The Emmy winner is … maybe viewers, diversity, ‘SNL’ brand
LOS ANGELES — As Emmy Award nominees nervously wait to hear their name called, or not, there’s more on the line at Monday night’s ceremony than personal glory.
“Saturday Night Live” creator Lorne Michaels, producing his second Emmy telecast in 30 years, is tasked with turning viewership around after the 2017 show’s audience of 11.4 million narrowly avoided the embarrassment of setting a new low.
The 8 p.m. EDT ceremony on NBC clearly bears his stamp, with “SNL” faux news anchors Michael Che and Colin Jost as hosts and familiar “SNL” faces, including Kate McKinnon and Alec Baldwin, as presenters and nominees. The long-running NBC sketch show, already the top Emmy winner ever with 71, could snare up to three more.
The pressure’s on Michaels because NBC and other broadcasters are increasingly reliant on awards and other live events to draw viewers distracted by streaming and more 21st- century options. The networks, which air the Emmy telecast on a rotating basis, are so eager for the ad dollars it generates and its promotional value for fall shows that they endure online competitors sharing the stage.
It’s Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” that’s the defending best drama series champ, with HBO’s two-time previous winner “Game of Thrones” the top rival. NBC’s “This Is Us” is the only network nominee in the category. On the comedy side, the front-runners are FX’s “Atlanta” and Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” with ABC’s “black-ish” the only network show in contention.
The telecast could see a number of record nominations for people of color converted into awards, some historic.
Sandra Oh has the chance to become the first performer of Asian descent to win a lead drama actress trophy for the BBC America’s spy thriller “Killing Eve.” Oh, who’s Korean-Canadian, previously received five supporting actress nods for “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Issa Rae of HBO’s “Insecure” or ABC’s “black-ish” star Tracee Ellis Ross could become the second African-American to win as best comedy actress, following Isabel Sanford (1981, “The Jeffersons”) by 37 years. The field, including Rachel Brosnahan of “Mrs. Maisel,” is wide open, with six-time Julia Louis-Dreyfus and her HBO series, “Veep,” sitting these Emmys out for scheduling reasons.
If the show hits a lull there’s a good chance politics will shake it up. “Weekend Update” anchors Che and Jost regularly traffic in political satire on “SNL,” and awards ceremonies have become a routine forum for celebrities to share their views on current events. It’s a trend embraced by Hollywood, at least publicly.
“I think if you’re given a forum and people are listening and you got something to say, particularly this day and age, say it,” said Ed Harris, up for best drama actor for the sci-fi drama “Westworld.”
Yeardley Smith, an Emmy winner for voicing Lisa on “The Simpsons,” said she doesn’t object when winners use the spotlight to say more than “thank you.”
“I don’t think it’s inappropriate,” Smith said. “I think that you do need to strike a balance. I think if you’re truly passionate about something, anything, that if you have a platform, you almost have a moral obligation to speak up.”