Is it finally Jon Hamm’s year? 4 races to watch at Sunday’s Emmys

In case you hadn’t heard, we’re living in a golden age of television, an era when there are so many high-quality scripted shows from so many outlets that finding the time to watch them all has become the ultimate First World Problem.

But the excitement that has surrounded television for the last decade hasn’t always translated to the Emmy Awards, an institution that tends to honor a handful of favorites — while making the same galling oversights — year after year.

FULL COVERAGE: Emmy nominations

Perhaps aware of Emmy’s fuddy-duddy image, the TV Academy instituted new rules this year, clarifying the definition of drama vs. comedy, expanding the series categories to a possible seven nominees and, in the most potentially radical change, opening up the vote from small “blue-ribbon panels” to all the eligible members in each branch of the organization.


The nominations announced in July already included some pleasant surprises (hurray, Tatiana Maslany!), and Sunday night’s telecast on Fox could bring still more. Here are four races to watch for signs that Emmy is getting its act together.

Will Jon Hamm finally win an Emmy?

In theory, no one should feel sorry for someone as talented, wealthy or ridiculously good-looking as Jon Hamm.

And yet, with zero wins to date out of 14 nominations spanning three categories, the “Mad Men” star is one of Emmy’s most famous losers — a distinction he has embraced as the co-host, with another perennial also-ran, Amy Poehler, of a yearly “Losers Only” party.

TIMELINE: Emmy winners, year by year

Hamm has missed out on the lead actor in a drama series Emmy a whopping seven times for his masterful portrayal of tortured advertising executive Don Draper, a character as crucial to TV’s current renaissance as Tony Soprano or Walter White. He’s also lost for comedic guest roles on “30 Rock” and “The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” that quietly sent up his hunky image. Even his behind-the-scenes contributions to “Mad Men” have gotten the shaft: The show hasn’t won a series Emmy since he became a producer in its fifth season.

Not only has Hamm never won an Emmy for “Mad Men,” which ended its run on AMC in May, neither has anyone from the cast, despite 34 acting nominations. The excellent Christina Hendricks and Elisabeth Moss are both nominated in their respective categories this year, but Hamm looks like the best bet for a “Mad Men” acting win — particularly now that Bryan Cranston is finally out of the running.

It could also help that the episode Hamm submitted for Emmy consideration, series finale “Person to Person,” is a showcase for his range. Don races cars! Don cries! Don does yoga! Don cries again! If nothing else, perhaps aging Emmy voters will fondly recall their visits to Esalen in the ‘70s and reward Hamm accordingly?


VIDEO: Emmy contender chats

And hey, if not, he can always call Steve Carell (0 for 6 for “The Office”) or Hugh Laurie (0 for 6 for “House”) to commiserate.

Will an African American woman finally win for lead actress in a drama series?

Anyway you slice it, the 2014-15 season was a watershed year for diversity on the small screen, thanks to the success of “Empire,” “How to Get Away with Murder” and “black-ish.” Emmy voters could make more TV history Sunday night by honoring an African American actress with the prize for lead actress in a drama series for the first time.


While the lack of diversity at this year’s Oscars was so striking it spawned a hashtag, #OscarsSoWhite, the TV Academy, doesn’t have much to brag about when it comes to multiculturalism, either — even with 18 nominations for black actors this year. It wasn’t until 1982 that a woman of color (“Fame’s” Debbie Allen) even made the drama actress shortlist, and they’ve been scarce in the decades since. Eighteen years passed between Cicely Tyson’s nomination for “Sweet Justice” in 1995 and Kerry Washington’s first nod for “Scandal” in 2013. (And did we mention that the prize has never gone to an Asian woman or a Latina, either?)

This year, it’s a different story, when two Oscar-nominated African American actresses in hot freshman shows are leading the pack in one of the most fiercely competitive races at the Emmys.

Viola Davis, who plays ruthless law professor Annalise Keating in the soapy whodunnit “How to Get Away With Murder,” from Executive Producer Shonda Rhimes, is the current front-runner, rightfully praised for her ability to lend surprising gravitas to dialogue such as “Why is your penis on a dead girl’s phone?”

She faces a serious threat from Taraji P. Henson, whose portrayal of Cookie Lyon, TV’s most quotable ex-con, has helped propel Fox’s “Empire” into a pop culture sensation.


While the odds for a trailblazing win look good, an upset by Tatiana Maslany, Elisabeth Moss, Robin Wright or Claire Danes is entirely possible. This is, after all, such a jammed field that 2014 winner, Julianna Margulies of “The Good Wife,” failed to make the cut this year — as did two-time nominee Kerry Washington, the actress many predicted would be the one to make Emmy history.

Will a “Game of Thrones” win signal the triumph of geek culture?

In some ways, “Game of Thrones” is exactly the kind of ambitious, big-scale series the TV Academy should love. It’s on HBO, a network with a knack for scoring trophies. It’s a huge ratings hit, and critics adore it — or least they used to (more on this later). Perhaps most important, it stars a whole lot of British people wearing funny costumes — always helpful when it comes to bagging awards.

So why has “Game of Thrones” failed to win for drama series, despite four consecutive nominations? And for that matter, why haven’t showrunners D.B. Weiss and David Benioff, been rewarded for their skilled adaptation of George R.R. Martin’s sprawling novels, or anyone from the cast besides Peter Dinklage, for their fine performances?


Blame it on an institutional bias against genre fare. While Emmy voters never seem to tire of lawyers, doctors or cops, historically they have been less psyched about zombies, dragons and aliens. The hugely popular and influential “The X-Files” never won a drama series Emmy, losing out to “The Practice” (lawyers), “ER” (doctors), “NYPD Blue” (cops) and “Law & Order” (lawyers and cops!).

The sci-fi-ish “Lost,” co-created by fanboy extraordinaire J.J. Abrams and winner of the drama series Emmy in 2005, is just about the only exception to Emmys’ anti-genre rule.

But the TV Academy has been steadily warming to “Game of Thrones,” which racked up 24 nominations this year, the most for any series, and it took home an impressive eight awards at Saturday’s Creative Arts Emmys.

Should the Emmy finally go to “Game of Thrones,” rather than competitors such as Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” or the final season of “Mad Men,” it would be a touch ironic. This season sparked a backlash from fans and critics alike for its depiction of brutal violence against women and children, and was viewed by some as the show’s weakest to date.


Still, a major win for “Game of Thrones” feels overdue. Is winter coming to the Emmys? Put it this way: Pack a sweater.

Will the Emmys honor outgoing late-night greats Jon Stewart and David Letterman?

As anyone not living in an underground bunker surely knows — sorry, Kimmy Schmidt — the last two years have brought huge changes to the world of late-night TV. So how will this upheaval play out at the Emmys?

Voters eager to embrace late night’s younger generation could reward Jimmy Fallon for reinvigorating “The Tonight Show,” or critical darling John Oliver for “Last Week Tonight’s” pioneering blend of comedy and muckraking.


Instead, the TV Academy may be tempted to recognize one of the two late-night greats who retired this year, Jon Stewart and David Letterman. Despite plenty of love for Letterman and his “Late Show,” “The Daily Show” would appear to have the edge: The satirical show won the variety series Emmy for 10 years straight from 2003 to 2012, and also scored a writing nomination this year.

Or maybe the Emmys will split the difference between old and new and give a third straight Emmy to the departed “Colbert Report,” whose spirit (and host) now lives on at “The Late Show” on CBS.

Twitter: @MeredithBlake



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