The 2017 Emmy nominations were everything exciting and enervating about the Television Academy all at once.
The morning was buoyed by a record five new series nominated in the drama series category (a number that can’t be approached outside of the very early days of the Emmys, when everything was new), with one of those new shows, HBO’s Westworld, tying for the most nominations for any program with 22.
The Emmys have gotten spectacularly good at giving TV fans just enough surprises to keep them invested, then returning, again and again, to the same established favorites. Sure, they say, you might be excited about Stranger Things’ 18 nominations now, but what about in five years when you hate it, and we keep rubber stamping its nomination? How will you feel then?
So go the Emmys every year, and so go our deep dives into the awards’ nominees and stats. Here are the best and worst — the winners and losers, if you will — of the 2017 Emmy nominations.
Winner: five new dramas clean up
I wrote about this possibility. I even predicted it would happen. But I never thought it actually would. Surely the Emmys were too staid, too safe and bland in their choices, to ever nominate five new dramas in the same category.
But nope! The Emmys nominated Netflix’s The Crown, Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Netflix’s Stranger Things, NBC’s This Is Us, and HBO’s Westworld for one of their top two series prizes. (The two returning nominees were AMC’s Better Call Saul and Netflix’s House of Cards.)
The series come from four completely different networks. They even come from the three major sectors of the industry — broadcast, cable, and streaming — with This Is Us being the first broadcast network drama series nominated since CBS’s The Good Wife back in 2011. The nominees also reflected a variety of levels of prior Emmy success: Handmaid’s marked the first series nomination for up-and-comer Hulu, while Westworld marked the 18th Emmy ceremony where HBO is nominated in this category out of the past 19. (The sole exception was the 2008 ceremony.)
And these weren’t cursory nominations, either. The five series counted 77 nominations among them, with all receiving major nominations in acting categories and four out of the five (every show but This Is Us) also receiving nominations in both the writing and directing categories. (Handmaid’s even received two directing nominations.) The five also took every available nomination for casting in a drama series — often a good indicator category for what the Academy truly loves.
A lot of this is thanks to a weird confluence of factors hitting all at once, including a couple of open spots in the category (thanks to the absence of Game of Thrones and Downton Abbey) and most of the returning nominees having weak points. (The three eligible shows pushed out were FX’s The Americans, Showtime’s Homeland, and USA’s Mr. Robot.) This situation almost certainly won’t repeat itself — and it seems likely at least a couple of these will be one-time nominees, thanks to the vagaries of Emmy dynamics and the return of Game of Thrones to the category next year. But five new nominees in the same category is a real Emmy achievement. We may never see it happen again.
Winner: Netflix is coming to take all your Emmys
In 2016, Netflix was nominated for 54 Emmys. Not bad, right? Well, in 2017, the streaming network is nominated for 91 Emmys. Only HBO — with 111 nominations — tops it. That’s an increase of just under 69 percent. Netflix probably has only one thing to say about that: Nice.
What’s even more impressive is that three of the drama series nominees — The Crown, House of Cards, and Stranger Things — are Netflix shows. The drama series category is typically the most competitive at the Emmys, so the last time a network pushed three of its shows into this category at once was in 2001, when NBC managed it with ER, Law & Order, and (eventual champion) The West Wing. Even HBO couldn’t pull this off (though it was nominated thrice in the comedy series category in 2012 for Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls, and Veep).
And Netflix didn’t stop there. It was nominated in almost every other section of the ballot as well, including comedy series nominations for Master of None and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
This is another one of those illusory achievements that’s mostly due to good timing. House of Cards’ nomination total crumbled a bit this year, which suggests it’s on its way out with the Academy, and something like Stranger Things could find it very hard to capture lightning in a bottle twice. But still. Good on Netflix!
(Though far less impressive than Netflix’s total, both Amazon and Hulu, Netflix’s main competitors, had solid mornings, too, with Amazon pulling in 16 nominations — standing pat with its 2016 total — and Hulu going from two nominations in 2016 to 18 this year.)
Winners: HBO and FX weather the rise of streaming (and so do their limited series)
Just four limited series combined for 63 nominations in the categories honoring such programs. (That’s actually a slightly better average nomination total than those five new dramas with 77 nominations among them.) Those four limited series aired on just two networks — HBO’s Big Little Lies and The Night Of; and FX’s Fargo and Feud: Bette and Joan.
Though FX was pushed out of the drama series category (about which more in a bit), which had to sting, it and HBO remain the only two networks that are at all competitive across the board in the limited series, comedy series, and drama series categories. (Netflix, though a growing Emmy behemoth, doesn’t program limited series — yet. It sure tried with its Gilmore Girls revival this year, though!)
HBO received nominations in all three categories (as well as the variety talk category, with Last Week Tonight with John Oliver), while FX also snagged a comedy series nomination for Atlanta, as well as nominations for a bunch of its actors.
The two networks’ nomination totals didn’t plummet either — which was unusual for cable networks this year. (AMC, for instance, fell by just under 50 percent, from 24 in 2016 to 13 in 2017.) FX fell slightly, from 56 in 2016 to 55 this year (a fall that would have been completely wiped out by The Americans hanging on in drama series). And HBO rose considerably, from 94 in 2016 to 111 in 2017. That’s only an 18 percent raise — but when you’re the most-nominated network, year in and year out, any increase is tough. What’s more, HBO pulled this off without Game of Thrones’ help, making the whole thing even more impressive.
