Emmys: Breaking Down Odds to Win in Major Races on the 2019 Ballot

A slew of newcomers prove stiff competition in major categories, but recognizable names will likely still prevail at the 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.

Here, Variety analyzes the nominees in 14 of this year’s toughest races.

Drama Series
After a year in which some heavy hitters opted to premiere just outside the Emmy eligibility season, this race seemed the most wide open going into nomination morning. Of course last year’s winner in the category, HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” made it back onto the ballot (and dominated with 32 noms overall in its final season), as did NBC’s “This Is Us,” which scored nine nods overall. AMC’s “Better Call Saul” saw a return to the ballot after sitting out last year’s race (and earned nine noms), while the second seasons of BBC America’s “Killing Eve” and Netflix’s “Ozark” made the grade for the first time (each scoring nine noms, as well). They are joined by true freshmen Netflix’s “Bodyguard” (two noms), FX’s “Pose” (six noms) and HBO’s “Succession” (five noms). Despite mixed reviews from a critical audience, it’s going to be nearly impossible to take the trophy from “Game of Thrones,” as voters may find it impossible to resist sending the pop-culture phenom off with gold one last time.

POSE -- "Worth It" -- Season 2, Episode 2 (Airs Tues, June 18, 10:00 p.m. e/p) Pictured (l-r): Billy Porter as Pray Tell. CR: Macall Polay/FX

Lead Drama Actor
Last year the Television Academy awarded this trophy to the actor who was nominated for the final season of his series (Matthew Rhys, “The Americans”). Each of the two years prior, voters gave it to a newcomer (Rami Malek in 2016, Sterling K. Brown in 2017). This year they have a way to almost do both at once: Kit Harington sees his first nod in this category for the final season of “Game of Thrones.” But Harington doesn’t have the award locked up just yet. Brown is back on the ballot for the third consecutive time, as is his “This Is Us” co-star Milo Ventimiglia, while Jason Bateman is seeing his second consecutive nod for “Ozark,” and Bob Odenkirk, previously nominated three times for “Better Call Saul,” returns after the drama was ineligible last year. This year’s true newcomer is Billy Porter of “Pose.” With a Tony win already under his belt (for 2013’s “Kinky Boots”) and the second season of “Pose” airing now, Porter may have enough heat to play spoiler to Harington.

Lead Drama Actress
What a difference a year makes! Last year Sandra Oh (“Killing Eve”) was a fresh face in this race, but after her second consecutive nomination, she is the front-runner. It is Oh’s scene partner, Jodie Comer, as well as “This Is Us” matriarch Mandy Moore and “Game of Thrones’” Emilia Clarke, who are the newcomers to the ballot. Should voters be torn over choosing between the “Killing Eve” co-stars, Clarke may reign: After being nominated in the supporting category three times between 2013 and 2016, she moved into the lead category, and now this is her only chance to achieve Emmy gold, since “Thrones” wrapped this year. Making competition even stiffer are Robin Wright, who has been nominated every year “House of Cards” has been eligible and is also taking her last shot at a statue for this role; “How to Get Away With Murder’s” Viola Davis, who won in 2015 and was nominated twice again after; and Laura Linney, who is seeing her first nom for “Ozark.”

Comedy Series
Of all the comedy series nominees, Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” racked up the most overall nominations this year (20). It is also the incumbent in the race. But that doesn’t make it a shoo-in to take home the statue again. After all, HBO’s awards magnet “Veep” is back (scoring nine noms) after sitting out last year’s eligibility window, HBO’s hitman comedy “Barry” (17 noms) picked up steam in its second season, and there are a number of series that, while not true newcomers on the television landscape, made a splash with voters for the first time. Among those are Prime Video’s “Fleabag” (11 noms), NBC’s “The Good Place” (five noms), Netflix’s “Russian Doll” (13 noms) and Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek” (four noms). Last year it was a fresh female voice that broke through with “Maisel,” and if the Academy wants to follow that pattern, Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag” or Natasha Lyonne, Leslye Headland and Amy Poehler’s “Russian Doll” could rise to the top.

