Nine Big Questions As 2021 Emmy Nomination Voting Begins

Voting for the 2021 Emmy nominations is officially underway. Much of Los Angeles is covered with FYC billboards. With California opening up, the Television Academy and CBS are likely breathing a sigh of relief that they will be able to put on a full ceremony with almost zero COVID restrictions. That means red carpets, paparazzi, and post-parties galore. But will this year’s September 19 telecast feature enough stars to entice viewers to watch? No pressure, Television Academy voters.

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Because of a significant stoppage in production last year, several popular programs are not in consideration in 2021. The stars of “Stranger Things,” “Succession,” “Barry,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” and “Ozark” won’t be in the mix again until 2022 (assuming they get nominated, obviously). But Disney+ hasn’t just given television the gift of “The Mandalorian’s” Baby Yoda, but of Marvel too. “WandaVision” should snag a ton of nominations, including for its stars Elisabeth Olsen and Paul Bettany, and there’s an outside chance “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier” stars could earn some love too in the Drama Series category (maybe). But before CBS determines if this helps curtail general awards show ratings, we’ve got some questions that need to be answered.

Is Netflix still the nomination king?
In 2020, Netflix demolished the competition earning 160 nominations compared to just 107 for HBO. That was a change after the final season of “Game of Thrones” helped propel HBO to the top in 2019 with 137 nods to Netflix’s 117. The world’s most popular streaming service still has popular Emmy players such as “The Crown,“The Kominsky Method,” and, assumingly, “The Queen’s Gambit” and “Bridgerton” for another expected big bounty. Last year was a nomination hurricane for Netflix, with non-narrative programs such as “Tiger King,” “Cheer,” and numerous standup specials racking up the nods. In fact, Netflix landed every nomination in the Outstanding Writing for a Variety Special category in 2020. However, 12 months later, it’s a different story and we’re not so sure they will duplicate that success again. That’s partially because you can expect HBO and HBO Max to sell their combined total of nominations as one “outlet” and the fledgling service has major players this year in “The Flight Attendant” and “Hacks.” And despite some heavy competition, we expect “Mare of Easttown,” “The Undoing” and “I Think I May Destroy You” to give HBO a leg up in both the Primetime and Creative Emmy categories. Complicating the tally outlet is expected nomination monsters from other networks such as “Ted Lasso” (Apple TV+), a resurgent “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Hulu), “The Mandalorian” (Disney+) and “WandaVision.” So who takes the crown this year? Netflix could hold on, but it’s gonna be close.

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Is “Mare of Easttown” going to outplay “The Queen’s Gambit?”
Sneaking into the Outstanding Limited or Anthology Series category will be a battle this year, but HBO’s “Mare of Easttown” and Netflix’s “The Queen’s Gambit” are very safe bets. The latter dominated the year-end guild awards taking every possible honor you could imagine. But, the series debuted in October. Television Academy members have demonstrated long memories over the years, but “Mare,” a Spring release, was a social media and ratings phenomenon that Netflix’s binge strategy often can’t duplicate (and we totally acknowledge what a word of mouth wonder “Queen’s” was in its own universe). Scott Frank’s period mini-series was thought to be a lock in the mini-series categories across the board, but now? They better watch out. Mare is on the case.

Can “Hacks,” “Master of None” and “Girls5Eva” make an impact?
With seven of last year’s eight Comedy Series nominees not eligible this time around due to various reasons (including COVID shooting delays), the category is wide open for some new or returning players. The aforementioned “Ted Lasso,” “The Flight Attendant” and former nominee “Black-ish” seem like safe bets along with last year’s returning player “The Kominsky Method.” There are three late-arriving contenders that are hoping to make an impact, but have voters actually watched the shows? “Hacks” has earned a ton of social media buzz and a second season renewal, but is that enough? “Master of None Presents: Moments in Love” is a massive departure from the tone and aesthetic of the series’ first three seasons, the last of which aired in 2017. Critics adored it, but it’s a challenging watch even for the most patient of cinephiles. “Girls5Eva” has the Tina Fey association and is also returning for a second season, but did the Peacock series really break out enough to land a Comedy Series nomination? Listen, there are going to be surprises in this category no matter what. We also think there will be some major disappointments as well.

