“Game of Thrones” may more Emmy nominations than any other program this year (19, or 20 if you count Best Interactive Program) but that does not necessarily mean it is more likely to win Best Drama Series. Categories vary in how indicative they are of broad support. Nominations in five particular races have proven especially vital for winning Best Drama: Writing, Directing, Casting, Editing, and Sound Mixing.
Consider: “Homeland” was thought to be a surprise Best Drama winner in 2012 because it had the fewest nominations of the six nominees, but unlike “Mad Men” and “Breaking Bad” that year, it had all five key nominations. All seven times since 2000 when one or more dramas has had all five, one has won Best Drama. This year, “Breaking Bad” and “House of Cards” have them all for the first time, “Mad Mad” is missing all five for the first time, and “Downton Abbey” is missing writing, casting, and editing.
Despite leading in total nominations, “Game of Thrones” missed Best Editing. 2008 was the only year since 2000 when the Best Drama champ (“Mad Men”) was not up for editing. However, “Game of Thrones” was nominated in the category last year and made a significant gain elsewhere this year with its first directing bid since its pilot. 2011 was the only year since 2000 that the Best Drama (“Mad Men”) was not up for directing.
“Game of Thrones” also grew in nominations by taking a second Best Cinematography slot, its first Stunt Coordination nomination in three years, and a long-awaited first music nomination.
“House of Cards” was snubbed in Writing and Sound Mixing last year and strategically entered just one episode in each this time, and it paid off both times. “24” in 2006 is the only show since 2000 to win Best Drama without a writing nod, though it was a prior writing winner. “House of Cards” also exceeded expectations in higher-profile categories with guest nominations for long-shots Reg E. Cathey and Kate Mara.
Sound Mixing is the only one of the five key categories that snubbed “True Detective.” Thankfully for the show, it’s the least crucial of those awards, as “The West Wing” in 2002 and three seasons of “Mad Men” can attest. But unlike “House of Cards” with its guest actors or “Game of Thrones” with its overall gains, there were no unexpected surpluses of support for “True Detective” in the nominations. However, “Homeland” overcame that two years ago, so don’t rule it out.
After submitting two episodes for Best Editing consideration each of the last two years and getting all nominated, “Breaking Bad” risked vote-splitting this year when it entered four, more than the two from “True Detective” or the three from “Game of Thrones” and “House of Cards.” However, three “Breaking Bad” entries got nominated, alongside single episodes of “Cards” and “True Detective.”
Last year, “Breaking Bad” became only the third Best Drama since 2000 to win without a Casting nomination, but it was understandable because that award favors new series. “24” in 2006 and “The Sopranos” in 2007 were at least as old when they won without casting bids. But this year, “Breaking Bad” picked up its first ever casting nomination and is now the only drama other than “Law & Order” with a nomination after its fifth year.
“Breaking Bad” also broke into other categories where it had never contended: Best Art Direction and Makeup (both prosthetic and non-prosthetic), which usually favor period or fantasy fare. These are not strongly correlated with Best Drama, but they do indicate a widespread academy desire to acknowledge the show. Along with dual Best Writing nominations, “Breaking Bad” is the favorite based on these nominations, but “Game of Thrones,” “True Detective,” and especially “House of Cards” are within striking distance.