Emmy Awards 2016: 5 Things to Look for at the Ceremony

Emmy Awards 2016: 5 Things to Look for at the Ceremony

LOS ANGELES — Free of the controversy that overshadowed this year’s Academy Awards and its lineup of all-white acting nominees, the 68th Primetime Emmys arrive on ABC on Sunday night with the focus squarely on the awards at a time when there’s never been more competition in TV.

Will HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” repeat for best drama and best comedy? (They’re favorites.) Will FX’s “The People v. O. J. Simpson” and its star-studded cast come close to sweeping all the limited series categories? (Very possibly.) And will Netflix benefit from this year’s presidential election and finally break through in the top acting categories for Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in “House of Cards?” (Maybe.)

Oh, and just how much will the show’s host, Jimmy Kimmel, address the election and its sometimes nasty overtones at what is supposed to be a (mostly) feel-good celebration about television?

Here are five things to look for at this year’s Emmys ceremony:

‘Thrones’ and ‘Veep’ Look to Repeat

The Emmys tend to find winners and cling to them for years (Jim Parsons, “Modern Family,” Allison Janney), which is what made last year’s first-time victories for HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Veep” in the best drama and best comedy categories so refreshing.

Maisie Williams, center, in “Game of Thrones.” Ms. Williams was nominated for outstanding supporting actress in a drama series for her role as Arya Stark.
Maisie Williams, center, in “Game of Thrones.” Ms. Williams was nominated for outstanding supporting actress in a drama series for her role as Arya Stark.

New voting rules helped secure their victories. (Everyone in the Television Academy, which organizes the Emmys, can now vote in the top categories, instead of just members of a closed-off committee.) But the question looming over Sunday’s selections is whether their victories usher in a new era of unpredictability, or whether Emmy voters have simply found new thoroughbreds to ride.

There is some good news for HBO’s rivals: Next year, “Game of Thrones,” one of the most widely praised dramas, will not be eligible for the Emmys; the network elected to start the show’s seventh season next summer, outside of the Emmy-eligible window.

Though the Emmys are usually numbingly predictable, two categories seem very much up for grabs, and they are big ones: best actor and best actress in a drama. Will Viola Davis repeat her victory last year for “How to Get Away With Murder,” when she became the first African-American woman to win in that category — or, with politics in the air, will Ms. Wright’s portrayal of the vice presidential candidate Claire Underwood result in her first prime-time Emmy?

The best actor category — in which the prize went last year to Jon Hamm, whose Don Draper character in “Mad Men” is now retired — is wide open. The three top contenders are the newcomer Rami Malek for his role as a hacker in “Mr. Robot” and two veterans: Kevin Spacey as President Frank Underwood in “House of Cards” and Bob Odenkirk in “Better Call Saul.” None has won an acting Emmy.

One other open question: Will Emmy voters give any love to “Downton Abbey,” which completed its final season this year? It’s up for drama but its best chance for a win is in the best supporting actress in a drama category, with Maggie Smith.

A New King of Late Night

The comedy talk-show space has never been more crowded, and even with diminished ratings, the spotlight can still be awfully bright: Just ask Jimmy Fallon, who was criticized for his “Tonight Show” interview with Donald J. Trump on Thursday.

Comedy Central has dominated the variety show category, winning for 13 consecutive years with “The Daily Show” and “The Colbert Report.” Not this year; Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart’s replacement, was shut out of the race in his first year as “The Daily Show” host.

The favorite to win is John Oliver for his HBO show “Last Week Tonight,” now in its third season. It would be a breakthrough of sorts: The Emmy for variety show has been handed out to daily talk shows for years, and hasn’t been given to a weekly show since Tracey Ullman won for her sketch series “Tracey Takes On…” nearly 20 years ago. (Starting last year, variety sketch series and variety talk series were separated into different categories.)

Other nominees include the newcomer James Corden (though, notably, not his CBS colleague Stephen Colbert), and late-night veterans including Mr. Kimmel, Mr. Fallon, Bill Maher and Jerry Seinfeld for “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.”

The Year of O. J. (and FX)

FX’s “The People v. O. J. Simpson: American Crime Story” was a ratings hit and critics darling, but it was still an open question as to whether that would translate that into big wins at the Emmys.

Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark and Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” on FX.
Sarah Paulson as Marcia Clark and Sterling K. Brown as Christopher Darden in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” on FX.

Nearly every feature player for the limited series scored a nomination, including Sarah Paulson, Cuba Gooding Jr., Courtney B. Vance, Sterling K. Brown, John Travolta and David Schwimmer. Ms. Paulson has been nominated for an Emmy six times and is looking for her first win. Her possible good-luck charm? She’s bringing the former prosecutor Marcia Clark — whom she portrayed in the 10-episode series — as her date.

For FX, the Emmy glow extends beyond the O .J. series. “Fargo” is also nominated in the limited-series category and is vying to claim its second victory in three years. And after years of being shut out, FX’s critically praised “The Americans” finally broke through with three major nominations — best drama, best actor (Matthew Rhys) and best actress (Keri Russell).

HBO has an early lead after the Creative Arts Emmys were handed out last weekend, but FX is not far behind; HBO has won 16 so far compared with FX’s 12. And there is a possibility, though remote, that FX could catch HBO, which has won the most Emmys of any network for 14 consecutive years.

Controversy (or Lack Thereof)

The Oscars have been the subject of withering outrage the last two years for a lack of racial diversity in the acting categories. The Emmys? There’s been something closer to silence. No one would argue that TV has fully addressed the issue of race — it has a problem when it comes to tapping minorities behind the scenes, as the Directors Guild of America reported last week, and CBS was criticized in August for a fall lineup featuring familiar white male actors. But nearly two dozen minority actors are nominated for Emmys this year, following Ms. Davis’s acting victory a year ago.

Instead, attention has turned to the awards themselves, with campaigning having turned into something of a blood sport. In the last two years there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of submissions for the best drama Emmy, according to the Television Academy. And “for your consideration” mailers have reached comical proportions, with Netflix sending out a package to Emmy voters so hefty that it could crush a toe.

But even if the industry is in a locked battle, that interest isn’t necessarily spreading to the public. The Emmys broadcast had its lowest ratings ever last year, following a trend for other awards shows.

Deliverance for Streaming Services?

For each of the last three years, streaming services like Netflix and Amazon have been getting close to breaking through at the Emmys. Netflix had 54 nominations this year, its highest ever, and for the first time, it did better than any of the broadcast networks (Pity ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox: Their presence gets smaller each year.)

But when it comes to the major awards, the streaming services are having a harder time of it. Jeffrey Tambor did win best actor in a comedy last year for his role as a transgender woman in Amazon’s “Transparent.” And last year, Netflix had one victory in the major awards, with Uzo Aduba taking best supporting actress in a drama for her role as Crazy Eyes in “Orange Is the New Black.”

But Ms. Aduba was not even nominated this year, and Netflix in previous years has struck out in all the other top awards: best drama, best comedy, best actor and actress in a comedy or drama. Mr. Spacey and Ms. Wright have the chance to change that on Sunday. Netflix could also hope for victories (however unlikely) from “House of Cards’’ in the drama category and “Master of None’’ and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt’’ in comedy.

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