Wide open field for this year’s Emmy Awards

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Television industry experts are predicting a wide open race for this year’s Emmys when the nominations are announced Thursday, with awards juggernaut “Game of Thrones” out of the running.

HBO’s fantasy epic about noble families vying for control of the Iron Throne raked in a record-breaking 12 awards last year, but is ineligible this time around since the new season doesn’t start until Sunday.

The Television Academy tends to nominate and vote conservatively, with the Emmys dominated by perennial favorites like “Thrones” and “Downton Abbey,” which finished in March 2016.

But with both of these shows out of the picture, a number of nods for television’s equivalent of the Oscars should go to newcomers like lavish period drama “The Crown” and its Netflix stable mate “Stranger Things.”

Hulu’s dystopian sci-fi series “The Handmaid’s Tale,” NBC’s family drama “This Is Us” and HBO’s dark sci-fi western “Westworld” are all in the running for best drama, as well as in the writing and acting categories.

Returning from last year, “The Americans” (FX), “Better Call Saul” (AMC), “Homeland” (Showtime), “House of Cards” (Netflix) and “Mr. Robot” (USA) will all be contenders for the top prizes too.

Awards prediction website Gold Derby has Golden Globe winner “The Crown” — about Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II — as favorite for best drama, ahead of “Stranger Things,” an award-winning sci-fi-horror drama set in the 1980s.

“I think the two slam dunks are ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ and ‘The Crown.’ I wouldn’t mind seeing ‘Westworld’ in there because I think it was more creatively ambitious and pulled it off better than most,” said awards expert Tim Goodman in a commentary for The Hollywood Reporter.

“But I’m worried that ‘Stranger Things,’ a series I quite enjoyed but doesn’t merit a best drama nom, will get in, taking a valuable spot.”

– ‘Extraordinary year’ –

The most star-studded category, as ever, is best actor in a limited series or TV movie with the field led by Robert De Niro, who anchored HBO’s “The Wizard of Lies” as Ponzi scheme fraudster Bernie Madoff.

Riz Ahmed, Ewan McGregor, Geoffrey Rush and John Turturro will also be expecting nominations, while other big name contenders in the category include Benedict Cumberbatch and Jude Law.

“House of Cards” star Kevin Spacey, a double Oscar winner who has never won an Emmy, should pick up a nomination in the best drama actor category.

But he faces competition for the elusive statuette from Sterling K Brown (“This Is Us”), Bob Odenkirk (“Better Call Saul”) and last year’s winner Rami Malek (“Mr. Robot”).

The academy’s 21,000 members were given two weeks to sift through a crowded field of several thousand entries from shows aired during the previous 12 months.

“It has been an extraordinary year for television. The industry has never been more dynamic or inventive, and storytellers and content creators have never been more prolific,” said chairman and CEO Hayma Washington.

– SNL’s big day? –

In the best actress in a comedy category, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is hotly-tipped for a sixth consecutive Emmy for her role as hapless former president Selina Meyer on HBO’s “Veep.”

Melissa McCarthy, who made headlines with her appearances as embattled White House press secretary Sean Spicer on sketch show “Saturday Night Live,” would be a popular nomination for best comedy guest actress.

McCarthy, who has one Emmy win in seven previous nominations, faces posthumous competition in the category from “Star Wars” legend Carrie Fisher, who appeared in British sitcom “Catastrophe” before her death in December.

It could be a big day for SNL, with Alec Baldwin also in the running for his impersonation of President Donald Trump and Kate McKinnon hoping for recognition for her popular turn as Trump’s election rival Hillary Clinton.

In a new development, academy members were able to select as many programs as they liked per category but, unlike the Oscars, do not rank their choices for the Emmys, with nominees determined by a simple tally.

There are seven nominees in “comedy series” and “drama series” and six in the rest.

“Game of Thrones” made television history last year, becoming the most decorated fictional show since the awards began nearly seven decades ago with nine awards in technical categories and three top prizes.

“Veep” actress Anna Chlumsky and “Criminal Minds” star Shemar Moore will present the nominations this time around from the Television Academy at 8:30 am (1530 GMT) and the announcement will be live-streamed at Emmys.com.

Second round voting will take place in August while the ceremony itself will be beamed live from the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles, on September 17 on CBS, with late night funnyman Stephen Colbert hosting.

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