If you’re particularly invested in the perpetual “Who is the king of Emmy mountain — HBO or Netflix?” argument, the 2019 Emmy nominations seem to have put that question to definitive rest for now. The announcement, made the morning of July 16, ended with HBO’s programming from the 2018–’19 TV season netting a staggering 137 nominations (up from 108 last year) to Netflix’s 117 (also up, from 112).
HBO didn’t just obliterate Netflix. It obliterated its own previous record — 126 nominations in 2015 — and reasserted its position as King of Emmy Mountain after Netflix briefly stole the title (the first time any network had beat HBO in almost 20 years) last year.
But all of that HBO dominance doesn’t leave room for a lot of other Emmy narratives. In the drama categories, for instance, Game of Thrones has sucked up so many nominations (a record-breaking 32) that the second most-nominated drama is Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which received 11 nominations and isn’t even eligible for the awards’ top categories. And while the comedy categories are a little more evenly spread out, HBO still boasts massive nomination totals for Barry (17) and Veep (nine). Oh, it also leads the Limited Series categories with 19 nominations for Chernobyl. Not bad.
We could pretend the 2019 Emmy nominations reestablish television’s natural order after Netflix’s brief fling with being the top dog. We could also point to how neither Game of Thrones nor Veep will be eligible to compete in 2020, as both ended their runs in the spring of 2019. But the future is unknowable! Right now, HBO is on top again.
So, really, HBO is the “winner” of this year’s Emmy nominations, but here are a few more winners and losers all the same.
I just finished talking about how much HBO crushed it, but let’s make it official, shall we?
Both Game of Thrones and Veep attracted some degree of critical grumbling over final season missteps, but Emmy voters didn’t really seem to care, rewarding both shows handsomely (though Veep getting left out of the comedy directing category raised my eyebrow at least a centimeter). And with essentially every other major competitor stepping out of its way, Game of Thrones should cruise to a record-tying fourth win in the Outstanding Drama Series category. (Veep will have a tougher path.)
HBO also managed to snag additional nominations in both the comedy and drama categories, with Barry and Succession, respectively, making it the only network to manage two nominations in both top categories. And it landed two Limited Series nominations for Chernobyl and Sharp Objects. Hell, it got three of the five nominations in the made-for-TV movie category.
I do think HBO’s strength is at least a little illusory. It won’t have Veep or Game of Thrones or Chernobyl to boost its nominations totals next year (though it will have Big Little Lies and Westworld and Barry). But that feels a little like trying to rain on somebody’s parade. HBO: It did great.
Winner: Shows that have never been nominated in a series category before
Typically, there’s minimal turnover in the Comedy and Drama Series categories. Occasionally, two or three first-time nominees will break in, but rarely four or five. And if one category sees substantial turnover, then the other is usually pretty staid.
Not this year. The Outstanding Comedy Series category has four first-time series nominees (Fleabag, The Good Place, Russian Doll, and Schitt’s Creek), while the Drama Series category has five (Bodyguard, Killing Eve, Ozark, Pose, and Succession). And while the Drama Series category was primed for such turnover, the Outstanding Comedy Series category wasn’t, not really, and yet several nominees from last year (notably Black-ish, GLOW, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt) ended up sidelined in favor of new names.
The drama nominees all struggled to rack up big nomination totals in the face of the Game of Thrones onslaught (Bodyguard managed just two nominations — Drama Series and writing). But both Fleabag (11 nominations) and Russian Doll (13) saw double-digit totals on the Comedy side.
And if you look past the top categories, you’ll find plenty of refreshing first-time nominations for shows early in their runs, shows like PEN15 (writing) and Big Mouth (animated program).
But perhaps the most surprising first-time nominee of all is ...
Winner: Schitt’s Creek
I spent a lot of time laughing off PopTV’s efforts to secure Emmy recognition for Schitt’s Creek. The tiny cable channel might have had a big, quiet ally in the form of Netflix — the show’s streaming home and where it has perhaps become best known — but its corporate conglomerate (CBS TV) hasn’t always been the best at running Emmy campaigns, even for shows on the more high-profile Showtime and CBS. The CW, for instance, has never quite gotten its Emmy due, despite having some terrific shows like Jane the Virgin and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
And even more damning, Schitt’s Creek is now nominated for its fifth season, with plans already in place for the show to end with its sixth. The number of shows that have made it into the top categories this late in their run is very, very small and mostly includes some of the greatest series of all time, shows like Friday Night Lights (first nominated in season five) and The Americans (first nominated in season four).
Plus, the show originates in Canada. Who wants to reward Canada?
But Schitt’s Creek pulled it off. The series only received four nominations, but three of those were in the biggest categories possible — Outstanding Comedy Series and both of the two lead acting categories, for Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. (The fourth was for costumes.) When it comes to Emmy campaigning, persistence pays off, no matter how unlikely. So does having two comedy legends billed first in your cast.
Loser: Diversity in the top categories
The Emmys have frequently crowed about how much more diverse they are than, say, the Oscars. And it’s true that the 2019 nominations still reflect this, with lots of nominations for the many great actors of color in the cast of When They See Us and a nomination for Pose’s Billy Porter in Lead Actor in a Drama Series. So the Emmys still have less ground to make up than many other awards shows do.
But the 2019 nominations still feel like a minor step back, particularly in the comedy categories, which are much more heavily dominated by white actors than they have been in the past few years. The Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category, for example, featured Black-ish’s Tracee Ellis-Ross and Insecure’s Issa Rae just last year, but both were bumped this year in favor of a completely white lineup.
