Emmys Finally See a Repeat Reset With Leading Men Nominees (Column)

If the lead actor categories on this year’s Emmy ballot are any indication, the age of rubber-stamping nominees may finally — thankfully — be over for Academy voters.

Although admittedly the drama nominees are hardly newcomers to the Emmy conversation, let alone the television medium, the list consists of six men who only have 10 nominations in the category between them — and that is counting this year’s.

“The Americans” star Matthew Rhys is the most-seasoned veteran of the group with two previous nominations, while “This Is Us” co-stars Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia were each nominated once before, just last year. “Westworld” co-stars Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright and “Ozark’s” Jason Bateman were both nominated for the first time in the category.

This is a change from recent years, where the same names consistently repeated: “House of Cards’” Kevin Spacey landed five nominations in a row, and “Better Call Saul’s” Bob Odenkirk and “Ray Donovan’s” Liev Schreiber each nabbed three consecutive noms in the category. The fact that the first two were ineligible this year certainly freed up room, but credit where credit is due: Academy members could have nommed Schreiber or other familiar names such as Kiefer Sutherland, previously nominated six times (with one win) for “24” and now up for “Designated Survivor” — but they didn’t.

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Two nomination staples in the comedy race were also not eligible, paving the way for fresher faces in that category as well. Amazon opted not to enter long-time nominee Jeffrey Tambor this year in the wake of sexual assault allegations involving the “Transparent” actor on set, and Aziz Ansari, also caught up in #MeToo harassment charges, wasn’t eligible because “Master of None” didn’t stream a new season.

To be fair, on the comedy side there are more vets than not. “Shameless” star William H. Macy received his fifth consecutive nomination this year, and “Black-ish’s” Anthony Anderson earned his fourth consecutive nomination this year.

But a few others come with the important caveat that they feel like new contenders because it’s been such a long time, and the television landscape has changed so much, since they last competed.

Larry David is nominated for the sixth time overall for “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but the first since 2012 because of the show’s multi-year hiatus. And Ted Danson, who is now the most-nominated actor in the category with 12 noms across shows, is back on the comedy ballot for the first time since “Cheers” went off the air in 1993 with a nom for “The Good Place.”

Last year’s winner Donald Glover (“Atlanta”) was nommed again, only his second overall, and “Saturday Night Live” vet Bill Hader has picked up his first-ever nom in the lead comedy actor category for “Barry.”

It appears voters did their due diligence prepwork for the vote and sampled at least a few new series. And it’s more than about time.

What may be most interesting, though, is the limited series/movie actor race. The lone vet is “Genius: Picasso’s” Antonio Banderas, with one prior nom. The category not only boasts some first-time nominees in the category — hi, Darren Criss, Jeff Daniels and Jesse Plemons! — but also an overall rookie acting nominee in John Legend (“Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert”). What a story it would make if a truly brand-new actor broke through. Nothing else would put performers on notice that they can’t get too comfortable.

Strides have clearly been taken to ensure the Emmys stay relevant and topical, but the real test will come in September, when we will see who takes home the trophies. For the past three years, the limited series/movie actor winner was a first-time nominee (Richard Jenkins in 2015, Courtney B. Vance in 2016 and Riz Ahmed in 2017), while the same was true in drama actor for the past two years (Rami Malek in 2016 and Brown reigning last year), and in comedy in 2017 newcomer Glover dethroned two-time champ Tambor.

Here’s hoping that continues, to become an official streak, and so no one, even those performers churning out consistent performances year over year, rest on their laurels. Because in the end, everyone wins when TV and its talent are at the top of their game.

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