Emmys controversy: Does alphabetic ballot explain surprise nominations and shocking snubs?

What if the answer to some of the biggest head scratchers in recent Emmy history was simply where one’s name landed in the alphabet? Is it possible some of the most surprising nominations like Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”) owe credit to her last name starting with a D while someone like Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) can blame his snub on the fact that his last name starts with an O?

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After reviewing the statistics for every acting category in 2013 and 2014, a performer’s last name and its placement in the alphabet is a factor in their chances of being nominated. On average, 50% of the nominees in each category show up in the first 30% of names on the ballot. And the more names there are in a category, the sooner in the ballot for the cut-off. 

For example, last year’s Comedy Guest Actor category saw 50% of the nominees show up by the 16% mark of the ballot, including the two big surprises of the category: Steve Buscemi (“Portlandia”) and Gary Cole (“Veep”). That category had 124 eligible performances.

In last year’s Comedy Supporting Actor race, half of the nominees showed up in the voter’s guide by 11.5% including surprise nominee Fred Armisen (“Portlandia”). That category had 187 eligible performances.

Conversely, categories with less eligible performances — like Comedy Lead Actor with only 66 contenders — didn’t reach half of their nominees until the 37.87% mark of the ballot.

Do voters get too overwhelmed with so many eligible performances that they start marking off names sooner in the alphabet? This could explain some of the more surprising nominees from the past two years, including:

Morena Baccarin (“Homeland”)
Scott Bakula (Behind the Candelabra)
Connie Britton (“Nashville”)
Dan Bucatinsky (“Scandal”)
Kate Burton (“Scandal”)
Steve Buscemi (“Portlandia”)

Bobby Cannavale (“Boardwalk Empire” and “Nurse Jackie”)
Lizzy Caplan (“Masters of Sex”)
Jim Carter (“Downton Abbey”)
Reg E. Cathey (“House of Cards”)
Anna Chlumsky (“Veep”)
Gary Cole (“Veep”)
Frances Conroy (“American Horror Story”)

Jeff Daniels (“The Newsroom”)
Laura Dern (“Enlightened”)
Michelle Dockery (“Downton Abbey”)

Vera Farmiga (“Bates Motel”)
Joanne Froggatt (“Downton Abbey”)

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Likewise, some of the most shocking snubs are of performers whose last names land in the latter half of the alphabet. Among those left off last year’s nominations were: 

Shirley MacLaine (“Downton Abbey”)
Tatiana Maslany (“Orphan Black”)
Michelle Monaghan (“True Detective”)

Julianne Nicholson (Masters of Sex)
Dean Norris (“Breaking Bad”)

Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation”)

Pedro Pascal (“Game of Thrones”)
Monica Potter (“Parenthood”)

Katey Sagal (“Sons of Anarchy”)
Andy Samberg (“Brooklyn Nine-Nine”)
James Spader (“The Blacklist”)
Corey Stoll (“House of Cards”)

Bellamy Young (“Scandal”)

And some of the most notable snubs over the past decades fit this pattern, including Chloe Sevigny (“Big Love”), Anna Paquin (“True Blood”) and Jonathan Rhys Meyers (“The Tudors”).

In another puzzler, the Emmys often drop winners the year after they have taken home the trophy. Could it be simply because their names are towards the end of the alphabet? Consider these champs who got snubbed: Archie Panjabi (“The Good Wife”), Martha Plimpton (“The Good Wife”), Carrie Preston (“The Good Wife”), Jeff Probst (“Survivor”),  Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer”), Eric Stonestreet (“Modern Family”) and Merritt Wever (“Nurse Jackie”).

This theory certainly explains the one time that Julianna Margulies was not nominated for “The Good Wife” even though her category had seven nominees that year. Likewise for Elisabeth Moss.

And the three “Modern Family” castmates who have been snubbed over the years — Ed O’Neill, Stonestreet and Sofia Vergara — are all towards the end of the lists. 

Who could this newly forming pattern affect this year?

Could this be a sign we are overestimating Amy Poehler, Amy Schumer and Lisa Kudrow, while underestimating Lena Dunham?

Are we on the verge of Margulies or Robin Wright being left out of the group?

Does this mean potential nominees like Jonathan Banks or Kyle Chandler are given an extra boost?

We’ll never be able to get in the heads of voters, but cases like these suggest there are elements of the ballot that strongly help actors receive nominations.

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