Lead Comedy Actor
Perhaps being a multi-nominee last year helped push Bill Hader over the top to win this category, in which case this is his race to lose. In addition to his second consecutive acting nom for “Barry,” he is also up for the second year in his role for writing and directing the HBO comedy. Anthony Anderson is still giving this race a real run for its money, having scored his fourth consecutive nom, as are “Black Monday’s” Don Cheadle (back on the ballot for the first time since 2015) and long-time Academy favorite Ted Danson, with his second consecutive nom for “The Good Place.” The wild card in this category is “Schitt’s Creek’s” Eugene Levy, who last saw Emmy gold in 1983. But if anyone could snatch the trophy from Hader, it’s “The Kominsky Method’s” Michael Douglas, who won the Golden Globe earlier this year.

Lead Comedy Actress
Before the ballots were cast, this race looked like it would come down to “Veep’s” Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who broke records when she won the category in 2017, her sixth statue for the role, and last year’s winner Rachel Brosnahan, of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” While those two are still neck-and-neck at the top of the list, the voters surprised everyone by pivoting from the repeat nominees to celebrate four newer faces in this race: “Dead to Me’s” Christina Applegate, last nominated in the category in 2009, and first-time category nominees Phoebe Waller-Bridge for “Fleabag,” Natasha Lyonne for “Russian Doll” and Catherine O’Hara for “Schitt’s Creek.” All of these fresh nominees have been quietly picking up steam as their respective seasons have gone on, so should that pace continue, there could be an upset in the category.

Limited Series
Ava DuVernay’s “When They See Us” may not have scored the most noms out of those projects in this category (it earned 16), but it is poised to pick up some key wins, including the main trophy. Its thoughtful look at the wrongfully accused known as the Central Park Five has been on viewers’ — and voters’ — minds since its launch, and that shows no signs of slowing down. Rounding out the roster are a number of series that dig just as deep, including HBO’s nuclear-disaster historical drama “Chernobyl” (seeing the most noms here with 19), Showtime’s prison-break project “Escape at Dannemora” (12 noms), FX’s “Fosse/Verdon” biopic (17 noms) and HBO’s “Sharp Objects” adaptation (eight noms). The intricate look at a complicated relationship, plus the fact that FX swept the limited series categories last year, could cause “Fosse/Verdon” to rise, but the other top contender might be “Chernobyl,” which, like “When They See Us,” told its own tale of injustice in the 1980s.

TV Movie
For the past two years, Netflix and “Black Mirror” have swept this category with wins for installments “San Junipero” in 2017 and “USS Callister” in 2018. This year’s entry, “Bandersnatch,” which scored two noms overall, was a feat of technology — an interactive, “choose your own adventure”-style story that eked into the right eligibility length depending on which choices the viewer made. While the show is advancing the future of storytelling in its own way, a couple of higher-profile projects from premium cabler HBO are causing more of a stir in this category at the moment: “Brexit,” starring Benedict Cumberbatch, and “Deadwood,” the conclusion to David Milch’s saga that picked up eight noms total. Also in the running are “King Lear” from Amazon Prime Video and another HBO film, “My Dinner With Herve.” The Academy has proven its love Cumberbatch (in 2014 for “Sherlock”), which may give “Brexit” an edge.

Lead Limited Series/TV Movie Actor
All the nominees in this category completed complicated turns in portraying their characters. Many were based on real people aging multiple years in a single season. Arguably no one had a bigger transformation than “When They See Us’” Jharrel Jerome, who portrayed Korey Wise first as a teenager and then, with mere days to bulk up a bit and adopt a new gait and speaking style, as a man in his late 20s. Seeing a win after his first-ever nomination would be an extra sweet layer to the story of the wrongfully convicted Central Park Five, but admittedly the competition is stiff with bigger names on the ballot around him. The competition starts with “True Detective’s” Mahershala Ali, who is still the frontrunner, due in part to his still-fresh-off-a-second-Oscar-win status, but it also includes film stars Benicio Del Toro (“Escape at Dannemora”), Hugh Grant (“A Very English Scandal”) and Sam Rockwell (“Fosse/Verdon”). The wild card in the category is “Chernobyl’s” Jared Harris.

