “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: ‘All in the Family’ and ‘Good Times.'” So many nominations can work in her favor, as voters may want to honor her outstanding year with one outstanding trophy, but it’s hard to say where she’s got the best odds.
While Washington is the category’s most nominated actor and producer in 2020, “Self-Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker” wouldn’t have happened with producer and star Octavia Spencer, and the TV Academy rewarded her efforts with the Oscar winner’s first acting nomination. Shira Haas also scored her first nod for the breakout hit of 2020, “Unorthodox.” The young star helped propel the show to reportedly high viewership, and the TV Academy responded by giving “Unorthodox” eight nominations. Given the fever around Haas’ turn, she could play spoiler in a category otherwise stacked with veteran favorites.
Power Ranking the Nominees:
1. Regina King, “Watchmen”
2. Cate Blanchett, “Mrs. America”
3. Shira Haas, “Unorthodox”
4. Kerry Washington, “Little Fires Everywhere”
5. Octavia Spencer, “Self-Made”
Will Win: Regina King, “Watchmen”
Could Win: Cate Blanchett, “Mrs. America” and Shira Haas, “Unorthodox”
Should Win: Regina King, “Watchmen”
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