When the Television Academy announced its official list of nominees for the 2019 season, 12 of 16 acting categories contained a minimum of two nominees from the same show. Some categories have an astonishing four. According to Scott Feinberg from The Hollywood Reporter, never before has there been a race for the Emmys with this much “friendly fire.”
Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia from This Is Us, Jodie Comer and Sandra Oh from Killing Eve, and Aujanue Ellis and Niecy Nash from When They See Us are all nominated against one another for best actor in a drama series.
Meanwhile, in the supporting categories, Anthony Carrigan, Stephen Root and Henry Winkler from Barry are competing for best supporting actor in a comedy series. Alex Borstein and Marin Hinkle from The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are both bidding for best supporting actress in a comedy series. Alfie Allen, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau and Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones are all nominated for best supporting actor in a drama series. Their female co-stars, Gwendoline Christie, Lena Headey, Sophie Turner, and Maisie Williams, are likewise all nominated for best supporting actress in a drama series.
The inter-show competition does not end there. When They See Us has actors running against one another for both best actor and actress in a limited series: Asante Blackk, John Leguizamo and Michael K. Williams for best actor and Marsha Stephanie Blake and Vera Farmiga for best actress. The categories for best guest performance pit the following artists against one another as well: The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel‘s Luke Kirby and Rufus Sewell; Fleabag’s Kristin Scott Thomas against Fiona Shaw; TIU‘s Michael Angarano and Ron Cephas Jones and Saturday Night Live‘s Matt Damon, Robert De Niro, John Mulaney, and Adam Sandler.
In his article entitled, “Emmys: When Co-Stars Compete in Same Category, Does It Hurt Their Chances?” Feinberg explores the reasons why this year has seen an unprecedented number of performers nominated against their co-stars.
Before the present-day television boom, reasons Feinberg, there were fewer shows and Emmy categories. Although some shows managed to total an impressive number of nominations in a single year––note Roots, which collected 13 nominations in 1977, a year when the Television Academy only nominated actors for four categories––it was rare for any given program to walk away with more than one acting nomination.
Although there are currently more shows to watch, arguably increasing the competition between series, an increase in acting categories means that co-stars from popular shows like Game of Thrones and The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel have more opportunities to score nominations. Further complicating the issue is the reality that an Emmy voter can only consume a limited amount of televised content. This forces them to cast votes according to personal preferences rather than the depth of their research. As Feinberg points out in his article, “coattail” voting becomes a concern of Emmy nominations. Just as a Democratic presidential candidate more often than not casts the remainder of his or her votes for other Democrats on the election ballot, a Game of Thrones fan will vote in favor of his or her favorite program, regardless of the category.
In addition to “coattail” voting, Emmy voters are now able to cast votes for an unlimited number of nomination candidates. This shift came in 2017 following the Television Academy’s acknowledgment that the prior limit of 10 was based on a paper ballot system even though voters now cast their votes online. “When the Academy moved fully to online voting, there was no longer any need to specify the number that voters were allowed to nominate,” a representative from the Television Academy told The Hollywood Reporter. This shift stands a chance of benefiting shows that are widely watched and beloved amongst Emmy voters.
The 2019 list of nominations raises the question of whether or not actors who are making Emmy bids against their co-stars are at a disadvantage. This concern is supported by HBO’s decision to enter only Dinklage and Headey, choosing to not spend the inconsequential $225 entry fee on entering Allen or Christie, who would later submit themselves for Emmy consideration. While the entry fee was likely no deterrent to the powerhouse studio, one could reason that HBO feared nominations for Allen and Christie would impede the chances of more-likely candidates like Heady and Dinklage from taking home Emmy Awards of their own.
A range of television networks have explained to media outlets like The Hollywood Reporter that they come at these decisions on a case-by-case basis. If a network believes that both prospective nominees are equally likely to win an Emmy, they will enter both candidates. On the other hand, if an actor or actress is more likely to win over the other, then they may foster more of the network’s support come award season.