Emmy Nominations: The Crown and The Mandalorian Lead; HBO Combines With HBO Max to Battle Netflix

Who’s on first? Depends on your definition of a platform. As the Television Academy announced the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards nominations on Tuesday morning, the combo of HBO and HBO Max proclaimed victory with a total of 130 nominations, followed closely by Netflix with 129. But the real story may have been who was next behind: The relative newcomer streamer Disney Plus, with a whopping 71 nods (thanks to “WandaVision” and “The Mandalorian”).

Meanwhile, Netflix’s “The Crown” and Disney Plus’ “The Mandalorian” tied for the top spot for program nominations with 24 each, followed by Disney Plus’ “WandaVision” (23), Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (21), NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” (21), Apple TV Plus’ “Ted Lasso” (20), HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” (18), Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” (18), and HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” (16). Read the full list of nominations here.

It’s been a tumultuous year for TV, the entertainment industry and the country at large. But at least at the Emmys, one constant remains: Netflix and HBO continue to duke it out at the top of the nomination list, followed by everyone else. This year, however, the decision to count HBO and HBO Max under one tally will likely spark plenty of controversy, as Netflix would still hold bragging rights over HBO and HBO Max as singular entities. Separately, HBO received 94 awards, and HBO Max picked up 36 noms.

And then there’s the Walt Disney Co., which also could claim supremacy when all of its platforms are combined, to 146 nominations: ABC (23),
Disney Plus’ 71, Freeform 1, FX Networks’ 16, Hulu’s 25 and Nat Geo’s 10.

With so many new streamers in the game in 2021, there’s signs of a shake up in the force. The rise of new streaming services peddling prestige fare is having an impact in the Emmy race, and this year, that includes big entries from relative newbies Apple TV Plus and HBO Max.

This could very well be one of those transitional Emmy years that awards pundits talk about for years to come.

As the Television Academy announced the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards nominations on Tuesday morning, the biggest winner were perhaps three outlets that didn’t even exist three years ago. In just their second year of Emmy eligibility, Disney Plus, Apple TV Plus and HBO Max came out swinging, representing the latest challenge to Netflix’s recent kudos dominance.

In drama, the race is between “The Boys” (Amazon Prime Video), “Bridgerton” (Netflix), “The Crown” (Netflix), “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu), “Lovecraft Country” (HBO), “The Mandalorian” (Disney Plus), “Pose” (FX) and “This Is Us” (NBC). Last year’s victor, HBO’s “Succession,” is ineligible. “The Handmaid’s Tale” is the only previous drama Emmy winner, having landed the kudo in 2017.

Also not in the running this year was 2020’s comedy winner, Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek,” leaving room for a new eventual winner. Nominated are “Black-ish” (ABC), “Cobra Kai” (Netflix), “Emily in Paris” (Netflix), “Hacks” (HBO Max), “The Flight Attendant” (HBO Max), “The Kominsky Method” (Netflix), “Pen15” (Hulu) and “Ted Lasso” (Apple TV Plus). None of these are previous winners.

Meanwhile, the limited/anthology race comes down to “I May Destroy You” (HBO), “Mare of Easttown” (HBO), “The Queen’s Gambit” (Netflix), “WandaVision” (Disney Plus) and “The Underground Railroad” (Amazon Prime Video). Last year’s winner was HBO’s “Watchmen.”

Tuesday’s nominations came following another unusual For Your Consideration season, in which campaign events returned — but with major caveats. The only in-person gatherings allowed were drive-in screenings and panels, which both WarnerMedia and Disney included as part of their plans. Most FYC events were virtual, however, a nod to ongoing concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike last year, when FYC events were completely halted, this year the limitations didn’t stop networks and studios from adjusting their plans and showcasing more programs than ever. More than 300 contenders signed up for this year’s Emmy events lottery, to the point that TV Academy President/COO Maury McIntyre said the response was overwhelming — and took his team by surprise.

This year’s Emmy FYC events took place between March 24 and June 16; among new outlets campaigning for the first time: Peacock, Discovery Plus and TikTok.

DVD mailers are long gone, and this year the TV Academy went a step further and abolished all mailers of any kind. Booklets promoting programs must be digital, and food vouchers (limit $30) had to be via an email code as well. The one exception was those drive-ins, where low-cost items could be handed out along with meals (brought to your car).

