Emmy Awards: Will three nominations in a category help or hurt ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘People v. O.J. Simpson’?

When co-stars are nominated against each other at the Emmys, one usually wins. Because Emmys are judged off of single-episode submissions, a program having multiple nominees means that each of them gets additional episodes to showcase their acting, by appearing in co-stars’ submissions.

We call this the “Felicity Huffman rule,” alluding to the 2005 race for Best Comedy Actress that Huffman won against, among others, her “Desperate Housewives” co-stars Marcia Cross and Teri Hatcher. Multiple nominees from the same program also suggests a surplus of support among voters that would theoretically manifest further when voting for winners.

This year, “Game of Thrones” has three nominations for Best Drama Supporting Actress and “The People v. O.J. Simpson” has three for Best Movie/Limited Supporting Actor. (“Saturday Night Live” also has three nominations for Best Comedy Guest Actress, but the nature of the guest categories is such that even performances nominated from the same program rarely appear in each other’s episodes.) Gold Derby odds favor wins for Lena Headey over her “Game of Thrones” co-stars Emilia Clarke and Maisie Williams and Sterling K. Brown over his “The People v. O.J. Simpson” co-stars David Schwimmer and John Travolta.

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However, of the 43 instances in Emmy history (listed below) in which a single program occupied three or more slots in a lead or supporting category, only 29 yielded a win by one of those heavily-nominated programs. This is only slightly better than the 27 that would have been expected if the winner had been picked at random in those races. The effect of additional showcases has been largely negligible on average and perhaps has been overemphasized as a result of confirmation bias. Programs with three or more nominations have won more often than not, but the Emmys have historically had only five slots per category (or even four in some relevant cases).

Six slots are standard now, so “Game of Thrones” and “The People v. O.J. Simpson” do not have the advantage of occupying the majority of slots in their categories. More importantly, the Emmys have reconfigured voting this year. Voters no longer rank the nominees; they instead just vote for one as the winner, so there is great potential for vote-splitting.

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Best Comedy Actress (4/5 won)
1986: Betty White won over her “The Golden Girls” co-stars Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan.

1987: Rue McClanahan won over her “The Golden Girls” co-stars Bea Arthur and Betty White.

1988: Bea Arthur won over her “The Golden Girls” co-stars Rue McClanahan and Betty White.

1989: “The Golden Girls” co-stars Bea Arthur, Rue McClanahan and Betty White lost to Candice Bergen (“Murphy Brown”).

2005: Felicity Huffman won over her “Desperate Housewives” co-stars Marcia Cross and Teri Hatcher.

Best Comedy Supporting Actor (3/6 won)
1985: “Cheers” co-stars Nicholas Colasanto, John Ratzenberger and George Wendt lost to John Larroquette (“Night Court”).

1988: “Cheers” co-stars Kelsey Grammer, Woody Harrelson and George Wendt lost to John Larroquette (“Night Court”).

2010: Eric Stonestreet won over “Modern Family” co-stars Ty Burrell and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.

2011: Ty Burrell won over “Modern Family” co-stars Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ed O’Neill and Eric Stonestreet.

2012: Eric Stonestreet won over “Modern Family” co-stars Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ed O’Neill.

2013: “Modern Family” co-stars Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ed O’Neill lost to Tony Hale (“Veep”).

Best Comedy Supporting Actress (1/1 won)
2004: Cynthia Nixon won over “Sex and the City” co-stars Kim Cattrall and Kristin Davis.

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Best Drama Supporting Actor (9/10 won)
1979: Stuart Margolin won “The Rockford Files” co-stars Noah Beery Jr. and Joe Santos.

1981: Michael Conrad won over “Hill Street Blues” co-stars Charles Haid and Bruce Weitz.

1982: Michael Conrad won over “Hill Street Blues” co-stars Taurean Blacque, Charles Haid, Michael Warren and Bruce Weitz; there were no other nominees.

1983: “Hill Street Blues” co-stars Michael Conrad, Joe Spano and Bruce Weitz lost to James Coco (“St. Elsewhere”).

