While you're still basking in the glow of Tatiana Maslany's victory at the Critics' Choice Awards the other night, or the big Television Critics Association Awards nominations for The Americans (those are two totally different organizations, I swear), it's important to remember that the generally less interesting yet more prestigious Emmys are currently in the middle of their nomination process. On the film circuit, the basic assumption is that awards season builds to the Oscars, with smaller outfits like the Golden Globes providing the inside track to what could happen at the big show. In theory, the Critics' Choice Awards and the TCA Awards give television the same kind of framework—but in reality, the relationship between the three ceremonies is so nonexistent that it's tough to say that they have any effect on the Emmys at all.
However, we can better understand the Emmy nominations and eventual winners by looking at the nominations ballots, which the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences releases publicly. The 2013 ballots came out this Monday (you can see them on the Emmys' official site) and Academy voters have until June 28 to turn in their picks. As I wrote at this time last year, the voting process is kind of silly. Voters still pencil in their picks via a Scantron sheet, and can choose anywhere between zero and 10 nominees, depending on the category. The nominees are listed in alphabetical order, and I've heard a number of people joke that voters simply exhaust their allotment with names that appear early in the alphabet, then just give up and move on. But even though the voting process could be much better, it's not likely to change anytime soon. So let's instead turn our focus to what we can learn from this year's ballots and all the weird, funny, and sometimes downright perplexing inclusions they have have to offer.
It's an honor just to have the chance to be nominated...
One of the more magical things about the nominations ballots is how hopeful they can seem. We all know that the ACTUAL nominations will be riddled with the usual suspects—Mad Men, Modern Family, Breaking Bad, The Big Bang Theory, and the like. Yet, because the responsibility of submitting actors and shows for consideration usually falls to individual performers/producers (or to their "people"), just about anyone who worked in Hollywood during the eligibility period can throw their name in the ring. As a result, the ballots are full of people who we know won't even come close to be nominated, not to mention people whose work or show we've barely even heard of. This year, for whatever reason, there are a number of submissions from people who worked on a Halo 4-related show, which is about as random as these things get.
The nomination process also allows for more recognizable actors from less-prestigious networks to try to leverage their recognition into a nomination. It's going to take a dramtic change in the Emmy voter population before nominations for people from the Disney Channel, ABC Family, The CW, BET, DirecTV, and TV Land ever happen, but that didn't stopping Austin and Ally's Laura Marano from submitting herself in the Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category, or the cast of Real Husbands of Hollywood from submitting in the supporting acting categories. And the logic of The CW's performers never ceases to fascinate me. Last year, a number of leading ladies joined the fray, and that's mostly true this year as well; I guess Kat Graham thought she had a reasonable amount of stuff to do this season on The Vampire Diaries, and I'd be okay living in the weirdest world where AnnaSophia Robb made good on her effort to earn a nom for her work on The Carrie Diaries. Meanwhile, I expected a little more of a push for Arrow—perhaps coming from The CW itself—but only Stephen Ammell and Katie Cassidy made the effort to submit.
...but realistically, for many, nominations aren't worth trying for
Speaking of making an effort, although hope springs with these ballots, I can appreciate the way that some actors don't even consider wasting their time on filling out the necessary paperwork to make it onto these PDFs. The most notable omission, for me at least, is probably Fringe's Anna Torv. If you'd like to read her absence here as a subtle comment on the quality of the final season I wouldn't totally disagree, but it's more likely that she understands that neither she nor the show is getting nominated no matter what. Torv legitimately deserved a nod for her work in Season 3, but it didn't happen. Perhaps she took a hint from John Noble's experience; various corners of the internet have been trying to get him into the race for five years, to no avail.
Also missing from the ballot are the cast of Doctor Who, and the show itself in the big Drama Series category. Again, this is probably a case of actors and show that literally have no chance of being nominated (at least this year; you could have made a case for the cast and show at various times over the past few season) not wasting their time, but I at least expected to see Matt Smith and the show itself on the list.
When choosing a category, strategy matters
Another thing to keep an eye out for is where actors and actresses decide to submit themselves because that can change from year to year. Three particular individual choices stood out to me for 2013.
The first is Hayden Panettiere choosing to submit herself in the Supporting Actress race instead of the Lead Actress one. Nashville was certainly promoted as a two-hander featuring Panettiere and Connie Britton, and although the press certainly loves Connie B. more (and I mean, duh), the fact is, Hayden consistently did better work in the first season of a very messy show. If you told me that she'd submitted in the Lead Actress category, I'd nod in agreement. But there's a strong argument against submitting in the bigger race; this way, she avoids competition with a co-star and the Claire Danes/Julianna Margulies buzzsaw. Realistically, Panettiere has zero chance of winning, and a minscule chance of being nominated in the Lead Actress spot. But I'm not so sure the Supporting Actress race is any easier. Dame Maggie Smith is still around, so she's automatically going to win for Downton Abbey unless something really weird happens, and the women of Mad Men and The Good Wife are going to make it tough to get into the category at all.
