Emmy nominations pit mainstream programs against niche fare
Posted July 13
Updated July 14
LOS ANGELES — "This Is Us." And that is them.
When Emmy nominations were announced Thursday, one side of the TV coin hinted that broadcast's cultural relevance might be staging a comeback. This was thanks largely to the 11 nods granted NBC's "This Is Us," which broke out last fall as something no one had seen in years: a hit mainstream family drama that had everybody talking (and sometimes choking up) while critics swooned.
The show's hold on the nation's hearts and eyeballs was further demonstrated by Emmy nominations that include those for best drama series, two for lead actor, and two more for best supporting actor and supporting actress.
NBC also scored mightily with its 22 nominations for "Saturday Night Live," which, flourishing in the politically charged Age of Donald Trump, tied with HBO's exotic thriller "Westworld" for most nominations.
In all, NBC landed 64 nominations, vaulting far ahead of fellow broadcast networks ABC with 34, CBS with 29 and Fox's 21.
Even so, HBO, as usual, claimed first place with 110 nods, while streaming service Netflix had a robust 91.
That represents the other side of the coin, both in the TV universe overall, and, more specifically, for the Emmys, where broad-based, popular programs must vie with niche and premium programming for Emmy love. (The awards-cast is scheduled to air Sept. 17 on CBS, with Stephen Colbert as host.)
Netflix big-shouldered the nominations' best drama category with three contenders: "The Crown," ''House of Cards" and "Stranger Things." Rival streaming platform Hulu got its first-ever nods, totaling 18, and Amazon had 16.
"This Is Us" creator Dan Fogelman says he initially had an instinct to pitch his prospective series not to a broadcast network, but to cable, "because cable can be considered cooler," as he explained Thursday. "But the show didn't feel like it needed to be on cable."
"I think there is a place for television that is for everybody, art that is for everybody, that also hopefully can live in the conversation with the darker, edgier stuff," he said.
This is the remarkable feat of "This Is Us."
FX was the leader among cable, scoring 55 nominations and reinforcing its image of coolness with such edgy fare as "Feud: Bette and Joan," about the epic clash of Hollywood divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, which reaped 18 nominations, and the third season of "Fargo," which got 16 nods.
HBO's "Veep," the most-nominated comedy with 17 bids, is bucking for its third consecutive top comedy trophy. Star Julia Louis-Dreyfus has the chance to build on her record of most wins for a lead comedy actress: She has five for "Veep" and one for "The New Adventures of Old Christine."
But Emmy voters showed their willingness to recognize new comic faces and voices, which are flourishing on streaming networks and cable. Donald Glover's freshman FX series "Atlanta" earned a best comedy bid, as did Netflix's "Master of None," starring Aziz Ansari.
There was also room for "Modern Family," an old favorite on broadcast network ABC, although it earned only a handful of bids besides best comedy, including for Ty Burrell in the supporting actor category. HBO's "Silicon Valley" and Netflix's "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" round out the best comedy ranks.
Samantha Bee, who broke into the late-night male domain with TBS' "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee," earned a variety talk show nomination for her efforts. Her competitors include "Late Show" host Colbert as well as Jimmy Kimmel, John Oliver, James Corden and Bill Maher.
Netflix's sci-fi series "Stranger Things" received an impressive 18 bids, including one for star Millie Bobby Brown, while its "The Crown," a lavish peek at the life of Britain's Queen Elizabeth as played by the nominated Claire Foy, received a total of 13 bids.
So did the dystopian Hulu saga "The Handmaid's Tale," including a nomination for star Elisabeth Moss. AMC's "Better Call Saul," the "Breaking Bad" spinoff, is also nominated, along with star Bob Odenkirk.
"Girls" didn't get a best comedy bid for its sixth and final season. But this groundbreaking HBO series cleaned up for its guest actors, with nods going to Becky Ann Baker, Riz Ahmed and Matthew Rhys, with Ahmed and Rhys nominated in drama categories as well, for HBO's "The Night Of" and FX's "The Americans," respectively.
Competing with Rhys, Odenkirk, Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia (both of "This Is Us") and Anthony Hopkins ("Westworld") for best drama acting honors are Liev Schreiber from Showtime's "Ray Donovan" and Kevin Spacey of Netflix's "House Of Cards."
Foy and Moss are joined in the best drama actress category by 2015 winner Viola Davis from ABC's "How To Get Away With Murder," Keri Russell of "The Americans," Evan Rachel Wood in "Westworld" and Robin Wright from "House Of Cards."
As the Emmy hubbub over "This Is Us" suggests, this is all a different world from TV's early decades, when the Emmys were largely divvied up among just three commercial networks; a world where, until the late 1980s, cable fare didn't even qualify for Emmys.
When viewers tune in the Emmycast in September, they may never have seen, nor even heard of, many of the programs competing for awards. Bedrock shows like "SNL," ''Modern Family" and now "This Is Us" will represent a throwback: TV that more viewers have a rooting interest in.
Entertainment Writer Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE — Frazier Moore is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.