LOS ANGELES (AP) — The miniature statutes given at the Emmy Awards on Sunday can be an outsized boon to egos, careers and guessing games.
Will "The Mandalorian" bow to "The Crown" as best drama series? Can the feel-good comedy "Ted Lasso" charm its way into freshman glory? Will Jean Smart be honored as best comedy actress for "Hacks"? (She will.)
But there's oh-so-much more at stake when the TV industry — or a pandemic-constrained slice of it — gathers to honor itself at the 73rd Primetime Emmy Awards.
The ceremony (8 p.m. EDT, CBS) is a snapshot of a business morphing into its 21st-century form; who we see or don't see on the small screen, and the rapid splintering of TV and its viewers.
The obvious winners and losers are those to be revealed in 27 categories during the s how hosted by Cedric the Entertainer. But there's more at stake than personal victories, and yardsticks of success or failure beyond trophies.
Here's some of the outcomes and trends to watch for, both up close and wide-angle.
ROW ROW ROW YOUR BOAT
Streaming services are poised for a triumphant night that will cast further shade on the status of broadcast networks, including the big three ABC, CBS and NBC, and once-dominant cable channels such as HBO and Showtime.
"This is the year that the streamers will officially conquer Hollywood," likely winning best drama and comedy series honors for the first time, said Tom O'Neil, editor of the Gold Derby predictions website and author of "The Emmys."
Premium cable's encroachment on turf once owned by broadcasting was gradual: HBO launched in 1972 and waited two decades for its first best series Emmy nod, earned by Garry Shandling's comedy "The Larry Sanders Show." It wasn't until the 2000s arrived that "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos" earned best series prizes.
In contrast, streaming is racing ahead with Ferrari-like speed, especially as the services multiply and shell out big bucks for shows aimed at winning over paying customers.
In 2017, Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale" became the first streamed series to win the best drama Emmy. The next year, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" scored a matching victory on the comedy side for Amazon, which won again in 2019 for "Fleabag."
Victory is possible for either Netflix's "The Crown" or the Disney+ series "The Mandalorian," which topped the nods with 24 each. For Netflix, which launched its on-demand service in 2007 and fielded the first drama series nominee, "House of Cards" in 2014, patience would finally be rewarded.
For Disney+, the victory would be swift and sweet: it launched in November 2019. Apple TV+, which arrived the same year, could win its first top series award with "Ted Lasso." If that happens, streaming's prominence would be solidified with the one-two punch in the comedy and drama categories.
ROOM AT THE TABLE
The push for diversity has moved at a grindingly slower pace than the digital revolution, but this year's slate of nominees was unimaginable just a few years ago.
Of the 96 acting nods for drama, comedy and miniseries, nearly 44% — a total of 42 nominations — went to people of color. According to 2020 Census figures, white Americans make up just under 58% of the population.
Among this year's groundbreakers: Mj Rodriguez of "Pose," the first trans performer to be nominated in a lead acting category, and Bowen Yang of "Saturday Night Live," the first Asian American to compete for best supporting comedy actor.
The top drama acting categories are particularly inclusive, and strikingly so in comparison to a decade ago when all of the 12 nominees for best actor and actress were white, with Kyle Chandler ("Friday Night Lights") and Julianna Margulies ("The Good Wife") the winners.
That was 2011, this is now. Black men make up a majority of the lead drama actor nominees, four of six, including past winners Sterling K. Brown for "This Is Us" and "Pose" star Billy Porter — the first openly gay man to win the category, in 2019.
Half of the six best-actress contenders are women of color. Jurnee Smollett ("Lovecraft Country") and Uzo Aduba ("In Treatment") are Black, and Rodriguez is Afro Latina.
If the final test of inclusivity is who wins, the story could be different. "The Crown" stars Josh O'Connor and Emma Corrin are considered frontrunners for their portrayals of ill-fated royal mates Charles and Diana.
A look at Emmy nominations in major acting categories
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
PANDEMIC, PART 2
Constraints can breed inventiveness.
Last year's all-virtual ceremony included a defining lockdown moment: Hazmat-suited trophy couriers who loitered outside nominees' homes until their categories were called, either handing over the award or taking it disappointingly away.
"Somebody mentioned (the idea) in a meeting as kind of as a joke, and then it was constantly needling away at us and we decided that it could be a great way to do it," recalled Guy Carrington, a producer for the 2020 Emmys.
This year, about 500 nominees and guests will gather under a glammed-up tent in downtown L.A., with COVID-19 precautions including a vaccine requirement and testing. There are big names among the presenters, including Angela Bassett, Michael Douglas, Dolly Parton and Awkwafina, but at least one star, Jennifer Aniston, was candid about staying away because of virus concerns.
Reginald Hudlin and Ian Stewart, executive producers for the telecast, said they approached the reduced attendance as an opportunity.
Instead of being confined in a theater seat, guests will be at tables and part of what sounds like an oversized dinner party — with drinks and snacks allowed — and encouraged to mingle.
"To have the industry come out and sit together and see each other, it is a celebration," said Stewart.
HELLO, IS ANYONE OUT THERE?
