Gold Standard: Five pressing questions before the Emmy nominations


Oprah Winfrey watched the first episode of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” And part of the second. But she stopped there, unable to continue watching the grim events depicted in Hulu’s adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s cautionary novel depicting a future in which women are subjugated, controlled and, in some cases, ceremonially raped.

“It’s just so dark,” Winfrey says. “It’s almost too much to witness. It shakes you to the core. I’ll get there … it’s an amazing show. But it’s going to take some time.”

We know that Emmy voters have too much to watch. But one of the key things Thursday’s nominations announcement will reveal is which programs Television Academy members chose to check out and which they willfully ignored. If you can’t watch everything — and you can’t, believe me, I’ve tried — then what falls to the wayside? Awful, plodding shows, sure. (If you made it past Episode 3 of Netflix’s “Gypsy,” to cite a recent example, you deserve a cookie.) But also challenging fare like “The Handmaid’s Tale” — programs that make you uncomfortable, programs that make you think.


Maybe I’m imagining a different kind of dystopian future, where one of the year’s most celebrated series is passed over in favor of, say, another season of “House of Cards.” Think it can’t happen? Last year, the 21,000-plus members of the Television Academy, mostly men, thought Jerry Seinfeld having coffee with comedians (mostly men) deserved a nomination more than Samantha Bee’s fearless, feminist broadside “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee.”

So, yes, the Emmys remain capable of delivering soul-crushing disappointments. Which brings me to the first of several questions rattling around in my head on the eve of nominations …

In this saturated time of Peak TV, can there even be such a thing as an Emmy snub?

First, let me note again that I don’t really believe in the whole concept of snubs, as it implies an active spurning on behalf of voters. Usually, it’s a simple matter of people liking a show or performance a bit more than another show or performance. Bee’s “snub” last year wasn’t a rebuff, more just another example of how clueless voters can sometimes be.

That said, snubs do occasionally happen. Ben Affleck not earning an Oscar nomination for directing “Argo”? Snub. A case of directors branch voters thumbing their noses at a pretty boy actor infringing on their territory.


This year’s Emmy nominations could see a couple of politically motivated shunnings in the variety talk series category. Jimmy Fallon fawns over all his guests, but his innocuous interview with Donald Trump, which ended with the host tousling the Republican presidential candidate’s hair, still angers a lot of industry people nine months after it aired. If Fallon’s “Tonight Show” fails to earn a nomination, it can be correctly read as a snub.

Likewise, Bill Maher’s inexcusable use of the “N” word on his show last month will cost him plenty of votes and quite possibly a nomination. Then again, Maher has smirked his way to 38 nominations over the years, so another nod wouldn’t be a surprise. It’d be pathetic, but that’s a different, larger conversation.

As for the bold-faced names who might be overlooked, it’s possible that Oprah Winfrey’s powerful turn in the HBO movie “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” won’t make the cut in a crowded limited-series/TV movie lead actress field dominated by the women of “Feud: Bette and Joan” and “Big Little Lies.” With Winfrey, as is sometimes the case with Steven Spielberg, voters might think, at least subconsciously, “She has everything. She doesn’t need an Emmy nomination.”

“Master of None” creators Alan Yang, left, and Aziz Ansari, with Lena Waithe, a writer and actress on the show.
(Theo Wargo/Getty Images)

Will the Emmys have cause to brag about inclusiveness again this year?

There were 18 nominees of color for acting awards at the 2016 Emmys, and several women were nominated for directing.

“I’ll tell you, the Emmys are so diverse this year, the Oscars are now telling people we’re one of their closest friends,” host Jimmy Kimmel joked in the show’s opening monologue.


This year’s numbers could even be a bit stronger, with Donald Glover’s “Atlanta” primed for several nominations, Issa Rae’s “Insecure” in the mix for comedy and Rita Moreno among the comedy supporting actress front-runners for “One Day at a Time.” Thandie Newton should secure a nod for “Westworld,” and Sterling K. Brown, a winner last year for playing Christopher Darden in “The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” could add another Emmy to his mantle for his stellar work on “This Is Us.”

Is this the Emmy end for “House of Cards” and “Modern Family”?

“Modern Family” has been nominated for every one of its seven seasons, winning five series Emmys. “House of Cards” has never taken the drama series Emmy, but has been nominated for all four of its seasons.

Television academy voters tend to reward their favorites until the shows (or they themselves) die, but even with seven series slots, it’s not looking good for either of these stalwarts. On the drama side, there’s too many good new programs — “The Crown,’ “Stranger Things,” “This Is Us,” “The Handmaid’s Tale,” “Westworld” — for “Cards” to compete. The comedy field isn’t quite as strong, so I could see “Modern Family” squeaking in for an eighth time ahead of, say, “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Master of None” or “Insecure.” If voters are feeling sentimental, the superb final season of “Girls” would be a worthy choice.


Hold up. You just mentioned a lot of Netflix shows in that last answer. Just how many programs from the streamer will be nominated?

Four. “Stranger Things” and “The Crown” for drama, “Master of None” and “Kimmy Schmidt” for comedy. HBO should have three (absent the ineligible “Game of Thrones”): “Veep,” “Silicon Valley” and “Westworld.”

What Emmy nomination will make people the happiest on Thursday?

Nominees’ mothers notwithstanding, how about Carrie Fisher for her final performance on Amazon’s “Catastrophe,” shot days before she died in December? It was about as perfect a send-off to Fisher as you could ask for, particularly the episode’s last scene that found her character waxing poetic on her favorite (fictional) TV show: “My Children Are Schizophrenic.”


Twitter: @glennwhipp