Adam McKay (‘Succession’) could be latest A-list filmmaker to snag an Emmy for directing

While it looks like the Emmy race for Best Drama Directing will come down to a battle royal between three “Game of Thrones” contenders, there’s actually a sizable spoiler lurking in the wings: Adam McKay, who’s nominated for HBO’s new series “Succession.” The TV academy loves to reward A-list movie directors, especially ones who’ve been on a role as of late. So while our odds may say “Thrones” is primed to take its third victory in the category (it previously won in 2015 and 2016), perhaps they shouldn’t celebrate too soon.

After carving out a niche for himself with the absurdist comedies “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” (2004) and “Step Brothers” (2008), McKay won critical acclaim and Oscar glory with the politically charged satires “The Big Short” (2015) and “Vice” (2018). The former brought him a victory for screenwriting and a nomination for directing, while the latter earned him writing, directing and producing bids.

Now he’s returned to television with this pertinent drama about a Rupert Murdoch-esque media mogul (Brian Cox) and his conniving family, for which he helmed the pilot, “Celebration.” McKay earned an Emmy nomination for his efforts, competing in Best Drama Directing against three “Game of Thrones” contenders (Miguel Sapochnik for “The Longest Night,” David Nutter for “The Last of the Starks” and D.B. Weiss and David Benioff for “The Iron Throne”), as well as Daina Reid for “The Handmaid’s Tale” (“Holly”), Lisa Bruhlman for “Killing Eve” (“Desperate Times”) and Jason Bateman for “Ozark” (“Reparations”).

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McKay is no stranger to the Emmy race. He earned his first nomination as a writer on “Saturday Night Live” in 2001 and competed again for producing the comedy special “You’re Welcome, America: A Final Night with George W. Bush” in 2009 and the variety series “Drunk History” in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019. He’s also in the running this year for producing “Succession” and “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons.'” So he’s certainly got some street cred with the TV academy, which could only help his chances.

He’s also helped by the fact that at the Emmys, this category has become a playground for movie mavericks. Just last year, three-time Oscar nominee Stephen Daldry (“Billy Elliot” in 2000, “The Hours” in 2002 and “The Reader” in 2008) won this prize for “The Crown,” having previously competed for the show’s freshman season in 2017. Incidentally, Daldry beat both Jeremy Podeswa and Alan Taylor for “Game of Thrones,” so the show has a history of losing to Hollywood favorites.

In 2014 Cary Joji Fukunaga triumphed for “True Detective” after making a name for himself with the films “Sin Nombre” (2009) and “Jane Eyre” (2011). He beat another movie veteran, Carl Franklin, for the season two premiere of “House of Cards,” not to mention Neil Marshall for “Game of Thrones.”

Just one year earlier, two-time Oscar-nominee David Fincher (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” in 2008 and “The Social Network” in 2010) smacked down the competition in Best Drama Directing with the first episode of “House of Cards.”

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Oscar winner Martin Scorsese (“The Departed” in 2006) picked up his first Emmy in 2011 for helming the pilot of “Boardwalk Empire.” Among the people he bested were fellow movie directors Neil Jordan (“The Borgias”) and Patty Jenkins (“The Killing”), plus Timothy Van Patten for the “Game of Thrones” pilot.

Walter Hill, the director of cult classics like “The Warriors” (1979) and “48 Hours” (1982), snagged a trophy for the “Deadwood” pilot (2004), and he picked up another one in 2007 for Best Miniseries as a producer of “Broken Trail.”

Oscar champ Barry Levinson (“Rain Man” in 1988) already had three Emmys on his shelf for writing “The Carol Burnett Show” (1974-1975) and producing “Displaced Person” (Best Children’s Program in 1985) before picking up a fourth in this category for directing the premiere episode of “Homicide: Life on the Street” (1993).

And though Robert Altman struck out five times at the Oscars for directing “M*A*S*H” (1970), “Nashville” (1975), “The Player” (1992), “Short Cuts” (1993) and “Gosford Park” (2001), he did manage to pick up an Emmy in this category on his first try for the political satire “Tanner ’88” (1989).

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However, just as many film auteurs have lost this award as have won it. Despite winning the Movie/Mini Directing prize for “Behind the Candelabra” (2013), Oscar-victor Steven Soderbergh (“Traffic” in 2000) went home empty-handed in the Drama Directing race both times he competed for “The Knick” (2015-2016). Both times he lost to “Game of Thrones,” which has proven its mettle against cinematic competitors despite some losses.

Years earlier Quentin Tarantino tried his hand at episodic television with a two-part installment of “C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation” in 2005, and earned an Emmy nomination for his efforts. He lost to J.J. Abrams (“Lost”), who wouldn’t make his feature directorial debut until the next year with “Mission: Impossible III” (2006).

In 1990 David Lynch was a strong contender to win this prize for the mind-bending “Twin Peaks” pilot, but he came up short when the category resulted in a tie between TV vets Thomas Carter (“Hill Street Blues”) and Scott Winant (“thirtysomething”). Lynch had a chance at Emmy redemption last year in the movie/mini category with that show’s revival, where he lost to Ryan Murphy (“The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story”).

And before he took home Oscars for “Schindler’s List” (1993) and “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), Steven Spielberg lost this Emmy race for directing an episode of “Amazing Stories” (1986). He did eventually pick up four Emmys for producing “A Pinky & the Brain Christmas” (1996), “Band of Brothers” (2002), “Taken” (2003), and “The Pacific” (2010), proving all good things come to those who wait.

PREDICT the Emmys now; change them until September 22

Be sure to make your Emmy predictions today so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our odds. You can keep changing your predictions as often as you like until just before winners are announced on September 22. And join in the fun debate over the 2019 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our television forums. Read more Gold Derby entertainment news.

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