How Allison Janney could sneak back into the Emmys’ Best Comedy Actress race

Allison Janney is one of the most prolific winners in Emmy history, having won seven awards from 14 nominations in a career that spans both the comedy and drama races and all three acting category levels (lead, supporting and guest). But can the current “Mom” star, who failed to earn nominations in 2019 and 2020, find her way back onto the ballot for the show’s eighth and final season this year?

Janney won two Best Supporting Comedy Actress Emmys for her performance on the CBS comedy in 2014 and 2015 before making the decision to switch to lead actress. While this strategy paid off when she was on “The West Wing,” where she won two drama supporting actress awards and then two lead actress Emmys, it hasn’t amounted to much here. Although she has been nominated twice in the category, in 2017 and 2018, she didn’t win either time, falling to a fellow veteran actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”) and a relative newcomer in a breakthrough role, Rachel Brosnahan of “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.” She was then locked out completely the following two years as Emmy voters continued to shift away from broadcast television and toward more cable and streaming shows.

SEE Emmy flashback: Allison Janney wins first of 7 trophies

However, it would be extremely foolish to count Janney out just yet. While it doesn’t seem likely voters would nominate her just because it is her last chance to win for this performance — they have never cared about “Mom” beyond Janney’s involvement in it — the Best Comedy Actress field is much different today than it was a couple of years ago. In fact, nearly every race at the Emmys will look different in 2021 since the COVID-19 pandemic delayed production on many shows. And this very much works in Janney’s favor because it means Brosnahan is ineligible this year, as are Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini of Netflix’s dark comedy “Dead to Me” and Issa Rae of HBO’s “Insecure.” Meanwhile, reigning winner Catherine O’Hara is not eligible since “Schitt’s Creek” has ended. The only person nominated last year who could return this year is Tracee Ellis Ross of “Black-ish,” so there are five spots that are open this year that were not last year, which would make it relatively easy for someone like Janney, who has history on her side and is a well-respected actress, to slide back in. And many people seem to believe she will, as she is currently in fourth place in Gold Derby’s combined odds. She’s sitting behind Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”), Ross, and Jane Levy (“Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist”).

Additionally, while it’s definitely difficult for performers (as well as shows) to return to the Emmy ballot after falling off, it’s not totally unheard of. Ross actually returned to the lead actress race in 2020 after being snubbed in 2019 despite having received nominations for her work on the ABC comedy in 2016, 2017 and 2018. So it can definitely be done, and it has even been done recently in Janney’s category. All of this works in her favor. 

But there’s something else on the line this year too. If Janney is able to take advantage of the wide-open field and manages to pull off a Best Comedy Actress win, she would tie the record for most wins by any performer in history, which is eight and is currently held by Louis-Dreyfus and another comedy legend, Cloris Leachman. It would be excellent company to keep, to say the least. However, there’s also a strong possibility that Louis-Dreyfus could be nominated and even win Best Drama Guest Actress for her performance on the Disney+ series “The Falcon and The Winter Soldier,” which would still leave Janney trailing her by one Emmy. But we can worry about that after nominations are announced later this summer.

Emmy odds for Best Comedy Actress
Jean Smart is ahead

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