Emmys 2015: Nominations for 'Empire,' 'Murder' actresses make history

Thursday's 67th Primetime Emmy Awards nominations made history as two African American women — Viola Davis ("How to Get Away With Murder") and Taraji P. Henson ("Empire") — earned nods for lead actress in a drama series. The nominations set the stage for another history-making moment: the possibility that a black woman could win the Emmy — for the first time — in one of TV's most competitive categories.

Such a win would be a fitting cap to the 2014-15 television season, which has been a watershed year for diversity on TV thanks to Fox's smash hit "Empire," ABC's "How to Get Away With Murder," "black-ish" and "Fresh Off the Boat," and the CW's "Jane the Virgin."

Several other nominations also went to black actors, including Anthony Anderson ("black-ish"), David Oyelowo ("Nightingale"), Andre Braugher ("Brooklyn Nine-Nine"), Cicely Tyson ("How to Get Away With Murder"), Queen Latifah ("Bessie"), Don Cheadle ("House of Lies") and Uzo Aduba ("Orange Is the New Black"), putting the Emmys in sharp contrast to this year's Oscar nominations, which were criticized for a startling lack of diversity. But there's always room for disappointment.

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"Empire," the story of the head of a hip-hop record label and his turbulent family life, had been predicted to be a major player yet managed only three nominations, including Henson's. The show was blanked in the drama series category, and Terrence Howard, who plays the family patriarch, was also shut out in the lead actor category.

The Twitterverse was not happy. "Empire has been cheated," went a typical missive. "How was #Empire not nominated?!!" went another. And no major nods went to Gina Rodriguez for her Golden Globe-winning turn in "Jane the Virgin" or "Fresh Off the Boat." (The two freshman series had received critical acclaim for putting Latino and Asian American stories and characters front and center.)

Cue this tweet: "The more I look at this list the more annoyed I am. where's constance wu, gina rodriguez..."

Meanwhile, "Game of Thrones," HBO's fantasy-based epic, dominated the nominations with 24, including drama series, all adding to the premium cable channel's astonishing 126-nomination haul.

The other drama series nominees were the "Breaking Bad" spinoff "Better Call Saul," "Downton Abbey," "Homeland," "Mad Men," "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black."

The performers earning nods in the drama series category were Jon Hamm for "Mad Men," Bob Odenkirk for "Better Call Saul," Kyle Chandler for "Bloodline," Kevin Spacey for "House of Cards," Jeff Daniels for "Newsroom" and Liev Schreiber for "Ray Donovan"; Henson for "Empire," Davis for "Murder," Claire Danes for "Homeland," Robin Wright for "House of Cards," Elisabeth Moss for "Mad Men" and Tatiana Maslany for "Orphan Black."

Spacey, whose series was in the vanguard of original programming on a streaming service, was proud. "We're incredibly pleased to be a part of paving what's becoming a very long runway for Netflix. The fact that we were the first originally produced show they did — I hope next year it doubles again and the next year it doubles again."

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Of the perennial appeal of his conniving character, the veteran actor was a little less genuine. "Despite the Machiavellian traits of the character, I think people are just impressed with an effective politician that gets things done!"

Emmy newcomer Odenkirk was grateful that "Better Call Saul" and his performance as Jimmy McGill/Saul Goodman in the "Breaking Bad" prequel had been embraced.

"We could have gotten a knee-jerk rejection and a stiff arm, and we didn't. The audience certainly gave us a chance. And that all surprised the hell out of me. I was willing to take three seasons to earn it all, and I think in one season we've done what I thought we'd have to do in three." Comedy series nominations went to "Louie," "Modern Family," "Parks and Recreation," "Silicon Valley," "Transparent," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt" and "Veep."

Earning nominations for lead performance in a comedy series were Lisa Kudrow ("The Comeback"), Lily Tomlin ("Grace and Frankie"), Amy Schumer ("Inside Amy Schumer"), Edie Falco ("Nurse Jackie"), Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Veep"), Amy Poehler ("Parks and Recreation"), Jeffrey Tambor ("Transparent"), Anderson ("black-ish"), Matt LeBlanc ("Episodes"), Cheadle ("House of Lies"), Will Forte ("The Last Man on Earth"), Louis C.K. ("Louie") and William H. Macy ("Shameless").

Kudrow's series, a comedic look at a Hollywood actress, went nine years between seasons. Bringing it back and getting recognition for it "has been very strange," the former "Friends" actress said. "First, when we talked to HBO about coming back, it was terrifying. Then [co-creator Michael Patrick King] and I put our heads down and got to work. Then it was about to go on the air and it got terrifying again."

With these nominations, the TV academy demonstrated a willingness to mix things up, snubbing four-time winner Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" (as well as the series, a perennial nominee) in favor of newcomers in the comedy category, Anderson and Forte. But some things never seem to change. Emmy darling Louis-Dreyfus, of course, is back again.

The ceremony will offer one last hurrah for several shows that ended this season, including "Parks and Recreation" and "Mad Men." (Will Hamm finally get his Emmy?).

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The variety talk show category could be a showdown between "Late Show With David Letterman," which signed off after nearly 22 years on CBS in May, the concluded "The Colbert Report" and the outgoing "Daily Show With Jon Stewart."

No other channel or streaming service came close to HBO's heap of nods. ABC landed the second most — a relatively paltry 42. The streaming services, which continue to upend the traditional TV model, had strong showings. Netflix earned 34 nominations and Amazon Prime received 12.

And no one came close to challenging "Thrones" in nominations.

"American Horror Story: Freak Show" was the runner-up with 19, including best limited series, followed by its competition in the same category, "OIive Kitteridge," which earned 13 nods.

The ceremony will air live on Fox on Sept. 20 from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. Andy Samberg, star of the Fox comedy series "Brooklyn Nine-Nine," will be the host.

Susan.King@latimes.com

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