Ratings for awards show, from Oscars to the Grammys, have been steadily declining in recent years and hit new depths during the pandemic. Despite honoring the TV shows that kept us company through COVID's darkness, the Emmys weren't exempt.
After hitting a record-low viewership of just under 7 million in 2019, last year's telecast tumbled further to 6.1 million viewers, according to Nielsen.
Part of it is simply awards overload, with upstart, dime-a-dozen ceremonies taking the luster off the major ones, including the 94-year-old, grande dame Oscars and the Emmys, which turn 73 on Sunday.
Then there's the shows' sheer length. A leisurely, three-hour telecast, commercials included, was expected and tolerated in the old TV world. In the new one, viewers are more inclined to check out an event's highlights online and at will.
But as Hudlin sees it, social media can give as well as take.
"If you deliver a show that works, if people say, 'Oh, are you watching the Emmys thing? It's kind of cool,' all of a sudden people start tuning in because you're talking about it like, 'Yo, this is crazy,'" Hudlin said. "So we like to keep it crazy."
Details were under wraps, but there will be music: Reggie Watts, band leader for "The Late Late Show with James Corden," is the night's DJ.
The event's producers also recognize that niche shows on cable and streaming may be unfamiliar to many viewers, especially those who favor network shows such as ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" or CBS' "The Neighborhood" — the latter starring Emmy host Cedric the Entertainer.
"We have gone to a lot of those mainstream, well-known actors, actresses and people in the industry to be presenters so that we do reflect popular television," Stewart said.
The biggest snubs and surprises of the 2021 Emmy nominations
SNUB: “Small Axe” (limited series)
Steve McQueen’s anthology series of five movies — an epic, intimate look at London’s West Indian community from the mid-1960s through the 1980s — were always intended to be shown on television because McQueen wanted them to be accessible to a wide audience. But that didn’t stop the Los Angeles Film Critics Association from giving its best picture prize to “Small Axe” last year.
Perhaps Emmy voters were confused. Were they movies? Television? And if the latter, what kind of television? Were they too British? Too smart? Yes, I’m grasping at the reason for the most lamentable omission in the crowded limited series category.
SNUB: Thuso Mbedu, “The Underground Railroad”
Mbedu is a star in her native South Africa, but Barry Jenkins’ adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s novel was her introduction to most voters. She brought a fiery intensity to Cora, the enslaved young woman journeying to freedom, transfixing viewers with every gesture. Apparently there weren’t enough viewers, though, as the weighty series didn’t benefit from being dropped all at once on Amazon.
SURPRISE: Cynthia Erivo, “Genius: Aretha”
Well ... as much of a surprise as it can be for a two-time Oscar nominee and Grammy winner to earn a nomination for playing the Queen of Soul in a highly promoted limited series. Still, Erivo won a place in the Emmys’ most competitive category — lead actress, limited series/TV movie — perhaps blazing a trail for Jennifer Hudson, who will star in another Aretha Franklin biopic, “Respect,” arriving in theaters in September.
SURPRISE: Ewan McGregor, “Halston”
“Halston” sits at a 49 score on review aggregator Metacritic, but voters didn’t blame McGregor for this unusually restrained and lazily plotted Ryan Murphy limited series. I will say that nobody has looked better smoking a cigarette since Rita Hayworth in “Gilda.” Apparently, that’s worth something.
SURPRISE: The “Hamilton” acting nominations
Look, I cried when Philip died. And I still get a little verklempt hearing “Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story.” But “Hamilton” isn’t a TV movie. It’s a filmed performance of a play. You’d think that television academy voters would understand the difference.
SURPRISE: “The Boys” (drama series)
Talking gills, exploding whales, enormous ... um ... appendages, exploding heads ... “The Boys” isn’t “The Crown.” And its vigilantes aren’t Marvel superheroes either. But the Amazon series’ subversive storytelling appealed to enough voters in a year when more traditional drama series were on a pandemic-mandated break.
SNUB: Pedro Pascal, “The Mandalorian”
Hey, that mustache was on point. Why no love for our soft space dad?
SNUB: “Master of None” (comedy series)
Is a series a comedy if it barely delivers a smile, much less a genuine laugh? Emmy voters didn’t think so, failing to nominate the third season of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix show (It’s first two seasons, which were in fact funny, earned nods.) The latest installment of “Master of None” was not without merit. But it was without humor. It should have been shuttled to drama where maybe voters would have rewarded its Bergman-soaked detachment.
2021 Emmys: Snubs and surprises
Most of the best television these days comes via the limited series, a stone-cold fact that you know and I know, but somehow has eluded the television academy, which still hasn’t adjusted its Emmy nomination numbers to keep up with the times.
And that failure can only lead to one outcome on this Emmy nomination morning: “snubs.”
Not true snubs, mind you. Voters aren’t actively shunning anyone. (Though this is Hollywood, so maybe I shouldn’t underestimate the potential for pettiness.) It’s just that there are too few slots for the amount of excellent work being done in the limited series format.
So what shows and actors were “snubbed”? And, on a happier note, who’s feeling glad all over now that the nominations have arrived? Let’s take a look.
AP Entertainment Writer Marcela Isaza contributed to this report.