TV News

Making Sense of the Emmys in the Peak TV Era

It’s September 22, 2019. Tonight, Hollywood honors all of the best TV shows of the past year which aired between June 1, 2018 and May 31, 2019. We do this every year. It’s called the Emmy Awards. However, as I look at the list of nominees and ponder the standard who will win vs. who should win pontificating I’m struck by how many shows didn’t even make the cut.

For example, how dare they snub Amazon’s groundbreaking Undone! Or Netflix’s Unbelievable!

(Um, those just came out last weekend. They’ll be eligible next year.)

Oh, right. Right, right, right. But what about Amazon’s gritty Garth Ennis adaptation The Boys? I mean, come on, it’s a gamechanger for superhero TV.

(Yeah, it came out in July. It’s eligible next year, but even so, it probably won’t get any love. Too niche.)

Huh. I’m sensing a pattern here. Let me try harder. How dare they overlook, um, um, David Tennant’s comic tour de force performance as Crowley in Amazon’s The Good Omens?

(Actually, that one’s legit. Amazon dropped that show on literally the last day of eligibility. Netflix did the same thing with Ava DuVernay’s When They See Us and got 12 Emmy nominations out of it. Good Omens, eh, just three technical category nominations.)

Like what?

(Let me see: something called Best Fantasy/Sci-Fi Costumes, which is absolutely a real category and not something I just made up. Also, it’s nominated for Outstanding Original Main Title Them Song.)

You’re damn right it is! Totally deserving.

Alright, so that was a May 31st show. Let me think further back.

How dare they snub, um, oh I’ve got it – FX’s What We Do in the Shadows!

(Gold star! As a late-March premiere, What We Do in the Shadows was completely eligible for any comedy awards but didn’t receive a single Emmy nomination. But, really, with Barry, Fleabag, The Good Place, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Veep this is one of the worst years in Emmy history to be a brand new show trying to crack into the comedy categories.)

Is that why The Righteous Gemstones was snubbed? And Vice Principals? I mean, someone somewhere has to give Gemstones an award for that song in last week’s episode.

(Oh, and you were doing so good. Gemstones started last month. It won’t be eligible until next year. As for Vice Principals, well, that show aired its last episode two full years ago. I know you’ve been binging it lately, but just because it’s new to you doesn’t mean it’s new to the Emmys.)

Ah phooey. That does at least explain why my petition to get The Expanse: Season 3 nominated for Best Drama didn’t attract any signatures.

(First of all, you made no such petition. Quit lying to the internet. It demeans us both. Secondly, if you had it would have gone nowhere for the exact reason you guessed – even though you didn’t catch up with Expanse until late last year its eligibility period had already passed. It was actually eligible for the 2018 Emmys, and they, of course, didn’t give it a single nomination. On the bright side, the Hugo and Saturn awards each nominated Expanse for their top prize. So, there’s that.)

Most of what I watch is probably more Hugo/Saturn than Emmy TV, isn’t it?

(Let’s see: Legends of Tomorrow, Star Trek: Discovery, Years and Years, The Twilight Zone, The Umbrella Academy, The Haunting of HIll House, The Magicians, Lucifer, Supernatural, Doom Patrol, and, of course, The Boys and Good Omens. Yeah, they don’t have a snowball’s chance in hell at a major Emmy.)

What genre show does?

(Game of Thrones)

Really? But that last season was so, so bad.

(Hey, that second episode with Jamie knighting Brienne had everyone crying. Plus, the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King rule is in full effect here: you don’t fret over honoring something like this for its least-compelling installment; you simply hold your nose and vote for it anyway because the overall, truly historic achievement of it all needs to be recognized.)

I’m not just the nerdy TV show guy, though. I’m an adult. I have leather-bound books and bills to pay, and I appreciate prestige TV shows like Killing Eve and Important with a capital “I” HBO Documentaries. Tell me, is that Michael Jackson doc, Leaving Neverland, up for anything?

(Actually, it already won Outstanding Documentary. They hand those out at the Creative Arts Emmys show a week before the primetime telecast. This year, Leaving Neverland beat Fyre, The Inventor: Out for Blood in Silicon Valley, Jane Fonda in Five Acts, Love, Gilda, and Minding the Gap.)

