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2015 Emmy nominations: The 9 biggest snubs and surprises

Uzo Aduba (left) and Cat Deeley announce the 2015 Emmy Award nominations.
Uzo Aduba (left) and Cat Deeley announce the 2015 Emmy Award nominations.
Kevin Winter/Getty Images
Emily St. James was a senior correspondent for Vox, covering American identities. Before she joined Vox in 2014, she was the first TV editor of the A.V. Club.

Every year, the announcement of the Emmy nominations brings with it a sense of hope for TV fans ... and then immediately delivers crushing, crushing disappointment.

The Emmy "system," developed during an era when all of television was produced by three broadcast networks, has grown increasingly incapable of keeping up with the glut of good-to-great series airing in every notch of the dial. Consequently, nobody is ever completely pleased by the Emmy nominations, and the best possible reaction is usually, "Well, they could have been a lot worse."

Now, 2015 is one of those "could have been a lot worse" years, with some cool nominations sprinkled throughout a list full of repeat nominees. But it's still tempting to dream of what might have been — and to be surprised by some of the decisions.

Here are the nine biggest Emmy snubs and surprises.

1) Empire is left out of the Best Drama Series race


Cookie (Taraji P. Henson) and Luscious (Terrence Howard) are the center of Empire, TV's most dominant show of the moment — and a show snubbed for Best Drama.


Why it could have been nominated: Few TV shows in recent history have hit with the impact of Empire, which debuted huge — and then grew even bigger. Arguably, it created a real sense that broadcast television — long thought to be slowly dying — has a little life left in it after all. And while the Emmys don't always embrace broadcast shows anymore, they do often look for ways to acknowledge significant hits. Plus, a nomination for the music industry drama would have been a nice nod toward TV diversity, which never hurts with organizations like the television academy.

Why it wasn't nominated: Empire had to overcome two giant Emmy biases: the one against network shows and the one against primetime soaps. It probably could've surmounted one of these obstacles, but together, they ended up being too much to handle. At the very least, Taraji P. Henson pulled off a nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Drama for her portrayal of Cookie, the show's most iconic character.

2) The Emmys fall out of love with The Big Bang Theory

The Big Bang Theory

Jim Parsons has won four of the last five Emmys for Lead Actor in a Comedy.


Why it could have been nominated: The biggest comedy on television (still) had been nominated for four straight years in the Best Comedy Series category before being tossed aside this year. And yet that's nothing compared to the accomplishments of Jim Parsons, who's won the Emmy for Lead Actor in a Comedy four times in the past five years for his performance as Sheldon Cooper. But Parsons — who won just last year, even — was also removed from contention. Supporting actress Mayim Bialik and guest actress Christine Baranski are the only two Big Bang contenders still in the running.

Why it wasn't nominated: Age, most likely. The show is about to begin its ninth season, and while there are plenty of shows that stuck around in this category long past that point, most of them were former winners (unlike Big Bang). Even mighty Emmy champion Frasier was dropped from this category later in its run. What's particularly notable in this case is that the Emmys seemed to fall out of love with The Big Bang Theory all at once. More common is what's happening with Modern Family, whose nomination total lags a little more with every year.

3) Tatiana Maslany finally makes the cut

Tatiana Maslany

It only took three seasons, but Tatiana Maslany is finally a nominee for her Orphan Black performance.

BBC America

Why she might have been left out: Despite playing many different characters in every episode of Orphan Black, Maslany has been passed over for two years running. Most of the time, it's very difficult — albeit not impossible — for actors or shows to enter the mix in their third season or later. But there's Maslany, right alongside frequent Lead Actress in a Drama nominees like Robin Wright and Claire Danes.

Why she ultimately earned a nomination: Honestly, hell if I know. Sometimes, it just takes the Emmys time to start paying attention to something, and in this age when great TV is scattered all over the programming grid, many voters likely just took their time in checking out Orphan Black and boarding the train many of us jumped on all the way back in 2013.

4) The Emmys love streaming television


Amazon's gentle dramedy Transparent pulled in 11 nominations for its first season.


Why this is surprising: It took forever for cable series to win serious recognition at the Emmys — and outside of Showtime, HBO, AMC, and FX, no other cable network has been nominated in the Best Drama Series or Best Cable Series categories. The Emmys, which have always been resistant to change, were particularly resistant to the cable revolution. That's made the awards' quick embrace of Netflix — and now Amazon — all the more impressive.

Why it's not surprising: The Emmys were quick to embrace both House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black in 2013 and 2014, respectively, and they also handed acting nominations to those shows' fellow Netflix peers Arrested Development and Derek. So the fact that the streaming service grabbed major nominations in 2015 for both Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Bloodline shouldn't have been too shocking. But Amazon's Transparent truly stunned; the series was expected to garner a Best Comedy Series nod, but its total haul of 11 nominations — the most of any comedy — is a coup. And to top it all off, one of the nominations for TV Movie went to Acorn TV, a little known site that streams British TV. Clearly, the Academy likes streaming.

5) Liev Schreiber?! What?!

Ray Donovan

Liev Schreiber's nomination for Ray Donovan was most unexpected.


