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Emmys Preview: Amid TV Plenty, a Few Stars Shine Brightest

'Succession' on HBO
HBO drama ‘Succession’ appears primed for a repeat of last year’s Emmy success. (Image credit: HBO)

In an era when there’s more content to watch than ever before — whether that’s on linear networks, streaming services, YouTube, Twitch or what have you — the TV Academy still tends to heap Emmy Awards nominations on just a few shows. 

This year, the HBO drama Succession had the biggest haul with 25 nominations, including nods for almost the entire cast. Succession, which follows the venal Roy family in their quest for corporate power, was named best drama in 2020.  

Succession was followed by a tie for 20 each between HBO limited series The White Lotus and Apple TV Plus’s Ted Lasso. Ted Lasso won best comedy last year. The sheer number of nominations — with essentially all of the main cast scoring mentions — makes the Jason Sudeikis-starrer a good bet to repeat, though HBO Max’s Hacks and Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building also have to be considered comedy contenders with 17 nominations apiece. 

“I do think we gave the audience an unexpectedly satisfying 10-episode run,” Only Murders in the Building executive producer John Hoffman said. “The characters are pretty dimensional and complicated and viewers fell for these people beyond the leads. If you took the ride for the first 10, you were talking about it or thinking about it. That’s what keeps the conversation going.” 

HBO’s Euphoria, for which star and executive producer Zendaya became the youngest-ever best actress in a drama in 2020, pulled in 16 nominations for its sophomore season but is likely to be overshadowed by Succession for the Emmy. HBO also  got 14 nominations for season three of Bill Hader’s dark comedy Barry.

Once again, HBO/HBO Max led all networks and services by far with 140 total Emmy nominations, while Netflix had 105. Netflix scored the first-ever best drama nomination for a foreign-language show with Squid Game.

Up-and-comer Hulu scored 58 nominations for such shows as Only Murders in the Building, Dopesick, The Dropout and Pam & Tommy, with the last three of those telling stories about real-life events.

“The shows are very reflective of the times we live in,” Craig Erwich, president of Hulu Originals and ABC Entertainment, told B+C Multichannel News. “These are the shows at the center of the conversation and they are also generating conversation.”

'Ted Lasso' on Apple TV Plus

Ted Lasso looks like a likely best comedy repeat for Apple TV Plus.  (Image credit: Apple TV Plus )

Apple TV Plus, with a serious lift from Ted Lasso and buzzy new drama Severance (14 nominations), had 52 total nominations. 

“Tonally, this show couldn’t have happened without other shows from the so-called … new golden age of TV with Breaking Bad and Mad Men,” Dan Erickson, Severance’s creator, said. Severance got a pre-Emmy lift on August 14, when the Hollywood Critics Association named it best streaming drama. Severance, paired with Ted Lasso’s win as best streaming comedy, gave Apple TV Plus a big night at the HCA TV Awards.  

Apple TV Plus’s nomination haul was followed by Disney Plus with 34, most of which fell into the Creative Arts categories to be handed out on Saturday and Sunday, September 3 and 4, the weekend before the televised Primetime Emmys. 

Amazon Prime Video got 30 Emmy nominations, including 12 for the fourth season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel starring Rachel Brosnahan. CBS scored 29, NBC 28, ABC and FX 23, and Showtime 17, including seven for rookie drama Yellowjackets. Paramount Plus had 11, VH1 had 10, Bravo and YouTube tied with eight each, and AMC had seven. 

Emmy’s Promotional Punch

Succession and Ted Lasso have already won their categories and are well-known to voters and watchers of premium TV. Emmy nominations can be the biggest help to new shows, such as Yellowjackets and Severance, piquing people’s interests, potentially leading them to check out and subscribe to new streaming platforms.

“The nominations generate publicity,” Erwich said. “There’s certainly a segment of the audience that uses nominations as a way to figure out what to watch next.”

A broadcast standout this year is ABC comedy Abbott Elementary, with seven Emmy nominations for its freshman season — including three for series creator and star Quinta Brunson — and momentum from four awards from the Television Critics Association in August. 

“It starts with Quinta [Brunson], who is a true original,” Erwich said. “She’s a generational voice that the audience has taken incredible joy in discovering and adopting as their own.”  ▪️

Contributing editor Paige Albiniak has been covering the business of television for nearly 25 years. She is a longtime contributor to Next TV, Broadcasting + Cable and Multichannel News. She concurrently serves as editorial director for entertainment marketing association Promax. She has written for such publications as TVNewsCheck, The New York Post, Variety, CBS Watch and more. Albiniak was B+C’s Los Angeles bureau chief from September 2002 to 2004, and an associate editor covering Congress and lobbying for the magazine in Washington, D.C., from January 1997-September 2002.