Emmys 2021: Can network TV come back with so many cable/streaming faves ineligible?
To say that broadcast television has struggled at the Emmys in recent years would be an understatement. Of last year’s 21 combined slots for Best Comedy Series, Best Drama Series, and Best Limited Series, only one network show was nominated — NBC’s The Good Place. In other years, shows like black-ish (ABC) and This Is Us (NBC) have been the sole representations of broadcast TV in their respective categories. Gone are the days when Best Comedy Series would be a battle between Fox’s Glee and ABC’s Modern Family. Yet, after an Oscar season without many of the big studio players in the race, the Emmys are about to face a similar situation. Numerous Emmy darlings from cable and streaming are sitting out a year, which means a window is opening up for network TV to have more of a presence after years of being sidelined.
The pandemic caused many of the top Emmy contenders in recent years to not go into production for months later than usual. Recent faves like The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Ozark and Succession aren’t able to come back in time to be eligible as some have only just begun shooting new seasons. But such is the luxury of cable and streaming shows; broadcast TV largely resumed production on schedule and are ending their latest seasons in May as usual. If Emmy voters are lost on what to vote for with many of their preferred shows gone, it is possible that shows they’ve loved in the past like black-ish and This Is Us will benefit.
Best Comedy Series is especially vulnerable this year, with seven of last year’s eight nominees either having ended their run or not returning in time to be eligible. Only Netflix’s The Kominsky Method has survived and will likely get in again for lack of stronger competition. New shows Ted Lasso (Apple TV+) and The Flight Attendant (HBO Max) have shown major guild strength and should easily join Kominsky. But the five other slots are free for the taking, which is where we could see black-ish return for the first time since 2018. Voters have continued to nominate stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross, so their show is still in contention enough to be considered for that upper echelon. There are a handful of NBC shows that could also sneak into the field including Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, which won an Emmy last year for choreography, Superstore, which just ended after six seasons, plus Kenan and Mr. Mayor, starring past Emmy winners Kenan Thompson and Ted Danson. Then there’s Mom on CBS, which is airing its final season and earned a pair of Emmys for Allison Janney in its first two years.
Meanwhile, Best Drama Series has five open slots from last year’s eight nominees, with The Crown (Netflix), The Handmaid’s Tale (Hulu) and The Mandalorian (Disney+) as the only carryovers. Just like in the comedy categories, two new dramas had strong guild performances — Netflix’s Bridgerton and HBO’s Lovecraft Country. Assuming those five shows are in, that leaves three open slots. This Is Us fell out of the category last year for the first time in its run but has a pretty solid chance of returning, considering the family drama has always played well with actors in the TV Academy. There is also a possibility that other buzzy network shows like Big Sky (ABC) and Evil (CBS) will have more of a chance this year.
After a year like no other, it is hard to tell what Emmy voters will be thinking as they mark up their nominating ballots. With so many artists out of work in Hollywood and given the opportunity to binge-watch so many shows, we could see some exciting new shows nominated that we wouldn’t see otherwise. Network TV might indeed have an advantage if there are members of the Academy who respect their peers for having to power through while so many others were able to take an extended break. If they cannot take advantage of a year like this, it will be hard for CBS, NBC, FOX, and ABC to regain any momentum in future Emmy races.
Photos courtesy of ABC/NBC