Why his nomination is surprising: The race for Lead Actor in a Drama Series has traditionally been a bloodbath. In recent years, it's been superseded in that sense by Lead Actress in a Drama Series (where you could legitimately replace all six nominees with six different women and have a list that's just as good, if not better), but there are still a ton of quality contenders who were left out. For the Emmys to select Ray Donovan's Liev Schreiber over The Americans' Matthew Rhys or Justified's Timothy Olyphant or Masters of Sex's Michael Sheen or even Empire's Terrence Howard is honestly a bit mind-boggling.

Why it shouldn't be surprising: Showtime has long dominated the acting categories. While Sheen might have seemed the safe bet for the network in this category, Schreiber has the showier role. And the Emmys love nominating hammy, scenery-chewing performances in this category. (See also: former winner Jeff Daniels of The Newsroom; three-time nominee Kevin Spacey of House of Cards.)

6) Game of Thrones nets 24 nominations

Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones garnered 24 nominations. That's hugely impressive.


Why these nominations are surprising: After a hugely controversial season, there was some chatter that Game of Thrones might be headed for a bit of a decrease from its 17-nomination total in 2014. (It was never going to miss out on Best Drama Series, where it's a mainstay.) Instead, the show rocketed to 24 total nominations, including four acting nominations, two directing nominations, and a writing nomination.

Why they shouldn't be surprising: With the exit of two of 2014's most major nominees — Breaking Bad and True Detective — and no obvious successor to either, there's a huge void in a lot of the 2015 drama categories. In most cases, that void has been filled by Game of Thrones or House of Cards (the latter of which also quietly garnered nominations in categories it hasn't been part of in the past, like Supporting Actor in a Drama). Game of Thrones' huge nominations total makes it the early favorite for the Best Drama win, but the Emmys have been known to nominate shows lots of times, then largely ignore them come the actual awards ceremony. (See also: NYPD Blue, which managed 27 nominations and six wins in its first season — but didn't win Best Drama Series.)

7) The Good Wife misses out on Best Drama Series and Lead Actress in a Drama

Good Wife

The Good Wife had a disappointing sixth season.


Why these snubs are surprising: Though The Good Wife hasn't been nominated for Best Drama Series since its second season (a fact that is frequently forgotten), the 2015 Emmy season began as a wide-open field. As I noted above, the Best Drama Series race has lost two major players in Breaking Bad and True Detective — and what's more, the Academy just added a seventh nominee to the Best Series categories, presumably leaving three open spots. Plus, Julianna Margulies won for her work on the show just last year, becoming the only recipient of one of the top five trophies who wasn't part of Breaking Bad. But instead of receiving nominations this year, both Good Wife and Margulies were skipped in favor of Orange Is the New Black, Homeland, and Better Call Saul.

Why they shouldn't be surprising: Remember what I said about the Academy's bias against broadcast networks? When you mix that pesky little detail with the fact that The Good Wife's most recent season was pretty awful, it's easier to understand why the series wasn't deemed good enough to compete as a big dog in 2015. It remains on the Emmys' radar, as acting nominations for supporting players Alan Cumming and Christine Baranski suggest, but it will have to improve quite a bit if it's going to crack the top races again.

8) The Americans is absent from the top category — yet again

The Americans

The Americans is perhaps TV's best show. Tell that to the Emmys.


Why this snub is surprising: Okay, "surprising" is the wrong word. In its first two seasons, the most illustrious nomination that possibly could've been managed by The Americans — which the Vox style guide contractually obligates me to refer to as "the best show on television" — was Best Guest Actress for Margo Martindale. But 2015's wide-open Best Drama Series field and a growing sense that the Academy was catching up with the show via streaming (which is probably what helped to boost Maslany) had some critics hoping the show might snag a nomination for Best Drama Series or Lead Actor in a Drama. It did finagle its way into Best Writing — which is well-deserved and impressive and hopefully bodes well for the future — and Best Guest Actress, but it's still missing from the big categories.

Why it shouldn't be surprising: FX, for whatever reason, just cannot seem to get its foot in the door of the Best Drama Series category, despite success in the Best Limited Series (American Horror Story and Fargo) and Best Comedy (Louie) races. The network has managed nominations here for Damages, but it never secured space for The Shield, Sons of Anarchy, or Justified — even though all three shows deserved nominations at one point or another. We can now officially add The Americans to that mix, though it will at least have a shot at a 2016 bid.

9) Niecy Nash is nominated for Getting On

Getting On

Niecy Nash (left) received an unexpected nomination for her work on Getting On.


Why her nomination is surprising: It seems that every year, the Emmys toss one nomination to a completely out-of-left-field contender, as if to remind us of why they still merit our attention. In 2015, that contender is Niecy Nash, whose performance as a nurse in an elder-care ward on HBO's criminally underwatched Getting On is incredibly deserving ... and whose nomination is so random that no major Emmy predictor (so far as I know) had her on their list.

Why it shouldn't be surprising: Getting On airs on HBO? That's the best I can do. I have literally no idea how this happened — happy as I am that it did.

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