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2017 Emmys: How do 'House of Cards' and 'Modern Family' keep getting nominated?

by The Frame staff | The Frame

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HBO's "Westworld," and NBC's "Saturday Night Live" led the field for television's prestigious Primetime Emmy Awards, with 22 nominations each. VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images

The Emmy nominations were announced today. 

To help us sift through the nominees (and who got left out) we were joined by Daniel Fienberg, a TV Critic for The Hollywood Reporter, and Whitney Friedlander, a freelance reporter covering television.

Here are highlights of their conversation with John Horn:

WHAT THE 2017 EMMY NOMINATIONS TELL US ABOUT THE TELEVISION LANDSCAPE:

Friedlander: Politics is taken into play; you have "The Handmaid’s Tale" getting nominations, "VEEP" getting a lot of nominations, "The Crown" is up there too. But then ... people want to be hugged and that’s why "This Is Us" got a nomination. I kind of think of "This Is Us" as pancakes. You just need something comforting in these tragic times.

THE INFLUENCE OF NETFLIX ON EMMY CATEGORIES:

Fienberg: An important sign is: how many nominations can you force or push people to that might not have been nominations otherwise? If you look at what Netflix got nominations for — it’s one thing to say "The Crown" is a prestige, costume drama that would have gotten nominations regardless. Especially with a vacuum from "Downton Abbey." But on the other hand [there's "Stranger Things"], an '80s nostalgia-fest that was all about getting in touch with our inner child from 30 years ago [with] supernatural Steven Spielberg/Stephen King stuff … would it be an Emmy nomination without a good solid push? I don’t know. And the fact that Netflix was able to make people nominate "House of Cards" again when it has not been a good show since probably season one and that really verges on unwatchable at times. This is a tribute to how well Netflix played the game.

THE WAR RAGING BETWEEN CABLE TELEVISION AND ONLINE PLATFORMS:

Friedlander: You also have to look at "Westworld" …  and feel like, Oh, "Game of Thrones" wasn’t eligible this year? We’ll nominate HBO’s other fantasy show.

Fienberg: I think it also says a lot about the power of the December/January award season, because going into December/January, you would have had no way of knowing that "Stranger Things" was actually an [award-worthy] show. You’d have no way of knowing that "Westworld" —  which got really mixed reviews — was [worthy]. But suddenly those shows, plus "The Crown," broke in in huge ways with the guilds and the Golden Globes in December and January. They’ve been there ever since, and to some degree they take a position and people are too complacent to move them out. Even when something like "The Leftovers" comes out, has eight weeks of the best reviews for any drama series that year, and even with HBO doing a little bit of a push, they just couldn’t get that show on anyone’s radar.

THREE OF THE SEVEN NOMINEES FOR COMEDY SERIES ARE LED BY NON-WHITE CHARACTERS:

Fienberg: Certainly it’s notable on an inclusion and diversity level, there’s no question about that, but also in terms of diversity in storytelling. I think one of the things that’s so remarkable about "Atlanta" and "Master of None" is that these are two shows that play by absolutely no rules. One week to the next they could be completely different stories, completely different tones. Bless FX and bless Netflix for giving Donald Glover and Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang the opportunity to tell whatever stories they wanted to without any confines at all. I think that’s hugely notable. "Black-ish" does some of the same things as well when it tackles an issue per week.

ON EXPANDING CATEGORIES TO MATCH THE HIGHER NUMBERS OF PRODUCTIONS:

Friedlander: I kind of think some of these categories need to get expanded because there’s so much television. There were very few female directors nominated between the Limited Series Drama and Comedy- there were only three total. So, would we benefit from expanding these categories a little bit to accommodate the giant bottleneck that is peak television so that we could hopefully have more diversity and more female voices? Yes!

Fienberg: If I had more confidence that Emmy voters were doing a better job, I would say there is a volume of quality television that would say you can expand these categories to ten without any problem at all. But if you give Emmy voters six or seven nominations and they’re already like “Shrug, we’re going to nominate Modern Family and House of Cards again,” well then they haven’t earned the right to get those additional nominations. I can’t have faith that they’re going to do good things if you give them three more. That could finally be an opportunity for NCIS to get an Outstanding Drama Series Emmy… I just don’t trust the voters to necessarily do the right things with them.

ON WHICH NOMINATIONS WERE EXCITING TO SEE:

Friedlander: I’m going to go for Ann Dowd, on Handmaid’s Tale. I was very moved by her performance because this was a character who was a villain, a horrible person who mutilated people, beat them, who cattle prodded them and had their eyes taken out. But all she was trying to do was make these women survive, all she wanted to do was help them live. She actually thought she was helping the situation, which is so messed up but you kind of understood why she was doing that.

Fienberg: I’m happy to see Carrie Coon to get recognition, even if it wasn’t necessarily the one thing she should have gotten recognition for. But I’m going to go a little bit out of the box and somewhat counterintuitive here because I’ve already denigrated This is Us but Gerald McRaney had never been nominated for an Emmy before. He was my favorite- or possibly second favorite behind the equally deserving and awesome Ron Cephas Jones- part of the entire series. So for an actor like Gerald McRaney to have this moment and this performance that is so marvelous and often transcends the quality of the show that he was in… that makes me so happy because he deserved this nomination.

Here's a complete list of Emmy nominees, with links to past coverage on The Frame. 

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