Was “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist’s” cancellation ideal for its Emmy prospects?
It’s not unheard of for a program to get canceled in the middle of Emmy campaigning. It’s rare, but it’s not new. Usually, unless the show features an incredibly popular star or Television Academy favorite, it puts an end to any Emmy hopes. This year, with the Comedy Series categories scrounging for suitable nominees it might be…good news? The industry and fans were shocked that “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” landed a late cancellation from NBC almost a week before Emmy voting was set to begin. But, as we just discussed, many of the Comedy Series races are wide open. In fact, it would be somewhat shocking if “Zoey” herself, Jane Levy, was snubbed in the Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category. And, the show still has an excellent chance to crack the primary contest even with a new network or third season unlikely any time soon. And sometimes, but not often, this is the sort of industry publicity you can’t buy.

Can “Pose” or any other drama series halt “The Crown’s” intended coronation?
Like “The Queen’s Gambit,” Netflix’s “The Crown” has long been seen as the inevitable frontrunner to take the Drama Series, um, crown. Nominated three times previously, it’s always faced tough competition from “Succession,” “Game of Thrones” and the breakout first season “Handmaid’s.” While the latter could make a comeback with Emmy voters after June (Elisabeth Moss) finally escaped from Gilead, another potential nominee is waiting in the wings to win the ball, “Pose.” Ending after just three seasons, the FX series started roughly due to some inevitable COVID miscues, but its last five episodes were arguably the best of the period drama’s entire run (and features one tear-jerking scene after another). And, sure, you could argue “The Mandalorian” also has an outside chance after its spectacular season finale. But, in reality, “The Crown” should give Netflix its first win in the most prestigious Emmy category of them all. That being said, don’t count out “Pose” or “The Handmaid’s Tale” to potentially surprise.

Will MJ Rodriguez make history?
Speaking of “Pose,” the program is on the cusp of history in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series category. Based on the current field of contenders, MJ Rodriguez has an excellent shot at earning her first nomination. If she does, she’d become just the first transwoman to earn a major acting nod in the Comedy, Drama, or Limited Series categories. She’d follow trailblazer Laverne Cox who earned four nominations for “Orange Is the New Black” beginning with an Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series nod in 2014 and Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series in 2017, 2019, and 2020.

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Was it Julianne Nicholson all along?
All the Limited Series/Anthology categories will be nailbiters from top to bottom, but did a late contender arrive to snatch Kathryn Hahn‘s potential crown? The “WandaVision” series stealer was nominated in 2017 for “Transparent,” but went home winless. This year, she’s been the frontrunner for her multi-decades take on the series antagonist, Agatha Harkness. However, that was before Julianne Nicholson’s turn in “Mare of Easttown” resulted in a knockout performance (and perfect Emmy submission) in the final episode. Nicholson may have to deal with siphoned votes from likely fellow nominee and co-star Jean Smart, but, in this category, proclaiming it “Agatha All Along” might not ring true.

Can “RuPaul’s Drag Race” win four in a row?
Familiarity tends to dominate the Competition Reality Series category. Over the course of its 20-year-old history, this Emmy has been awarded to “The Amazing Race” 10 times, “The Voice” four times, and to “Drag Race” the last three telecasts. The VH1 staple earned its highest ratings for season 13 in three seasons and the franchise has exploded globally not only with U.K. and Canadian versions but spin-offs in Holland, Spain, and “Down Under” (Australia and New Zealand) as well. As a pop culture phenomenon, it hasn’t peaked yet. That being said, FOX’s rating winner “The Masked Singer” is waiting in the wings, but is it – no joke – serious enough to ever win? Ponder.

Can anyone beat “Ted Lasso?”
Like “The Queen’s Gambit,” Apple TV+’s wunderkind took every year-end guild honor that the final season of “Schitt’s Creek” didn’t qualify for. And if it didn’t win them, it landed competitive nominations. So now, the British-American comedy series finds itself trying to fend off the fantastic“The Flight Attendant,” “Hacks” and “The Kominsky Method?” So yeah, um, we’re calling this one even before the nominations are announced.