Lead Limited Series/TV Movie Lead Actress
Once again there is a female acting race with two frontrunners: Patricia Arquette (“Escape at Dannemora”) and Michelle Williams (“Fosse/Verdon”). While winning the Golden Globe gave early heat to Arquette, who last received an Emmy in 2005 and was previously nominated in 2007, rookie nominee Williams’ performance has been lingering at the top of minds since her series aired more recently. Both are up against other first-timers Amy Adams (“Sharp Objects”), Aunjanue Ellis (“When They See Us”) and Joey King (“The Act”), as a well as rookie in this category, Niecy Nash (“When They See Us”). Nash was originally thought to be a frontrunner in the supporting category, but since she was pushed into lead instead, could shake things up.

Variety Talk Series
Television Academy voters nominated the same five shows here this year as they did last year. With such repetition, it’s hard to imagine the outcome on Sept. 22 being any different than it was in 2018. The incumbent winner, HBO’s “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” is a consistent performer, both in content and at the Emmys: It’s taken home the trophy for three consecutive years and is favored to win again. After all, political shows still reign supreme in late night. Other candidates that fit that bill are Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah,” TBS’ “Full Frontal With Samantha Bee” (each of which scored two noms overall) and CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (four noms). However, if voters want to reward lighter fare and celebrate new blood here, as they showed interest in doing in other categories, ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live!” (only this nom) or CBS’ “The Late Late Show With James Corden” (three noms) could come from behind. “Full Frontal” is still the only show hosted by a woman, but it doesn’t look like that will sway votes.

SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE -- Episode 1743 "John Mulaney" -- Pictured: (l-r) Kenan Thompson, Kate McKinnon during "Diner Lobster" in Studio 8H on Saturday, April 14, 2018 -- (Photo by: Will Heath/NBC)

Variety Sketch Series
This is another category that seems locked up, but could stand to see some change. NBC’s late-night series “Saturday Night Live” is coming off its second consecutive win, with 18 nominations this year, marking it as the one to beat. Despite most of the other series in this category being veterans in the space, too, it still feels like a long shot for any of them to take down such a behemoth. “At Home With Amy Sedaris” from TruTV was nominated last year and saw two total noms this year; IFC’s “Documentary Now!” is back on the ballot for the first time since 2017 with four total nominations; Comedy Central’s “Drunk History,” a voter favorite since 2015, scored three noms; “I Love You, America With Sarah Silverman” from Hulu sees its second consecutive nomination, despite cancellation; and Showtime’s Sacha Baron Cohen undercover project “Who Is America?” jumped onto the ballot with three total noms for its debut season.

Competition Program
Last year’s nominees in this category may have been a carbon copy from the year before, but the Academy crowned a new winner in “RuPaul’s Drag Race” and now that incumbent is the one to beat this year with 14 nominations across its flagship series, as well as “All-Stars” and “Untucked” offshoots. Voters made a splash by nominating newbie “Nailed It!” (Netflix), and if they want to make just as much noise come ceremony night, they would push the new kid fully into the spotlight — but admittedly that doesn’t seem likely. Others in the category follow the traditional pattern: CBS’ “The Amazing Race,” a 10-time winner, scored three noms; NBC’s “American Ninja Warrior,” nominated for the past three years in a row, picked up two overall nods this year; Bravo’s “Top Chef,” consistently on this ballot since 2007, is back, too, though this is its only nom; and NBC’s “The Voice,” which won the category for three consecutive years between 2014 and 2017, sees seven overall noms. While “The Voice” is certainly itching for a comeback, it’s going to be hard to snatch the crown from “Drag Race.”

Reality Host
Academy voters can’t retroactively award Nick Offerman and Amy Poehler Emmys for “Parks and Recreation,” so they’re settling for celebrating their new joint NBC venture, “Making It.” The duo was a surprise addition to the ballot this year, joining three-time winner RuPaul (“RuPaul’s Drag Race”), as well as daytime darling Ellen DeGeneres, who is seeing her second consecutive nomination for the primetime “Ellen’s Game of Games.” Other newcomers include James Corden, a staple of the variety talk series ballot seeing a unique additional nomination for “The World’s Best,” and Marie Kondo, of Netflix’s “Tidying Up With Marie Kondo.” While Offerman and Poehler have a special chemistry, the Academy has leaned toward awarding a single host in recent years. Kondo could give RuPaul a run for his money, but the superstar is still the one to beat, with a four-peat on the horizon.

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