Increasingly, it seems, the major Emmy players are HBO, Netflix, and FX, in that order. And it’s hard to imagine anybody else catching up any time soon.
Losers: Showtime and AMC are reeling, just a little bit
As mentioned, AMC’s nominations total collapsed, largely thanks to not having any limited series to compete with. (Last year, its total was boosted by the John le Carre adaptation The Night Manager.) Indeed, nine of its 13 nominations are thanks to Better Call Saul. Without that show, AMC wouldn’t really have… anything. That’s a big decline for a network that won this category six times in seven years with Mad Men and Breaking Bad.
Things are even more hectic over at Showtime, the only network to interrupt AMC’s streak (when Homeland won in 2013). Yes, the network’s total nominations drop was smaller than AMC’s — going from 22 to 15 — but the drop came thanks to no Showtime series cracking the drama or comedy series categories, with longtime drama actress nominee Claire Danes (of Homeland) also being pushed out.
Both networks still have some plum nominations — like all those Saul noms and major acting nominations for Showtime’s Ray Donovan and Shameless (to say nothing of Mandy Patinkin randomly resurfacing in the supporting actor drama category for Homeland). But both have lost the heat they had just five years ago in favor of streaming networks and FX.
Winner: Have you heard of this show Saturday Night Live?
Yeah, after a season that was heavily discussed and in the headlines, after a season that saw the president of the United States go after it on his Twitter feed, Saturday Night Live was going to do pretty well. And it did, hauling in 22 nominations, including an acting nomination for Alec Baldwin for playing Donald Trump. (Baldwin may as well just have the trophy shipped to him right now, which is too bad, because he’s not even that good.)
That total is inflated somewhat by SNL’s ability to compete in many of the technical categories that apply only to live productions — and thus allow the show to compete in less competitive categories. But it also received three separate nominations in the supporting actress in a comedy category, so the love for the show was real.
I’d insert a boilerplate rant about how SNL’s milquetoast, broad, obvious satire is nowhere near television’s best, but the show is mostly just getting nominated for getting under Donald Trump’s skin, so I won’t pretend the nominations speak to the show’s quality.
Winner: Modern Family has been nominated eight times in a row, so that’s a thing, we suppose
Look, even the people on Modern Family would probably admit their show is so far past its prime that the phrase “past its prime” ceased to apply in, like, 2014. But here it is! Nominated for its eighth straight Emmy in the comedy series category! Thus does it join the august company of shows like All in the Family and Cheers. Sure.
Losers: The Americans and Transparent prove you can’t have even a slightly disappointing season if you’re a tenuously nominated critical darling
The big surprise of Emmy morning 2016 were the major nominations for FX’s The Americans, which finally cracked the top three drama categories, with nominations for the series itself and lead performers Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. Russell and Rhys repeated their performance this morning, but the series itself fell out of the race, after a season critics were ever so slightly less kind to than the previous seasons.
Similarly, Amazon’s Transparent, which has won numerous Emmys across its first two seasons, dropped out of the running, despite a bunch of nominations in other major categories. (In that respect, it resembles HBO’s very similar Girls, which received series nominations for its first two years, then left the category for the rest of its run.) Transparent, too, had some slightly less kind critical notices in its third season than for its first two.
It just goes to show: You can’t have a disappointing season with those crack judges of talent, the Emmys. (Congratulations to House of Cards on its fifth consecutive drama series nomination.)
Losers: The television academy for giving The Leftovers but one nomination
The Leftovers will go down in history as one of the best TV shows of its era, a searing, beautiful tribute to loss and grief and depression. Anyway, across its three seasons, it received one nomination, for guest actor Ann Dowd (who was great, admittedly). Hey, that’s only one less nomination than The Wire.
Winner???????: Bill Maher got nominated again
There were a bunch of articles about how Bill Maher’s show Real Time with Bill Maher might not be nominated because he used racial slurs on the program right as voting was beginning. Ha ha ha, those articles know nothing about the Emmys! Of course Real Time was nominated again, even though that show is increasingly powered only by its own smugness.
Winner: Liev Schreiber, the greatest actor in America
Many great actors — Riz Ahmed, Matthew Rhys, and Ann Dowd, for three — received two Emmy nominations this year. But only one actor received three. Only one actor received two of those nominations in the same category.
I speak, of course, of Liev Schreiber, our greatest living actor, nominated thrice for his lead performance in Ray Donovan then for his narration work on the HBO Sports documentaries Muhammad Ali: Only One and UConn: The March to Madness.
Of course, he’s nominated opposite Meryl Streep in that narration category, so I guess he’d better pin all his hopes on Ray Donovan. Better luck in 2018, Liev Schreiber!
Correction: Due to several incorrect nomination totals provided by the Television Academy, the numbers of nominations received by several networks were under-counted. We’ve corrected the totals for HBO, FX, and AMC — as well as associated percentages — throughout.