WEST HOLLYWOOD, Calif. (AP) — Six months after the Oscars featured an all-white cast of acting nominees, television’s Emmy Awards is poised to show its big-screen Hollywood sibling how diversity is achieved.
The likely contenders for Thursday’s Emmy nominations include hit series “Empire” and “black-ish” and their wealth of critically acclaimed black actors, and “Jane the Virgin” and its standout Latina star, Gina Rodriguez.
Nominees in top categories are to be announced Thursday morning by Uzo Aduba, an Emmy winner last year for her “Orange is the New Black” role as Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren, and “So You Think You Can Dance” host Cat Deeley.
With the depth of African-American talent among actresses starring in drama series, it’s possible that one of them could become the first to win in the category — among the few Emmy acting awards still solely in white hands.
The contenders include Taraji P. Henson, who plays an unyielding matriarch in the hip-hop family drama “Empire,” Viola Davis as a cutthroat attorney in “How to Get Away with Murder” and previously twice-nominated Kerry Washington as a D.C. powerbroker in “Scandal.”
“I gotta win! I gotta win for history!” an exuberant Henson said when asked about the prospect during an “Empire” panel in May.
The expansive ethnic diversity that TV offers, relative to theatrical releases, also is in play when it comes to sexuality. There are some half-dozen actors in transgender roles seeking Emmy bids, including Jeffrey Tambor in “Transparent” and Laverne Cox, herself transsexual, in “Orange is the New Black.”
“This is a breakthrough year at the Emmys,” said Tom O’Neil, organizer of the Gold Derby awards handicapping website. “It’s a reflection of TV becoming more sophisticated and sensitive.”
A recent analysis of network series by The Associated Press found that ABC, NBC and Fox now have a higher percentage of blacks in prime time than their percentage in the general U.S. population, a significant increase over a decade ago. Inclusion of other ethnic groups, however, still lags.
The number of Emmy-nominated actors of color, meanwhile, has seesawed. There were as few as three in the 2010 and 2013 nominations, with 10 last year. Altogether, the nods yielded a 2010 supporting actress trophy for Archie Panjabi for “The Good Wife” and three winners in series guest actor categories: Aduba for “Orange is the New Black” and Joe Morton for “Scandal” in 2014 and Loretta Devine for “Grey’s Anatomy” in 2011.
Another key aspect of TV’s evolution likely to be reflected in the nominations: The rising tide of non-broadcast and cable platforms, including streaming services, which has made shows including Netflix’s “House of Cards” and Amazon’s “Transparent” serious contenders.
Departed programs seeking final Emmy glory include “Mad Men,” a four-time best drama series winner that would be the most-honored ever in the category with a fifth trophy. For star Jon Hamm’s portrayal of Don Draper, it’s a last chance for victory after seven previous nominations.
David Letterman, who retired from “Late Show,” and Stephen Colbert, who left “The Colbert Report” to succeed Letterman this fall, also are in the Emmy hunt for their former shows. “Late Show” was last nominated in 2009 as best variety, music or comedy series and last won in 2002. Colbert’s show won in 2014.
They’re both getting a break: the TV academy split the variety series category into two, one for variety talk shows and one for variety or sketch series like “Saturday Night Live,” making space for more contenders in each.
The Emmy announcement was displaced from its home at the TV academy headquarters in Los Angeles by a renovation project. The change to a theater in West Hollywood also moved the traditional pre-dawn back by several hours, making it unavailable to network morning shows that typically aired it. It was to stream on the academy’s Emmys.com website.
The Emmy ceremony will air Sept. 20 on Fox with Andy Samberg as host.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber.
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