The coronavirus production shutdown and stay-at-home decrees impacted last year’s competition, and continued to play a role in this year’s contest: HBO’s “Succession,” for example, had to sit this cycle out, while programs that were originally meant for 2020, including Nat Geo’s “Genius: Aretha” and FX’s latest season of “Fargo,” were pushed to this year.

The arrival of hungry new outlets also included HBO Max, which has merged campaign efforts with sister HBO and TBS/TNT/Tru TV, the networks formerly known as Turner and now dubbed the “T-Nets.” Disney Plus, which did extremely well in its first Emmys last year, with 19 noms and 8 wins, had more up its sleeves this year.

Those newcomers perhaps helped prevent a larger drop off in contenders this Emmy season. But nonetheless, the pandemic absolutely had an impact in the number of submissions in 2021. The drama ballot included 133 contenders this year, compared to 197 in 2020; comedy dropped to 68, vs. 111 last year. And even the super competitive limited series/anthology race dipped a clip, to 37 this year (from 41 last year, when it was just limited).

That led to declines in the various performer categories as well. The number of submissions matters more than it did in the past due to a rule change, instituted last year, that determines how many nominees in a category on the number of submissions.

With the exception of drama and comedy, which stay steady at eight nominees, the rule is that 1-19 submissions in a category net zero to four nominees, while 20-80 submissions result in five nominees, 81-160 submissions allow for six nominees, 161-240 submissions allow for seven nominees, and more than 240 submissions equate to eight nominees.

The Television Academy originally aimed to re-merge the variety talk and variety sketch categories this year, given the limited number of contenders. After an outcry from members in those fields, the decision was tabled. But this year’s number of submissions didn’t help their cause: Just 20 in variety talk, and 14 in variety sketch.

Other changes this year included the clarification on where “anthology” series go — alongside limited series, ending the practice of submitting individual episodes of shows like “Black Mirror” into the TV movie field.

Additionally, the org merged the short form comedy/drama series and short form variety series into one category: outstanding short form comedy, drama or variety series. That decision, coincidentally, came as Quibi — which entered the Emmy race last year in the short form field, landing 10 noms and winning two — went out of business.

And in a decision that goes into effect next year, documentaries that submit entries to the Oscars will no longer be eligible to compete at the Emmys. That means this year’s entrants will be the last to have the opportunity to “double dip” and compete for an Emmy nom if they failed to secure one at the Oscars. (Already, Oscar-nominated docs couldn’t enter; this further prevents non-Oscar nommed projects from eyeing the Emmys as a consolation prize.)

The impact of COVID-19 once again this year brought about a crop of new specials that were inspired by or produced because of the quarantine, such as reunion specials and the aforementioned TikTok’s “Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical,” created by quarantined talent in their homes.

The pandemic also led to a decrease in Television Academy membership in 2021, going from more than 25,000 to 20,000 — the result of layoffs that might both be attributed to COVID-19 but also perhaps consolidation and mergers. The decline came as the TV Academy is in the middle of a several-year process of vetting its membership to determine who might continue to have voting privileges.

Now comes the 2021 Emmy second phase, and as Los Angeles begins to open up, red carpets resume and life somewhat returns to normal, there’s a chance more in-person campaign events may pop up in the coming months.

That then leads to the Creative Arts Emmy and Primetime Emmy ceremonies in September.

So far, the Academy has not yet revealed how it will handle the Creative Arts Emmys, which last year were expanded to a week-long virtual event, hosted by Nicole Byer.

Meanwhile, the Primetime Emmys will air on Sept. 19, this year via CBS (and its sister Paramount Plus streamer). As announced on Monday, “The Neighborhood” star Cedric the Entertainer will host the ceremony, while Hudlin Entertainment and Done+Dusted will once again partner to produce the telecast for a second year in a row.

Reginald Hudlin and Ian Stewart are executive producers and Hamish Hamilton will serve as director of the telecast; last year, Hudlin and the Done+Dusted team earned high marks for handling a socially distanced telecast, with host Jimmy Kimmel interacting with a handful of presenters at an empty Staples Center and throwing to others around the world.

This time, the Emmys will be back in its Microsoft Theatre home base, with a limited audience of nominees and their guests. “Last year, the restrictions of Covid freed me and the awesome talents at Done+Dusted to do a show that was different than any other award show,” Hudlin said in a statement yesterday. “We don’t plan on repeating ourselves, but we certainly want to try some new ideas that could only be done on the Emmys.”

Said TV Academy chairman/CEO Frank Scherma: “It feels good to be getting back on a set. We are thrilled that getting together in person is on the horizon once again.”

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