1984: Bruce Weitz won over “Hill Street Blues” co-stars Michael Conrad and James B. Sikking.

1988: Larry Drake won over “L.A. Law” co-stars Alan Rachins and Jimmy Smits.

1989: Larry Drake won over “L.A. Law” co-stars Richard Dysart and Jimmy Smits.

1990: Jimmy Smits won over “L.A. Law” co-stars Larry Drake and Richard Dysart.

2001: Bradley Whitford won over “The West Wing” co-stars Richard Schiff and John Spencer.

2002: John Spencer won over “The West Wing” co-stars Dulé Hill, Richard Schiff and Bradley Whitford.

Best Drama Supporting Actress (4/6 won)
1980: Nancy Marchand won over “Lou Grant” co-stars Nina Foch and Linda Kelsey.

1989: “L.A. Law” co-stars Michele Green, Amanda Plummer and Susan Ruttan lost to Melanie Mayron (“thirtysomething”).

1997: “ER” co-stars Laura Innes, CCH Pounder and Gloria Reuben lost to Kim Delaney (“NYPD Blue”).

1999: Holland Taylor won over “The Practice” co-stars Lara Flynn Boyle and Camryn Manheim.

2002: Stockard Channing won over “The West Wing” co-stars Janel Maloney and Mary-Louise Parker.

2007: Katherine Heigl won over “Grey’s Anatomy” co-stars Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson.

2016: “Game of Thrones” co-stars Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Maisie Williams are nominated opposite Maggie Smith (“Downton Abbey”), Maura Tierney (“The Affair”) and Constance Zimmer (“UnREAL”).

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Best Movie/Limited Actor (0/3 won)
1959: “Playhouse 90” co-stars Robert Crawford Jr., Paul Muni and Rod Steiger lost to Fred Astaire (“An Evening with Fred Astaire).

1966: “Hallmark Hall of Fame” co-stars Ed Begley, Melvyn Douglas and Trevor Howard lost to Cliff Robertson (“The Chrysler Theater”).

1969: “Hallmark Hall of Fame” co-stars Ossie Davis, David McCallum and Bill Travers lost to Paul Scofield (“Male of the Species”), the only other nominee.

Best Movie/Limited Supporting Actor (5/7 won)
1979: Marlon Brando won over “Roots: The Next Generations” co-stars Al Freeman Jr. and Paul Winfield.

1983: Richard Kiley won over “The Thorn Birds” co-stars Bryan Brown and Christopher Plummer.

1988: John Shea won over “Baby M” co-stars Dabney Coleman and Bruce Weitz.

1994: “And the Band Played On” co-stars Alan Alda, Richard Gere and Ian McKellan lost to Michael Goorjian (“David’s Mother”).

2004: Jeffrey Wright won over “Angels in America” co-stars Justin Kirk, Ben Shenkman and Patrick Wilson.

2008: Tom Wilkinson won over “John Adams” co-stars Stephen Dillane and David Morse.

2014: “The Normal Heart” co-stars Matt Bomer, Joe Mantello, Alfred Molina and Jim Parsons lost to Martin Freeman (“Sherlock”).

2016: “The People v. O.J. Simpson” co-stars Sterling K. Brown, David Schwimmer and John Travolta are nominated opposite Hugh Laurie (“The Night Manager”) and “Fargo” co-stars Jesse Plemons and Bokeem Woodbine.

Best Movie/Limited Supporting Actress (3/5 won)
1976: Rosemary Murphy won over “Eleanor and Franklin” co-stars Lilia Skala and Irene Tedrow.

1992: Amanda Plummer won over “Miss Rose White” co-stars Penny Fuller and Maureen Stapleton.

2011: “Mildred Pierce” co-stars Melissa Leo, Mare Winningham and Evan Rachel Wood lost to Maggie Smith (“Downton Abbey”).

2014: Kathy Bates won over “American Horror Story” co-stars Angela Bassett and Sarah Paulson.

2015: “American Horror Story” co-stars Angela Bassett, Kathy Bates and Sarah Paulson lost to Regina King (“American Crime”).

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