One of the most frequent jokes that isn’t really a joke is that when it comes to various Hollywood movie and TV awards, industry folks like to vote for people they’ve worked with before.
Were that true, the legendarily interconnected Kevin Bacon would have all of the trophies. But among the nominations for the 74th Primetime Emmy Awards, the acting fields are dominated by deep ensemble casts and, at the same time, other big ensembles feel like the biggest victims of these category-clogging juggernauts.
In our 500-plus show universe, in which six- to eight-episode limited series are in vogue and even most broadcast shows no longer produce 22 (or more) episodes per season, a star can be top-of-the-call-sheet on one project and a day player on another in the same year, giving some lucky shows five or 10 supporting performances from actors who, in a different era, wouldn’t have had the time or contractual availability for more than one television role.
Instead of capturing the landscape’s full range, Emmy voters opted to honor the widest possible number of actors from the smallest possible number of shows. On the comedy side, that means seven performance nominees from Ted Lasso and four for Abbott Elementary. On the drama side, Succession received two lead, five supporting and seven guest acting noms, putting it comfortably ahead of the well-represented casts of Squid Game and Severance. The limited/anthology fields are dominated by The White Lotus and Dopesick, which combined account for 13 of 14 supporting performances. The lone outlier? Future trivia answer Seth Rogen for Pam & Tommy.
Imagine being a star from one of these shows who didn’t get a nomination. That would include Brittany O’Grady and Fred Hechinger of The White Lotus, even if I could make the case that they have the most complete arcs in Mike White’s scathing comedy. For Succession, it almost feels like a meta joke that underestimated pieces of the Waystar RoyCo family like Karl (David Rasche), Frank (Peter Friedman) and Connor (Alan Ruck) were overlooked. Ted Lasso, meanwhile, gave a full episode to the late-night London odyssey of Coach Beard, only to see Brendan Hunt get shut out along with fellow 2021 nominee Jeremy Swift, though Toheeb Jimoh earned his placement for Sam’s eventful second season.
But for every ensemble carefully noticed by Emmy voters, there were inevitably a half-dozen ensembles that failed to register.
HBO and HBO Max had much to celebrate on Emmy nomination morning, but it’s hard not to feel like the haul could have been far larger. The Lakers-centric Winning Time boasted a cast led by the highly decorated likes of John C. Reilly, Adrien Brody, Tracy Letts and Sally Field, but despite a much publicized spring launch, its only nomination was for cinematography. Julian Fellowes’ The Gilded Age assembled a cast so loaded with Broadway’s elite that the multiple Tony winners nearly outnumber actors without a single Tony nom, yet its name was called only for production design.
The Staircase was honored for stars Colin Firth and Toni Collette, but not scene stealer Parker Posey, the reliably ethereal Juliette Binoche or a carefully selected array of young actors. Himesh Patel got a nomination for Station Eleven, but that love couldn’t extend to perfectly dual-cast Mackenzie Davis and Matilda Lawler or to the overall series, which was deemed less worthy than Inventing Anna, which saw only a miscategorized Julia Garner — so clearly supporting Anna Chlumsky’s protagonist that the TV Academy should have stepped in — get individual notice.
Amanda Seyfried was the only acting nominee for The Dropout, in which William H. Macy’s exaggerated latex forehead, Naveen Andrews’ unsettling love interest and Laurie Metcalf grouchily discussing Yoda and the presence of Ruck, patron saint of this year’s overlooked ensemble members, were among the snubbed. Apple TV+’s Pachinko found actors capable of speaking as many as three languages and several additional dialects. Nothing. Amazon’s As We See It broke representational barriers with its stars on the autism spectrum. Nothing. See also FX’s Reservation Dogs and its impeccable cast of Indigenous stars. Nothing.
None of the solutions feels exactly right to me. Cap the number of nominees or even submission candidates from any particular show? The number of nominees for Succession, Ted Lasso and The White Lotus is extreme, but they were all worthy. Render previous winners ineligible either the next year or in perpetuity? What if the person who keeps winning every year — say, as a pure hypothetical, Julia Louis-Dreyfus — actually deserves to win every year? Or do we just expand the number of nominees in each acting field? That’s probably the easiest recourse. If TV is where the most desirable work is, the Emmys should be honoring, not punishing, that embarrassment of riches.
This story first appeared in the July 27 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.