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HBO vs. Netflix, Moonves and #MeToo, and what else to watch for at the 2018 Emmys

2018 Primetime Emmy Nominations Announcements
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP
Decisions, decisions.
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The 70th Primetime Emmy Awards are on Monday (Sept. 17) at 8pm US Eastern Time on NBC. Everyone has their favorite TV shows and performers to root for, but there are plenty of other important stories and industry trends worth watching for from your couch.

Among the plot points for Emmys 2018: a standoff between TV’s two most influential platforms; an intriguing four-way battle for best drama; a completely wide-open comedy category; a head-scratching choice of hosts; and a monumental executive ouster. Here’s what to watch for on Monday night:

HBO vs. Netflix

For the first time in 17 years, HBO is not the network with the most Emmy nominations. That distinction goes to Netflix, which narrowly dethroned the premium cable channel, 112 nominations to 108. NBC came in a distant third with 78 nominations:

While HBO’s batting average is still much better than Netflix’s (with so few original dramas compared to the streaming service, it’s not exactly fair to measure nominations on an unweighted scale), HBO couldn’t have been too happy about losing its nearly two-decade reign as the king of the Emmy nominations. But the network still has a chance to take home the bigger prize—most wins.

Headed into Monday night’s show, HBO is leading Netflix in Emmy wins 17 to 16 based on the awards handed out at last week’s Creative Arts Emmys, which honor many of the technical TV crafts that apparently aren’t glamorous enough for primetime television, including production and costume design, sound editing, and musical score. HBO’s Game of Thrones has itself already won seven awards, tying NBC sketch comedy series Saturday Night Live as the show with the most wins. Both Thrones and SNL are nominated for several more awards on Monday.

Netflix’s most-nominated show, meanwhile, is the Queen Elizabeth drama The Crown, with 12. The Crown is no threat to outstrip Game of Thrones in wins, though it could be a dark horse contender in the most important award of the evening, best drama.

Best drama battle

This year’s best drama award is a four-way battle between four very different shows on four very different networks. The front runner, by a small margin, is probably The Handmaid’s Tale, which gave Hulu its first ever Emmy series win (and the first one ever for any streaming service, beating Netflix to the punch), when it won best drama last year.

As defending champion, Handmaid’s enjoys a slight edge on the rest of the field and boasts the best odds on awards predictor Gold Derby. But now in its second season, the dystopian drama doesn’t have nearly as much fanfare surrounding it as it did when it premiered, and now it’ll have to fend off a furious charge by Game of Thrones, which won best drama in 2015 and 2016, but was ineligible last year. So this is the first year that Handmaid’s and Thrones will face off directly.

Two underdogs could act as spoilers, however. The first is the aforementioned The Crown, which is nominated for the second year in a row and recently won the Creative Arts Emmy for best casting. Four of the last eight casting winners went on to win best drama, so The Crown has that history in its favor.

The other underdog is a personal favorite of mine, but one unlikely to ultimately break through: The Americans. The FX family spy drama ended after its sixth season earlier this year, so the TV Academy could conceivably honor the show’s terrific run and give it a “farewell” best drama trophy. But with three other very strong contenders, the chances of that happening are slim.

Comedy is anyone’s guess

The best comedy category is even more muddy than best drama. The field is wide open this year, as the winner of the last three years in a row, HBO political satire Veep, was on hiatus while star Julia Louis-Dreyfus underwent treatment for breast cancer. The comedy series winner for five years in a row before Veep was Modern Family, which was surprisingly (and perhaps fairly) snubbed this time around. So for the first time since 2009, when 30 Rock took home the award, the best comedy winner will not be either Veep or Modern Family.

Who it will be is anyone’s guess. Donald Glover’s FX show Atlanta is a pretty good pick; the surreal, genre-bending series is nominated in the acting, directing, and writing categories—usually a good sign for a show’s best series prospects. But so is HBO’s Barry, the magnificent hitman dramedy starring Bill Hader as an emotionally numb assassin who starts taking acting classes. And don’t count out The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, the Amazon comedy about a housewife-turned-standup comedian in 1950s New York that won the Golden Globe for best comedy series earlier this year. If Maisel wins the Emmy this year, it could be the start of another dominant multi-year run in the category.

Che and Jost

The hosts of this year’s show are Saturday Night Live performers and head writers Michael Che and Colin Jost, best known as the anchors of the “Weekend Update” satirical news segment. NBC is broadcasting the awards, so it makes sense that it would want to highlight one of its biggest shows, but it’s befuddling then why the network would not select performers who are actually funny and charismatic, like SNL’s Kate McKinnon, for instance. (Maybe she didn’t want to do it?) But what’s done is done: Che and Jost are the hosts.

What kind of tone the pair take, and just how “political” their jokes are, will be something to watch. In an interview with Variety, Che and Jost said that they’re not afraid to be political if the moment warrants it. Weekend Update has long made fun of politicians of all stripes, including and especially US president Donald Trump, but the jokes are sometimes less than acerbic. As quasi talk show hosts, Che and Jost have not taken aim at the Trump administration in the same way that their NBC colleague Seth Meyers, or CBS host Stephen Colbert, have.

The night will be very SNL-themed: longtime Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels will produce the Emmys show for the first time in 30 years. Che and Jost will reportedly be joined in skits by some of their fellow SNL cast members, according to Variety. And a team of comedians, including John Mulaney and Andy Samberg, have apparently helped the duo brainstorm ideas for Monday night’s telecast.

Moonves and #MeToo

One topic Che and Jost are almost certainly going to explore is the ongoing #MeToo movement, which has hit the entertainment industry especially hard. Les Moonves, chairman and CEO of CBS, was ousted from his role as one of the most powerful men in television—if not the most powerful—when he was forced to resign on Sept. 9 in the cascading fallout from a New Yorker investigation into an alleged a history of sexual misconduct by the CBS executive.

The most-watched broadcast network in the United States, CBS was nominated for 34 Emmys this year, fifth of all networks, behind Netflix, HBO, NBC, and FX. CBS really lucked out by not being the network to air the Emmys this year (the four major US broadcasters—CBS, NBC, Fox, and ABC—rotate airing the ceremony, and CBS aired it last year), but it will still surely be the topic of several awkward moments as the TV industry is forced to reckon with the ignominious downfall of one of its most influential people.

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