Huh. All great, really, but what about The Case Against Adnan Syed?

(Nominated for a single writing award, which it lost.)

WTF? That documentary is a monumental achievement in documentary filmmaking. It’s a scathing indictment of institutional racism and injustice as well as a fascinating journalistic follow-up on what happens when someone becomes the darling of true crime enthusiasts but is quickly forgotten since the wheels of justice move slowly, if ever at all.

(Guess what – everything is a “monumental achievement” now. Hollywood produced 500 scripted TV shows last year and who knows how many unscripted ones. In that avalanche of content, there’s a lot of bad, a fair deal of fluff, plenty of passable entertainment, and an overwhelming amount of amazing. In this era, your favorite show is usually whatever you binged last night because no matter how good your latest obsession might be there’s always something just as good if not better on the way. For example, you were pretty blown away by Mahershela Ali’s turn as the taciturn, Alzheimer’s afflicted lead of the most recent True Detective?)


(But doesn’t that seem like forever ago? You’ve more recently been wowed by Merritt Weaver’s soulful turn as Unbelievable’s rookie detective and Jonathan Groff’s continued solid work as Holden on Mindhunter: Season 2. Mahershela’s work might as well have dropped years ago even though it was just 9 months ago.)

Wait – and this feels like something you would normally say – Unbelievable and Mindhunter: Season 2 aren’t eligible for this year’s Emmys.

(Correct. But that’s exactly the confusion of the Emmys. We live in a streaming era where new shows can drop in their entirety at any given moment, yet the Emmys are still built around the old, traditional broadcast schedule where the season ends at the end of May and awards are handed out based on the merits of a single episode submitted for consideration instead of the larger body of work. The networks and streamers know this and can sometimes game the system, like dropping their show on the last day of eligibility to make sure it’s the freshest thing in the minds of voters or delaying a new season until the next eligibility period to avoid having to compete with a behemoth like Game of Thrones.)

Is that why 2018 Best Drama nominees The Crown, Stranger Things and Westworld each suddenly decided to take longer-than-usual gaps in-between seasons? To avoid Game of Thrones?

(That might not have been the determining factor, but it definitely was a factor.)


(The Emmys are weird. Unlike The Oscars, which operates in a far more structured awards season with plenty of pre-cursor awards like the Golden Globes and a general expectation that only the movies released in the limited October-December time frame will be nominated, The Emmys arrive with little to no precursors and must hand out awards at a time when new shows which might win awards the following year are already premiering. It muddies the water in a way the Oscars never have to worry about.)

So we should just ignore them?

(Not necessarily. In the peak TV era, what we need more than ever is curation, and that’s what the Emmys provide. If you still haven’t gotten around to Chernobyl, Fosse/Verdon, When They See Us, or Bodyguard, the Emmys are telling you that even in a sea of endless awesome TV, those shows are especially worth your time. Also, if you’e been sleeping on Killing Eve or Russian Doll, well, stop. If you’re still several seasons behind Better Call Saul, it’s helpful to know that they’ve all been Emmy-nominated and thus do not appear to go downhill at all.)

What about all the snubs? And the whole “the stuff you watch wouldn’t get nominated” anyway?

(It’s not exactly like the Emmys telling you to watch Bodyguard is like a parent forcing a child to eat their vegetables. That show is a damn soap opera – a tense, sexy, thrilling soap opera and thus not exactly the hardest thing to sit through.)

Can I just go back to binging Undone now? She just told her boyfriend…

(Dude, spoilers!)

Um, it’s been out a week. Everyone’s watched it already.

(Oh, you mean like how everyone already watched all of Vice Principals and The Expanse and never for one minute confused them as being eligible for 2019 Emmys?)


(Aren’t you curious to see who will win Emmys tonight? Or who you’d want to win if you could vote?)

