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What will win Outstanding Drama Series at the Emmys?


by Abe Fried-Tanzer

There are many factors that go into the way Emmy voters choose the winner of their top awards, and we’re taking a look today at where the Outstanding Drama Series contenders stand from a statistical and recent history perspective.

Better Call Saul (Season 4 – 9 nominations)
AMC’s prequel to the acclaimed Breaking Bad, is back for the fourth time after the show missed last season’s eligibility window. It matched its nomination total from season three, but has yet to win an Emmy in any category. Consider the inclusion of supporting actor Giancarlo Esposito and the exclusion of supporting actress Rhea Seehorn a draw. Star Bob Odenkirk may finally break through and win a lead acting trophy this year, but this show has so little buzz that it would be a shock to see it triumph.

Bodyguard (Season 1 – 2 nominations)
This six-episode freshman thriller scored a major breakthrough with a bid in this race. But it managed only one other nomination, for writing, and, puzzlingly, missed out on a nomination for lead actor Richard Madden, who took home the Golden Globe...

There’s no denying that this show was an intense and highly enthralling drama, but its minimal nominations haul and the lack of any acting nominees (supporting actress Keeley Hawes was another popular prediction) suggests it has almost no chance of winning.

Game of Thrones (Season 8 – 32 nominations)
The lowest nominations tally this show has ever achieved was back in season two, when it scored only eleven nominations. For its final season, it nearly tripled that total, achieving a record-breaking thirty-two bids, the most for any program in any one year ever. It’s hard to argue with that. Its last three seasons have claimed this award, it boasts a whopping ten acting nominations, and the only thing going against it is that some people hated the final season. It doesn’t appear that those were Emmy voters, and in the absence of another frontrunner, this should be it.

Killing Eve (Season 2 – 9 nominations)
Most agree that this show just missed this category for its freshman season, which earned two bids, and now it’s nominated in all requisite races, something that can only be said about one other nominee (see the juggernaut above). Though it’s popular, it’s still a strange show, one that likely won’t win over every voter. Sandra Oh is a good bet to win the best actress trophy if she can eclipse costar Jodie Comer. A writing victory seems much more achievable than winning this top award.


Ozark (Season 2 – 9 nominations)
Here’s another show that did much better this year than on its first try. After a major showing at the SAG Awards that included a win for star Jason Bateman, it’s now up in a bunch of races. Standout supporting actress Julia Garner has a shot at winning her category if the four (!) nominees from Game of Thrones split the vote, and Bateman might also win, either for directing or for acting. But this show doesn’t feel big or beloved enough to score the top prize for drama, even with a decent presence this year.


Pose (Season 1 – 6 nominations) 
FX’s 80s ball drama has its lead actor, Billy Porter, nominated, but it didn’t score any directing or writing bids. You have to go back to 1999 to find an example of a show winning this award without a nomination in either of those categories. While it may not have the statistical advantage or anywhere near the highest nomination haul, this show does have an emotional pull and a devoted fan base that could enable it to pull off a surprise victory. If voters are tired of celebrating a long-running fantasy epic, this would be an incredible opportunity to embrace something completely different.


Succession (Season 1 – 5 nominations)
HBO’s latest ensemble piece didn’t score with the Golden Globes or the SAG Awards, but it managed to break into this top race and earn citations for writing and directing. It did not, however, earn a single acting nomination, despite considerable buzz for Kieran Culkin and James Cromwell, plus many more members of the cast worthy of praise. Its low nomination count suggests that this show could be a big player in the future, but it’s going to sit out this category this year since it didn’t arrive as strongly as it could or should have.


This Is Us (Season 3 – 9 nominations)
Three seasons in and on its third consecutive nomination, NBC’s family drama is performing consistently. Despite being shut out by the Golden Globes this past year, it won its second consecutive SAG Award for its ensemble. The trouble is, while it boasts seven acting nominations, it still hasn’t merited a single directing or writing bid. Viewers still seem to love it, but if it wasn’t going to win on its first try, there’s nothing to suggest that now would be the time that voters would choose to reward it over other hotter fare. 


Where does this leave us?

Game of Thrones is definitely primed to win again, and one of the other seven nominees will have to really make a splash to pull off an upset. Which of these shows do you think should win?


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Reader Comments (19)

Killing Eve

because I want Phoebe to make Herstory: be the first person in history to win oustanding comedy series (Fleabag) and outstanding drama series (Killing Eve)

that's all!

