Emmy upset brewing for Best Comedy Series? How ‘Black-ish’ could topple defending champ ‘Veep’

The smart Emmy bet for Best Comedy Series is “Veep,” and indeed it’s the frontrunner in our overall predictions with 7/2 odds, followed by newcomer “Atlanta” with 9/2 odds. “Veep” has won for the last two years in a row, but if any show overtakes it, it would most likely be a newcomer, right? Actually, I think it’s biggest threat is a returning challenger, “Black-ish.”

The ABC series “Black-ish” follows the Johnson family as they reconcile their affluent lifestyle with their African-American identity. It just ended its third season and it currently ranks third in our predictions with 5/1 odds. However, it’s on the rise on the awards scene. It just earned its first Golden Globe nominations: Best TV Comedy Series, Best TV Comedy Actor (Anthony Anderson) and Best TV Comedy Actress (Tracee Ellis Ross), with Ross winning. It also earned its first SAG nominations: Best TV Comedy Ensemble and Best TV Comedy Actor (Anderson).

“Black-ish” has also been improving at the Emmys. In 2015 it reaped a single nomination: Best Comedy Actor (Anderson). Then in 2016 Anderson returned and was joined by Ross for Best Comedy Actress and a  bid for Best Comedy Series. After its gains at the SAG and Golden Globe Awards, there’s every reason to expect another increase in its nominations. We could see supporting players Laurence Fishburne (also a producer of the series) and scene-stealer Jenifer Lewis contend as Anderson’s parents. And in guest categories we could see nominations for Tony winner Daveed Diggs and Emmy nominee Rashida Jones as Ross’s siblings.

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Arguably the most important gains it needs to make are in the races for Best Comedy Writing, Best Comedy Directing and Best Comedy Casting. In the last two years, every winner of the three casting awards (honoring comedies, dramas, and movies/miniseries) has won its corresponding program award, including “Veep” for the last two year. And no show has won Best Comedy Series without a writing or directing nomination since “Friends” in 2002.

Last year many thought “Black-ish” was a shoo-in for a writing nomination thanks to its seriocomic episode “Hope,” in which the Johnsons responded to heated protests against police brutality. That episode missed out on a nom, but this year the show could make lemonade out of “Lemons,” which has a similarly serious tone in dealing with the aftermath of the 2016 presidential election, including an impassioned speech by Anderson at the end of the episode. If the show is a real Best Comedy Series contender, that’s the race to watch.

But even if “Black-ish” is nominated for Best Comedy Writing, doesn’t “Veep” have too much momentum after two consecutive victories for Best Comedy. That’s certainly possible: this category has been prone to winning streaks for the last decade. In fact, only three shows have won Best Comedy Series in the last 10 years: “30 Rock” (2007-2009), “Modern Family” (2010-2014) and “Veep” (2015-2016), so to borrow a political phrase, it takes a lot to unseat an incumbent.

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But “Veep” isn’t as dominant in its category as, say, “Game of Thrones” was in the Best Drama Series race last year. “Veep” only won two other awards last year: Best Comedy Casting and Best Comedy Actress (Julia Louis-Dreyfus). It lost Best Comedy Writing to “Master of None” and Best Comedy Directing to “Transparent.”  The supporting-acting awards went to “Baskets” (Louie Anderson) and “Saturday Night Live” (Kate McKinnon). And Best Comedy Guest Actor went to replacement nominee Peter Scolari (“Girls”) after one of “Veep’s” two nominees, Peter MacNicol, was disqualified for appearing in too many episodes. That tells us that while the TV academy loves “Veep,” they’re also open to other options.

Then there’s the political angle. “Veep” may benefit from its resemblance to modern politics, or perhaps voters are starting to get politics fatigue. If so, that could benefit “Black-ish,” which deals with political themes — including in “Lemons” — but approaches them from the point of view of ordinary Americans who themselves are sick and tired of the political system. TV academy members may be able to relate.

Finally, “Black-ish” has the same combination of broad appeal and cool factor that helped “Modern Family” win five times in a row. Though “Modern Family” feels familiar to us now after eight seasons, it was acclaimed early on for its take on nontraditional families, including a gay couple and a May-December interracial marriage. “Black-ish” feels subversive in a similar way now, addressing hot topics within the accessible format of the family sitcom.

But either way, trying to make predictions at this early stage, before nominations voting is even complete, demands a lot of speculation. And a new voting system was just implemented last year, and we’re still trying to wrap our heads around it: voters no longer rank their favorites on the ballot when they pick the winners. Now they just check off one pick, and the nominee with the most votes wins. That means winners are now chosen by plurality, not consensus. A nominee needs fewer votes to triumph, so it’s anybody’s game.

Predict the Emmy nominees now; change them until July 13

Be sure to make your Emmy predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our Emmy odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on July 13. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our TV forums.

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