Sure. I’ll give it a shot.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Better Call Saul
  • Bodyguard
  • Game of Thrones
  • Killing Eve
  • Ozark
  • Pose
  • Succession
  • This Is Us

What I’d Vote For: Killing Eve

What Else I Would Have Nominated: The Deuce

What Will Win: Game of Thrones

Outstanding Comedy Series

  • Barry
  • Fleabag
  • The Good Place
  • The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  • Russian Doll
  • Schitt’s Creek
  • Veep

What I’d Vote For: Fleabag

What Else I Would Have Nominated: GLOW, What We Do in the Shadows

What Will Win: Veep

Outstanding Limited Series

  • Chernobyl
  • Escape at Dannemora
  • Fosse/Verdon
  • Sharp Objects
  • When They See Us

What I’d Vote For: When They See Us

What Else I Would Have Nominated: Maniac, Good Omens, The Haunting of Hill House

What Will Win: When They See Us

Outstanding Drama Actress

  • Emilia Clarke, Game of Thrones
  • Jodie Comer, Killing Eve
  • Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder
  • Laura Linney, Ozark
  • Mandy Moore, This Is Us
  • Sandra Oh, Killing Eve
  • Robin Wright, House of Cards

Who I Would Vote For: Jodie Comer

Who Else I Would Have Nominated: Christine Baranski for The Good Fight

Who Will Win: Sandra Oh

Outstanding Drama Actor

  • Jason Bateman, Ozark
  • Sterling K. Brown, This Is Us
  • Kit Harrington, Game of Thrones
  • Bob Odenkirk, Better Call Saul
  • Billy Porter, Pose
  • Milo Ventimiglia, This Is Us

Who I Would Vote For: Kit Harrington

Who Else I Would Have Nominated: Ramy Youssef for Hulu’s Ramy

Who Will Win: Jason Bateman? Feels like a total toss-up.

Outstanding Comedy Actress

  • Christina Applegate, Dead to Me
  • Rachel Brosnahan, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  • Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
  • Natasha Lyonne, Russian Doll
  • Catherine O’Hara, Schitt’s Creek
  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge, Fleabag

Who I Would Vote For: Christina Applegate or Phoebe Waller-Bridge

Who Else I Would Have Nominated: Linda Cardellini for Dead to Me, Natasia Demetriou for What We Do in the Shadows, Alison Brie for GLOW

Who Will Win: It’s a three-way race between Brosnahan, Louis-Dreyfus and Waller-Bridge. This is the last time they’ll ever be able to award either Louis-Dreyfus or Waller-Bridge for playing their characters since their respective shows each ended. In a race like that, I’d favor the sentimental favorite over the new kid, and in this case that means Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

Outstanding Comedy Actor

  • Anthony Anderson, black-ish
  • Don Cheadle, Black Monday
  • Ted Danson, The Good Place
  • Michael Douglas, The Kominsky Method
  • Bill Hader, Barry
  • Eugene Levy, Schitt’s Creek

Who I Would Vote For: Bill Hader

Who Else I Would Have Nominated: James Marsden for Dead to Me

Who Will Win: Bill Hader

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Limited Series/Movie

  • Amy Adams, Sharp Objects
  • Patricia Arquette, Escape at Dannemora
  • Aunjanue Ellis, When They See Us
  • Joey King, The Act
  • Niecy Nash, When They See Us
  • Michelle Williams, Fosse/Verdon

Who I Would Vote For: Michelle Williams

Who Else I Would Have Nominated: Emma Stone for Maniac and any of the Haunting of Hill House sisters

Who Will Win: Patricia Arquette

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series/Movie

  • Mahershela Ali, True Detective
  • Benicio Del Toro, Escape at Dannemora
  • Hugh Grant, A Very English Scandal
  • Jared Harris, Chernobyl
  • Jharrel Jerome, When They See Us
  • Sam Rockwell, Fosse/Verdon

Who I Would Vote For: Mahershela Ali

Who Else I Would Have Nominated: David Tennant and Michael Sheen for Good Omens, Oliver Jackson-Cohen for The Haunting of Hill House

