Emmy cliffhanger: Are we underestimating ‘Silicon Valley’ for Best Comedy Series?

Of the seven nominees for Best Comedy Series at the Emmys, “Silicon Valley” ranks on the bottom rung of our predictions chart, alongside “Louie” and “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.” But don’t count the sophomore season of this laffer about Silicon Valley out just yet. Remember, this HBO hit satire has a history of surprising. It won this race at the Critics’ Choice Television Awards in June; we had it ranked fourth. And last year we gave it only 100/1 odds to reap a Best Comedy Series bid. Not only was it nominated, but it also contended for Best Writing and Directing; it repeats in those categories this year. 

Compare that to our frontrunner for Best Comedy Series, “Veep,” which finally earned its first Best Directing nomination in its fourth season. It had waited until last year for recognition from the writing branch. “Veep” was nominated in each of these only when it reduced its ballot submissions to one apiece, so that it could pool all of the support that had been split across four to five entries in previous years. With directing its only new nomination this year, “Veep” might not be any more popular within the academy than last year when it lost to “Modern Family.”

Making only one submission is a savvy move that shows such as “Downton Abbey” and “Louie” have employed to great effect. However, achieving nominations through this strategy does not always result in wins. “Silicon Valley” made dual submissions in each category both years and it has been nominated for writing and directing both times.

“Silicon Valley” was also cited by other branches. It took “Veep” until its third season to get a Best Sound Mixing nomination while “Silicon Valley” got in on its second try. That is an important distinction as every Best Comedy Series winner since 2004 has at least been nominated for this award. “Veep” annually submits three to four episodes for Best Comedy Editing and it is yet to be nominated; only once since the category was introduced in 2002 has the Best Comedy Series not been at least in contention for the cutting prize. “Silicon Valley” submitted two episodes last year and was snubbed; it submitted two again this year, both were nominated and it won.

This is a show that is genuinely liked by the academy and increasingly so. With voting expanding and moving online, perhaps more younger members will be voting. “Silicon Valley” is peaking at the perfect time, when reigning five-time champ “Modern Family” has its fewest Emmy nominations yet. Critics heralded the second season of “Silcon Valley” as an improvement on the solid first season. “Veep” was more of a critical favorite in past years. It tied as Best Comedy Series at the Television Critics Assn. Awards last year, but was not even nominated this year. Its moment as an industry favorite may have passed as well. It won the Writers Guild of America Award for Best Comedy Series last year; this time, they went back to what had won before: “Louie”.

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As the show that airs immediately after smash hit “Game of Thrones”, “Silicon Valley” is coming to realize its potential as a mainstream success. It has an audience of six million (50%  greater than  “Veep”) and averages a 1.0 rating in the key demographic after “Game of Thrones”, whereas the second season of “Veep” that had led out of “Game of Thrones” posted just a 0.6 rating (and the show has since slid to a 0.5). For an academy that awarded the popular “Modern Family” the last five years and is switching to a more populist form of voting, “Veep” might be too much of a niche show to win.

What has given predictors pause is the lack of acting nominations for “Silicon Valley.” Although there have been seven instances of comedies winning without any, the last was “The Wonder Years” way back in 1988. However, there have been years in which the winner has had only one (more) acting nomination (than “Silicon Valley”).

In 2006 “The Office” received its sole acting nomination for lead Steve Carell. It was the first Emmy bid for Carell, a former correspondent on “The Daily Show” who had recently gained widespread recognition and a Writers Guild nomination for starring in and writing the summer blockbuster “The 40-Year-Old Virgin.” And in 2004 “Arrested Development” had only supporting actor Jeffrey Tambor in the running; he was a past four-time nominee in that category for “The Larry Sanders Show.”

“Silicon Valley” lead Thomas Middleditch had the best odds of the show’s actors to be nominated and maybe he would have been had he a résumé like Carell and Tambor. Young actors seldom score lead nominations unless they alos write, direct and produce their show, like Lena Dunham on “Girls” or Amy Schumer with “Inside Amy Schumer.” Middleditch is 33 and the Best Comedy Actor nominees range in age from from 45 to 71. 

Experts Emmy predictions: All 32 categories

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Last year, our Experts had an accuracy rate of 58.62% when it came to predicting the Emmy winners. That score tied them with both Gold Derby’s Editors and the Top 24 Users (those two dozen folks who did the best at predicting last year’s Emmys). Our Users scored  51.72% (Click on any of these groups to see what they got right and wrong last year.)

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