Emmy Awards 2016: Drama Directing frontrunners – ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Downton Abbey,’ ‘Empire’ …

The Emmy Awards ballot for Best Drama Directing lists a jaw-dropping 244 episodes from 100 series. This is the first year that there will be officially six nominees. Last year’s five nominees were:

Boardwalk Empire” season 5
“Eldorado” (Tim Van Patten)

Game of Thrones” season 5
Winner: “Mother’s Mercy” (David Nutter)
“Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken” (Jeremy Podeswa)

Homeland” season 4
“From A to B and Back Again” (Lesli Linka Glatter)

The Knick” season 1
“Method and Madness” (Steven Soderbergh)

This category loves pilots. Five years ago, four of the five nominees were pilots, including the winner (“Boardwalk Empire” helmed by Martin Scorsese). With “Vinyl,” Scorsese is again in contention for a pilot. Other first episodes that could reap bids include “Billions,” “Mr. Robot” and “Narcos.”

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“The Knick” was the lone pilot nominated last year and the show contends this year for its second season finale. Because Steven Soderbergh is the sole director for “The Knick,” the show is limited to a single submission here, which concentrates support. Likewise, newcomer “Horace and Pete” was directed exclusively by Louis C.K., who has been nominated on the comedy side for helming episodes of “Louie” for each of the last four years.

Although “Downton Abbey” has multiple directors, only one has been submitted per season as a strategic move and it paid off with nominations from 2012 to 2014. For the final season, the PBS period drama entered three directors. However, the risk of vote-splitting is minimal as the ballot notes one episode as the “two-hour series finale.” The directors’ branch of the TV academy loves series finales almost as much as they love pilots, nominating one last year (“Boardwalk Empire”) and as many as three, in 2009 when the “ER” finale prevailed.

“Breaking Bad” spin-off “Better Call Saul” looked like a strong contender for its pilot last year, particularly after its helmer, Vince Gilligan, picked up a Directors Guild Award for the “Breaking Bad” finale, but he was snubbed. Perhaps vote-splitting played a part: “Better Call Saul” entered the directors of nine of its 10 episodes, despite there being only five nomination slots.

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Even “Game of Thrones,” which was popular enough to win the category at last, only got two of its three submitted episodes nominated. Although pilots normally stand out, the first episode of “Better Call Saul” was not technically a pilot. The writers’ branch actually nominated a midseason episode instead, despite their similar affinity for pilots.

“Game of Thrones” has been nominated only when it has submitted three episodes in this race (2011, 2014, 2015) and snubbed when it has submitted four (2013) or five (2012). But last year was the first that it got multiple nominations and a win, so they are on an upswing in support? Will it be enough to combat vote-splitting between their five submissions this year?

Name recognition might help “Empire” to a nomination after being snubbed for its first season last year, as DGA president Paris Barclay directed an episode. He has a habit of surprising with Emmy bids and was last nominated two years ago for the fifth season of “Glee”, which received no other nominations — even in the Creative Arts races.

Other possibilities include “Homeland” and “House of Cards.” Both were nominated for their first two seasons and then snubbed for their third. “Homeland” returned to the lineup last year for its fourth season; “House of Cards” contends for its fourth this year.

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Submissions from top contenders:

“Better Call Saul” season 2
“Amarillo” (Scott Winant)
“Bali Ha’i” (Michael Slovis)
“Cobbler” (Terry McDonough)
“Fifi” (Larysa Kondracki)
“Gloves Off” (Adam Bernstein)
“Klick” (Vince Gilligan)
“Nailed” (Peter Gould)
“Rebecca” (John Shiban)
“Switch” (Thomas Schnauz)

“Billions” season 1
“The Conversation” (Michael Cuesta)
“The Deal” (James Foley)
“Pilot” (Neil Burger)
“YumTime” (Scott Hornbacher)

“Downton Abbey” season 6
“April 1925” (Minkie Spiro)
“August 1925” (David Evans)
“The Finale” (Michael Engler)

“Empire” season 2
“Death Will Have His Day” (Danny Strong)
“The Lyon Who Cried Wolf” (Millicent Shelton)
“Past is Prologue” (Sanaa Hamri)
“The Tameness of a Wolf” (Paris Barclay)

Game of Thrones” season 6
“Battle of the Bastards” (Miguel Sapochnik)
“Book of the Stranger” (Daniel Sackheim)
“The Door” (Jack Bender)
“Home” (Jeremy Podeswa)
“No One” (Mark Mylod)

“Homeland” season 5
“All About Allison” (Dan Attias)
“The Litvinov Ruse” (Tucker Gates)
“Our Man in Damascus” (Seith Mann)
“Super Powers” (Keith Gordon)
“The Tradition of Hospitality” (Lesli Linka Glatter)
“Why is This Night Different?” (John David Coles)

“Horace and Pete” season 1
“Episode 10” (Louis C.K.)

“House of Cards” season 4
“Chapter 45” (Tom Shankland)
“Chapter 49” (Robin Wright)
“Chapter 50” (Kari Skogland)
“Chapter 52” (Jacob Verbruggen)

“The Knick” season 2
“This is All We Are” (Steven Soderbergh)

“Mr. Robot” season 1
“eps1.0_hellofriend.mov” (Niels Arden Oplev)
“eps1.1_ones-and-zer0es.mpeg” (Sam Esmail)
“eps1.3_da3m0ns.mp4” (Nisha Ganatra)
“eps1.7_wh1ter0se.m4v” (Christoph Schrewe)
“eps1.8_m1rr0r1ng.qt” (Tricia Brook)

“Narcos” season 1
“Descenso” (José Padilha)
“Explosivos” (Andi Baiz)
“La Gran Mentira” (Fernando Coimbra)

“Vinyl season 1
“Alibi” (Allen Coulter)
“Cyclone” (Nicole Kassell)
“E.A.B.” (Jon S. Baird)
“He in Racist Fire” (Peter Sollett)
“Pilot” (Martin Scorsese)
“Rock and Roll Queen” (Carl Franklin)
“Whispered Secrets” (Mark Romanek)

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