Who Will Win: Jharrel Jerome

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series

  • Gwendoline Christie, Game of Thrones
  • Lena Heady, Game of Thrones
  • Sophie Turner, Game of Thrones
  • Maisie Williams, Game of Thrones
  • Fiona Shaw, Killing Eve
  • Julia Garner, Ozark

Who I Would Vote For: Maisie Williams

Who Else I Would Have Nominated: Sarah Snook for Succession 

Who Will Win: Julia Garner

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series

  • Jonathan Banks, Better Call Saul
  • Giancarlo Esposito, Better Call Saul
  • Alfie Allen, Game of Thrones
  • Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Game of Thrones
  • Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
  • Michael Kelly, House of Cards
  • Chris Sullivan, This Is Us

Who I Would Vote For: Peter Dinklage

Who Else I Would Have Nominated: Kieran Culkin for Succession 

Who Will Win: Peter Dinklage

Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series

  • Sarah Goldberg, Barry
  • Sian Clifford, Fleabag
  • Olivia Coleman, Fleabag
  • Betty Gilpin, GLOW
  • Alex Borstein, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  • Marin Hinkle, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  • Kate McKinnon, Saturday Night Live
  • Anna Chlumsky, Veep

Who I Would Vote For: Sarah Goldberg

Who Else I Would Have Nominated: D’Arcy Carden for The Good Place

Who Will Win: Alex Borstein

Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series

  • Anthony Carrigan, Barry
  • Stephen Root,  Barry
  • Henry Wrinkler, Barry
  • Alan Arkin, The Kominksy Method
  • Tony Shaloub, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
  • Tony Hale, Veep

Who I Would Vote For: Anthony Carrigan

Who Else I Would Have Nominated: Andrew Scott as Fleabag’s hot priest

Who Will Win: Henry Wrinkler

Your turn. Who do you think will/should win? And which shows would you pick if only they’d be nominated? Let me know in the comments.


  1. Frankly, I don’t care. The issue with the Emmys has always been that while it might be kind of believable that the voters would be able to watch at least a chunk of movies up for academy award, there is no way anyone ever is watching all TV shows out, not even all TV shows which end up getting nominated. It is a popularity contest designed that the Networks have something to brag about in their advertising. There is next to no relation between the winners and actual quality.

    1. There is no arguing that the Emmys are a popularity content designed by the Networks to boost advertising. From the fact that eligibility ends after May sweeps to the telecast taking place right before the traditional launch of the Fall lineup, it is a program designed to complement Broadcast programming. However, I would push back on the contention about there being next to no correlation between the winners and quality. Historically, that’s a fair argument, but in recent years as cable and streaming have overtaken TV and thus overtaken the Emmys there has been a gradual and then incredibly rapid change in Emmy voting.

      We went from Fleabag; Season 1 being ignored to Season 2 being nominated for just about everything, and we went through years and years of The Americans being snubbed to it getting embraced at the end. The Emmys have somewhat more quietly pursued many of the same diversity/membership boost initiatives as the Oscars, and they have expanded the total number of nominees in certain categories while also trying harder to clamp down on category fraud. The result, I’d say, is that while there are a lot of snubs this year, as always, I can’t really argue against them recognizing Good Place, Fleabag, Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Killing Eve, Bodyguard, Schitt’s Creek, Chernobyl, etc. There’s a lot to like there, but, also, based on my read of critical opinion in industry trades and social media that also broadly reflects the consensus. Very few of the shows which were argued to be the best of the year went completely ignored (The Haunting of Hill House is one notable exception).

      But I guess I’m defending the nominees, not the winners, and on that point, you might still be right. If the Emmys just rubber stamp Game of Thrones tonight, there will still be that impression that they still have a ways to go to gain true respectability.

      One thing I cannot defend: voting based on a single episode. You wouldn’t vote on a movie based on a single scene, or a book based on a single chapter. It’s bullshit, but it’s a pragmatic necessity. In the prior era where shows reset themselves to default every week and rarely dared to change the formula, it at least made more sense, but in the peak TV era where everything is geared toward the binge the idea of assessing an entire show’s worth based on a single episode feels like they’re saying they saw enough to maybe want to watch the rest of the season but they have no idea if the rest of the season holds up.

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