Will “The Mandalorian” bow to “The Crown” as the best drama series? Can the feel-good comedy “Ted Lasso” conjure its way into freshmen fame? Will Jean Smart be honored as the best comedy actress for “Hacks”? (She will.)
But there’s a lot more at stake when the television industry – or a pandemic-restricted portion of it – gathers to honor itself at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards.
The ceremony (8 p.m. EDT, CBS) is a snapshot of a company transforming into its 21st century shape; who we see or not see on the small screen, and the rapid fragmentation of television and its viewers.
The obvious winners and losers will be announced in 27 categories during Cedric the Entertainer’s show. But there is more at stake than personal victories and measures of success or failure beyond trophies.
Here are some of the results and trends to watch out for, both close-up and wide-angle.
ROW ROW YOUR BOAT
Streaming services are facing a triumphant night that will further dwarf the status of broadcast networks including the big three ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as once-dominant cable channels like HBO and Showtime.
“This is the year streamers will officially hit Hollywood,” said Tom O’Neil, editor of the Gold Derby prediction website and author of The Emmys.
The penetration of premium cable into what was once broadcast-owned territory was gradual: HBO launched in 1972 and waited two decades for its first best series, Emmy Nick, earned by Garry Shandling’s comedy “The Larry Sanders Show”. It wasn’t until the 2000s that “Sex and the City” and “The Sopranos” received the best series awards.
In contrast, streaming is racing at Ferrari-like pace, especially as services multiply and spend a lot of money on shows that aim to attract paying customers.
In 2017, Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” was the first streamed series to win Best Drama Emmy. The next year, “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” scored a fitting win on the comedy side for Amazon, which won again in 2019 for “Fleabag”.
A win is possible for either Netflix’s “The Crown” or the Disney + series “The Mandalorian”, which led the top of the nicknames with 24 each. For Netflix, which launched its on-demand service in 2007 and nominated the first nominee for a drama series, House of Cards, in 2014, patience should finally be rewarded.
For Disney +, the win would be quick and sweet: It started in November 2019. Apple TV +, which was launched in the same year, could win its first top series award with “Ted Lasso”, one-two-two in the comedy and drama categories.
ROOM AT THE TABLE
The drive for diversity has developed much more slowly than the digital revolution, but this year’s list of nominees was unimaginable just a few years ago.
Of the 96 acting nominations for drama, comedy and miniseries, almost 44% – a total of 42 nominations – went to People of Color. White Americans make up just under 58% of the population, according to the 2020 census.
Among this year’s trailblazers: Mj Rodriguez of Pose, the first trans actor to be nominated in a Leading Actor category, and Bowen Yang of Saturday Night Live, the first Asian American to vie for best supporting actor in comedy .
The top drama performance categories are particularly inclusive, and this is striking compared to a decade ago when all 12 nominees for Best Actor and Best Actress were white, with Kyle Chandler (“Friday Night Lights”) and Julianna Margulies (” The Good Wife “) the winners.
That was 2011, that is now. Black men make up the majority of the Lead Actor nominees, four out of six, including former winners Sterling K. Brown for “This Is Us” and “Pose” star Billy Porter – the first openly gay man to win the 2019 category.
Half of the six candidates for best actress are women of color. Jurnee Smollett (“Lovecraft Country”) and Uzo Aduba (“In Treatment”) are black and Rodriguez is Afro Latina.
If the final test of inclusivity is who wins, the story might be different. “The Crown” stars Josh O’Connor and Emma Corrin are the frontrunners for their portrayals of the unfortunate royal companions Charles and Diana.
PANDEMIC, PART 2
Limitations can encourage ingenuity.
The purely virtual ceremony last year included a crucial lockdown moment: trophy couriers in dangerous goods suits loitering in front of the nominees’ homes until their categories were called up, either handing over the award or accepting it disappointingly.
“Somebody mentioned (the idea) in a meeting as a joke, so to speak, and then it kept bothering us and we decided it could be a great possibility,” said Guy Carrington, a producer for the 2020 Emmys.
This year, about 500 nominees and guests will gather under a glamorous tent in downtown LA, with COVID-19 precautions, including a vaccine request and testing. There are big names among the presenters including Angela Bassett, Michael Douglas, Dolly Parton, and Awkwafina, but at least one star, Jennifer Aniston, has been open to staying away due to virus concerns.
Reginald Hudlin and Ian Stewart, executive producers of the television show, said they saw the reduced attendance as an opportunity.
Instead of being tied to a theater seat, guests sit at tables and are part of an oversized dinner party – with drinks and snacks allowed – and encouraged to mingle with the crowd.
“It’s a celebration for the industry to come out and sit and see each other,” said Stewart.
HELLO IS ANYONE OUT THERE?
Awards ratings, from Oscars to Grammys, have steadily declined in recent years and have hit new lows during the pandemic. Despite honoring the television shows that kept us company in the darkness of COVID, the Emmys were no exception.
After a record low of almost 7 million viewers in 2019, the TV show fell further to 6.1 million viewers last year, according to Nielsen.
Part of it is simply the awards overload, with upstarts taking the shine away from grand ceremonies, including the 94-year grande dame Oscars and the Emmys turning 73 on Sunday.
Then there is the sheer length of the shows. A leisurely three-hour program, including advertising, was expected and tolerated in the old television world. In the new, viewers are more inclined to check the highlights of an event online and at will.
But as Hudlin sees it, social media can both give and take.
“When you put on a show that works, when people say, ‘Oh, are you going to see the Emmys thing? It’s kind of cool ‘, all of a sudden people start to tune in because you’re talking about it like,’ Yo, this is crazy ‘, “said Hudlin.” So we like to keep it crazy. “
Details were under lock and key, but there will be music: Reggie Watts, band leader of “The Late Late Show with James Corden”, is the DJ of the evening.
The event’s producers also recognize that niche cable and streaming shows may be alien to many viewers, especially those who prefer network shows like ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” or CBS’s “The Neighborhood” – the latter with Emmy host Cedric the Entertainer .
“We visited many of these well-known mainstream actors, actresses and people in the industry as presenters to reflect popular television,” said Stewart.
AP Entertainment writer Marcela Isaza contributed to this report.