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJay

I actually think Better Call Saul deserves to win. I love this series.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLuke

Game of Thrones will win. I haven't seen the rest yet, but I think Killing Eve is well positioned for an upset.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan


Sorry, but I think David E. Kelley was the first person to win comedy and drama for Ally McBeal and the Practice.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterArkaan

Anything but This is Us and Game of Thrones.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

I’m surprised at how the Academy has no shame to reward GoT after a season that left even hardcore fans of the show unimpressed, not to say disappointed or even angry. It was just not good television or a satisfying ending and giving it the top prize reeks of laziness. I hope it doesn’t win any acting awards either, just a couple of those nominations you can say are actually deserved.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLucky

Sorry, but speak for yourself, Lucky. I am a hardcore fan of the books and the series, and while I didn't like several of their choices (yes, including Daenerys's very sudden turn), I still greatly appreciate the series as a whole and how it ended (that last episode was awesome). The final season deserves all of the nominations it got and more. And I have many friends who share the same opinion.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRon


Not in the same year. Phoebe could be the first one to achieve that in the same year.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJay

ROOTS holds the record for any *program* in any year ever with 37 nods. GOT has the record for any *series* in any year ever.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBD

@Jay, in 1999 Kelley won both awards in the same year.

I think This Is Us would make for a strong spoiler, but GoT seems inevitable, even if it’s undeserving. I also thought The Bodyguard was thrilling, and would have made a worthy contender, but Emmy voters must have been unimpressed.

September 10, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJoe

I don't know if it's gonna win but a KILLING EVE victory would make my day

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

GOT is winning but if this were my dream emmy's Pose would be winning. Sad that this likely won't happen all I can hope is Porter pulls off the leading actor win.

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEoin Daly

Haven't see Ozark or The Bodyguard, but of the rest I'd say Succession should win, and it isn't close (btw, James Cromwell? really? I like him and he's an established name, but still seems an odd choice to have attracted buzz given the breadth and depth of that cast). I won't mind at all if Killing Eve wins (although I thought the first season was far better), but I don't see anything stopping Game of Thrones. And that's understandable.

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterScottC

Either Ozark or Succession deserves it. Those are two sturdy dramas that get better as they go along, in the vein of The Sopranos, Breaking Bad, The Americans, etc. The "Golden Age" is basically over but those two stand out as the natural successors, give or take The Crown (which doesn't observe such a regular schedule).

Season 2 of Succession is so great that it /really/ puts egg on the face of Emmy voters who overlooked it for acting nominations. So I'd give it to Ozark this year and Succession next year.

When you get past the shock value and idiosyncrasies of Killing Eve I'm not sure if there's enough "there" there to sustain itself. It's certainly stylish, but I'm not a diehard.

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJF

Succession should win. I love Better Call Saul, but honestly I have trouble remembering last season because it aired so long ago (before the next season, I will have to rewatch some episodes - this can be an issue with the Emmys). Succession is at an advantage because its outstanding second season (even better than the first) is airing right now.

I agree with Scott C, James Cromwell was never one of the best actors on the show, though he's a good actor in general. Matthew MacFadyen, Jeremy Strong and Brian Cox should have been nominated. This season, they have beefed up the women's roles as well, and Sarah Snook, J. Smith-Cameron and Jeannie Berlin are doing Emmy-worthy work.

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterSuzanne


The women on Succession are really an embarrassment of riches. There's never a dull moment with Hiam Abbass, whose character is guaranteed to break out at some point in the plot. The story and visuals hold a special fascination with Marcia, and she plays everything cryptically and deliciously.

Not to mention Cherry Jones and Holly Hunter doing fine work this season!

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterH

@ScottC and @Suzanne - I wouldn’t argue that Cromwell was one of the best actors on the show, merely that there was consensus he was going to be nominated. Culkin was the only regular cast member that those predicting could agree on, with Brian Cox getting a bit of buzz. I’d personally choose Sarah Snook or Jeremy Strong if I was highlighting any of the cast members.

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAbe

Unfortunately (sorry, wasn't a fan either) there's no consensus over which series would spoil the party if there was a surprise. Scenarios like this only strengthen the hold of the frontrunner even more. I would be hugeeeeely surprised if anything other than Game of Thrones won.

My biggest disappointment with its incoming win is not so much being rewarded in a subpar year, but that it will tie Mad Men's record of 4!

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

I don't watch all of these shows (who watches everything, these days?), but I've been beating the drum of BETTER CALL SAUL since season 1, and it only gets better.

September 11, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDeborah Lipp

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