Emmys 2021: Submissions Are Lower After Pandemic Shutdown

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The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been felt far and wide, with the latest being on the nominations-round ballots for the 73rd annual Primetime Emmy Awards.

The total number of submissions are down significantly across most categories. The drama series race sees 133 contenders, while the comedy series race sees 68 titles on the ballot and the limited series/anthology category has 37 programs on the ballot. Last year, drama series came in at a whopping 197, while comedy had a strong showing at 111 and limited series came in at 41. A category where submissions are up for the first time in a long time is TV movie, which sees 41 nominees this year (compared to last year’s 28).

Due to the sliding scale the Academy instituted last year regarding number of submissions corresponding to number of nominees in a category, the drama series race will be bumped down to only six eventual nominees in July, while comedy series will come in equal with limited series/anthology and TV movie with five nominees each.

The rule is that 1-19 submissions in a category net zero to four nominees, while 20-80 submissions result in five nominees, 81-160 submissions allow for six nominees, 161-240 submissions allow for seven nominees, and more than 240 submissions equate to eight nominees.

Interestingly, Spectrum Originals “The Bite,” from creators and showrunners Robert and Michelle King, ended up submitting in the drama series category, despite originally being developed as a limited series. The Kings did recently tell Variety that there was interest from both the studio and network in continuing the series. While that deal has not been finalized yet, they did the responsible thing by submitting Season 1 as a drama. On the flip side, the expected ongoing series “Grand Army” from Netflix submitted into the limited series category.

Just like last year, the incumbent winners in the drama series and comedy series categories weren’t eligible for year-over-year nominations, let alone wins. Last year’s champions in those respective categories were HBO’s “Succession” and Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek,” two series that featured ensemble casts that made big dents on the respective performer ballots.

That, coupled with the major submission dip for these scripted categories overall, led to massive declines in the number of actor submissions as well. Lead drama actor, for example, which came in with 142 men last year, is down to 104 now; lead comedy actor follows the same pattern with 88 submissions last year and only 56 this year; and lead limited series/TV movie actor has 52 submissions, moderately up from the 45 on 2020’s nominations-round ballot.

When it comes to women in lead roles, the lead drama actress race features an even 100 submissions this year, down from last year’s 135, while lead comedy actress includes 53 submissions this year, a significant decrease from the 86 in 2020. Lead limited series/TV movie actress is also down with 53 compared to last year’s 61.

The supporting categories naturally followed suit, though with higher numbers overall. They break down this way this year: 311 submissions in supporting drama actor (355 last year), which is the total number of submissions, although actors like “Godfather of Harlem” and “The Mandalorian’s” Giancarlo Esposito are on the ballot twice, 288 in supporting drama actress (394 last year); 171 supporting comedy actor (251 last year), including dual submissions for “Kenan” and “Saturday Night Live’s” Chris Redd; 160 supporting comedy actress (241 last year), including dual submissions for Gabrielle Dennis (“A Black Lady Sketch Show,” “The Upshaws”), among others; 140 supporting limited series/TV movie actor (123 last year), including dual submissions for such performers as Daveed Diggs (“The Good Lord Bird,” “Hamilton”) and Evan Peters (“Mare of Easttown,” “WandaVision”); 116 supporting limited series/TV movie actress (121 last year), including Margo Martindale twice (for “Uncle Frank” and “Your Honor”).

The sliding scale submission rule will affect the final-round performer ballots as well, although seemingly not as drastically as the series ballots.

Even the unscripted space saw downturns: variety talk series features 20 submissions this year (four fewer than in 2020), while variety sketch, which was already dwindling last year with only 14 nominees, is down to nine now. Most of these series are newcomers, from Peacock’s “The Amber Ruffin Show” to HBO Max’s “That Damn Michael Che” and Showtime’s “Ziwe.”

The variety special (live) category sees 23 submissions, down from 29 in 2020, while the variety special (pre-recorded) category includes 116, actually up from 104 last year.

The variety special (pre-recorded) category may become the most interesting category on nominations morning in July. In addition to the usual stand-up specials and televised concerts, this year the BET Awards submitted in this category, marking another pandemic-specific need since award shows, once all-but-guaranteed to be live, had to pivot amid new production and health and safety protocols. Additionally, special streaming events, such as the “Happy Endings’” charity performance of a brand-new episode submitted here, and TikTok made its first awards play with its “Ratatouille” musical.

And just because Quibi is no longer a business does not mean it may not get some Emmy attention. Since it had series running last summer, including “Mapleworth Murders,” starring “Girls5eva’s” Paula Pell, the short-lived platform entered into the short form race after all. This helped the short form comedy or drama series category net 48 submissions this year, actually up from the 33 of last year when that streamer made its entrance into the awards space. And this also means that Pell has a chance to be nominated more than once.

The short form nonfiction or reality category does follow the overall trend of the year, down to 44 submissions from last year’s 63, however. The same is true for hosted nonfiction series or special, which comes in at 40 series (down from last year’s 42). However, this race is notable because a number of series that were once nominated (and even won) in other reality categories have now shifted here. A prime example is three-time unstructured winner “United Shades of America With W. Kamau Bell.”

Speaking of unstructured reality program, that category now includes 48 submissions, up marginally from last year’s 44 despite the aforementioned moves. It would have been an even larger category if Bravo had submitted more “Housewives” franchises than just “Atlanta.” Competition program is also up (67, compared to last year’s 60), but structured reality program has 34 submissions, down from last year’s 47.

Voting is now open for members of the Television Academy to cast their final-round ballots, with a deadline to due so by June 28 at 10 p.m. Nominees will be announced on July 13 and statues will be handed out live from Los Angeles on Sept. 19.

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