Then there's Freddie Highmore's run at the Supporting Actor category for Bates Motel. This is less about Highmore's work on the show, or his prominence in its promotional campaigns, and more about how A&E is likely putting a big push behind Vera Farmiga in the Lead Actress race. Highmore certainly has a better chance of getting nominated as a supporting actor than he does as a lead, which gives A&E more resources to allocate toward Farmiga's campaign. Her TCA Award nomination might help a little, but I'm very curious to see how Farmiga fares for her performance on the show.
Finally, although it was announced a while back, Jake Johnson submitting himself for Lead Actor is a smart decision. New Girl's second season was all about Nick Miller, much like the show's first season was dominated by Schmidt. The Supporting Actor race is so stuffed that Johnson would have trouble standing out there, but in the Lead Actor race, he might be able to sneak in if the buzz sustains through the voting period like it did for his co-star Max Greenfield last year.
In the Lead Actor categories, your fiercest competition may be be your co-star—and it could hurt you both in the end
Although you'd think that shows would want to spread out their chances to grab multiple nominations (see the "strategy matters" section above), a number of top-lining duos have submitted in the Lead Actor categories—which could, at least in theory, lead to stiff competition among co-stars. This isn't an entirely recent phenomenon; in the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s, the leading men of shows like L.A. Law, St. Elsewhere, NYPD Blue, ER, Law & Order, The West Wing, and Six Feet Under all scored Lead Actor nominations alongside their fellow cast members. In many cases, neither man won (1986, 1987, 1994, 1997, 1999-2001), but there were a few instances (St. Elsewhere's William Daniels when he ran against co-star Ed Flanders in 1984, and NYPD Blue's Dennis Franz when he ran against David Caruso in 1994 and Jimmy Smits in 1996 and 1998) where two performers from the same show made it into the lead category and one of them ended up winning. All told, the approach garners mixed results at best—but Jon Cryer won Lead Actor in a Comedy last year, so it's no surprise that he and Ashton Kutcher are sharing the spotlight on this year's ballot, nor is it shocking that Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki, each of whom was nominated in the Lead Actor category two years ago, are both vying to return to it.
Here's a list of shows with more than one actor trying for Lead Actor consideration this year: Workaholics (Adam DeVine and Blake Anderson), The New Normal (Andrew Rannells and Justin Bartha), Parks and Recreation (Adam Scott and Rob Lowe), Suits (Patrick J. Adams and Gabriel Macht), White Collar (Tim DeKay and Matt Bomer), Person of Interest (Michael Emerson and Jim Caviezel), Vikings (Travis Fimmel and Gabriel Bynre), Dallas (Patrick Duffy and Josh Henderson), NCIS: LA (LL Cool J and Chris O'Donnell), Franklin & Bash (Breckin Meyer and Mark Paul Gosselear), Vegas (Michael Chiklis and Dennis Quaid) and The Vampire Diaries (Paul Wesley and Ian Somerhalder). Add the Lead Actress race and and you've also got 2 Broke Girls (Beth Behrs and Kat Denning), 1600 Penn (Jenna Elfman and Martha MacIsaac), Once Upon a Time (Ginnifer Goodwin and Jennifer Morrison), and Rizzoli & Isles (Sasha Alexander and Angie Harmon). Considering the approach worked for Parsons and Galecki two years ago in that they both earned nominations in an already-competitive category and Parsons actually won, perhaps more and more leading actors are purposefully going head-to-head with one another. Which isn't to say that doing so necessarily helps their chances of taking home a statue: It's likely that the vote gets split when actors compete against one another. We'll never know, but it's a risk that lots of actors seem prepared to take.
The Miniseries/TV Movie designation is still laughable
Another thing that I mentioned last year, and another thing that's worth noting again. The fact that American Horror Story: Asylum and its cast and crew get to enter the Miniseries/TV Movie category is a little ridiculous. Downton Abbey entered the series race after its initial stay in the Miniseries/TV Movie category, but that's apparently not going to happen with AHS because AHS is an anthology series. So if you're not ready for at least another two years of Jessica Lange winning awards for her work on the show, prepare yourself. But the silliness doesn't just end there. Political Animals and The Hour get to slide into the Miniseries/TV Movie race because they were both canceled, even though their producers had full intention on continuing after their respective first and second seasons if given the chance. The Big C: Hereafter sneaks into the race as well because its final season was comprised of just four "event"-style episodes.
Of course, a lot of of this probably doesn't matter as much this year because Behind the Candelabra is rightfully going to dominate this category outside of Lange's likely second win in a row, but it'd really be nice if the categories actually made sense.
But at the very least, the ballots can be good for a chuckle
I don't want to knock individual actors or their agents for trying to get the word out about their work, so I'll just point out a few shows that humorously appear on their respective Outstanding Series lists...
Outstanding Drama Series: Gossip Girl, Hemlock Grove, Monday Mornings, The Client List, Franklin & Bash, Rogue, Touch
Outstanding Comedy Series: Men at Work, Guys With Kids, The First Family, Baby Daddy, After Lately, Sullivan and Son, The Carrie Diaries
Wanna play along? Take a look at the ballots for yourself and let us know what glaring omissions or hilarious inclusions YOU see!