Similarly, the supporting players from Pose — particularly the show’s several trans actresses — were left out of categories that were dominated by supporting actors from Game of Thrones (which scooped up seven of the 13 total Supporting Acting nominations). The nomination of any one of Pose’s trans performers would have been a notable first (though trans actress Laverne Cox, who remains the only trans performer to be nominated at the Emmys, received her second nomination in the guest acting category for Orange Is the New Black).
Winner: Streaming networks
Sure, Netflix lost the “most nominations” title to HBO, but the network still increased its total from 112 in 2018 nominations to 117 this year. It seems likely to keep nipping at HBO’s heels, if not overtaking it outright, especially since its big awards magnets Stranger Things and The Crown will be back in play next Emmy season.
But the biggest growth for a streaming platform this year belongs to Amazon’s Prime Video, which jumped from 22 nominations in 2018 to 47 in this year, thanks to huge performances from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (the most-nominated comedy, with 20 nominations) and Fleabag (11). Prime Video also earned four nominations for its Limited Series A Very English Scandal, including two acting nominations and an Outstanding Limited Series nod, and a best TV movie nomination for its King Lear. Only its hyped drama series Homecoming underperformed, receiving just one nomination (and no nominations for its lead actress, major movie star Julia Roberts, who was excellent, but oh well).
Hulu fell just a bit, from 27 nominations in 2018 to 20 this year, and the fact that 11 of its nominations came from The Handmaid’s Tale (a show that, again, was not eligible in several categories) indicates the platform’s struggles to break out beyond that show. But it still did fine, managing that unlikely PEN15 writing nomination and a couple of big acting nominations for its true-crime miniseries The Act.
Loser: Cable and broadcast networks not named HBO
If you’re wondering where HBO’s outsized total took nominations away from other networks, look to FX, which had 50 nominations in 2018 and just 32 this year. Or Showtime, which ticked back a bit from 21 nominations in 2018 to 18 this year. Or National Geographic, which fell from 17 to 13. Or PBS, which fell from nine to four, or NBC, which fell from 78 to 58, or ... or ... or ...
Sure, there were success stories here and there among traditional TV networks not named HBO — AMC was back up to 11 nominations after receiving only one measly nomination last year, thanks to Better Call Saul’s return to eligibility — but for the most part, the trends were headed toward streaming networks and away from more traditional ones. And if you were to take HBO out of the equation, that difference would be even more stark.
Loser: Pamela Adlon and Better Things
Better Things had its best season yet in season three (which completed its run in May). On top of that, it also managed to escape the shadow of disgraced co-creator Louis C.K. And it cemented star Pamela Adlon (who also runs the show and directs every episode) as a TV auteur worth celebrating.
But guess how many nominations it got? Zero. It was part and parcel of FX’s somewhat disappointing Emmy haul, which was all feast (17 nominations for Fosse/Verdon; five breakthrough nominations for Pose) or famine (lots of other shows getting totally blanked).
In a year when many of the top comedies in the running (Fleabag, Mrs. Maisel, Russian Doll) are heavily built around the voices of women, Better Things would have been a great fit. Emmy voters! What you do?
Winner: The animated program category
For years and years and years, the animated series category has been in need of a shake-up, and it’s completely ignored Netflix’s slate of terrific animated shows. But this year, that shake-up finally arrived, with nominations for both BoJack Horseman and Big Mouth.
And as if that weren’t enough, the terrific, hour-long series finale of Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time received a nomination as well.
The so-long-in-the-tooth-its-tooth-is-a-city-street The Simpsons is still present, but this is, for once, a really strong category.
Winner: Second-season comedies that had a good year at the Emmys last year
The 2018 Emmys were dominated by The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (eight awards) and Barry (three awards). And they split up the acting awards between them, with both lead and supporting actor going to Barry and lead and supporting actress going to Mrs. Maisel.
And here are both of them again, dominating the comedy awards, with 20 nominations for Mrs. Maisel and 17 for Barry. I’d say I’m excited for a really fun race between the two of them, but I think Veep is just gonna win again. Hopefully Bill Hader is recognized for his next-level work in season two at least.
Loser: Netflix’s I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson
What’s it gonna take to get the Emmys to reward a show bold enough to inform us of how skeletons use both bones and worms as money, a show bold enough to give us something as wonderful as this:
Loser: The Other Two, Corporate, and Lodge 49
I don’t really know how realistic it is to have hoped that either of Comedy Central’s terrifically funny comedies or AMC’s weirdo drama about existential malaise and the collapse of the working class would receive any nominations, but if you left this thing up to me, I would have showered nominations on all three series.
Winner: Shows I like
But were I to make a rough top five of my favorite shows of the year so far, it would be some combination of Barry, Chernobyl, Fleabag, Fosse/Verdon, and Russian Doll. And all of these shows received more than 10 nominations. Does that mean the Emmys suddenly have good taste? Well ...
Loser: Game of Thrones critics and anti-fans
Look, even I can be impressed by 32 nominations. Even I can say, “Sure. 10 acting nominations. Nearly a third of all the drama acting nominations. Sure. Why not.” I love the performers on Game of Thrones. I love the direction of Game of Thrones. I love many of the production elements of Game of Thrones.
And I love a good record-breaking juggernaut, even when I don’t love the juggernaut itself. I like to see the monoculture run roughshod over everything else. I am, at heart, the kind of gal who can hate the New York Yankees and still feel content in knowing they have won the most World Series ever. It’s predictable! It’s like seeing the sun in the sky, you know?
But, oh my god, 32 nominations for that season? Did you watch it? Like, I liked some of it, but you’re going to nominate the writing? Who are you people? What is happening?
It’s going to be a long two months between now and the Emmys, and when Game of Thrones wins every award known to man, I am going to whine about it, because that is all I can do. When the boulder comes, you run or you get flattened. And I guess I’m gonna get flattened. Happy Emmys, everybody!