Emmys love new drama supporting players but prefer veteran comedy featured performers

History was made at last year’s Primetime Emmys as, for the first time, two supporting actors (Dan Levy and Annie Murphy) won for their work on the final season of the same comedy series (“Schitt’s Creek”). Both champs, along with 2020’s drama supporting winners (Billy Crudup, “The Morning Show” and Julia Garner, “Ozark”) are out of the running this year, as are all of their lead counterparts. The resulting complete lack of potential for back-to-back victories in the continuing series acting categories is another momentous first and guarantees an exciting outcome.

This year, the TV academy has nominated 31 supporting players who represent 11 series, some of which recently premiered while others just aired their finales. When it comes to determining the four eventual winners, a great deal of insight can be drawn from examining the results of past ceremonies, especially in terms of which season numbers have led to the most triumphs. 

The two comedy supporting prizes, which were first given for specific performances in 1954, have most often gone to actors who have held their roles for two seasons. These cases account for 21% of the Best Comedy Supporting Actor and Actress wins to date, with the respective male and female ratios being 1:4.2 and 1:3.3. 14% of victories across both categories have been for first seasons, 15% for third, 14% for fourth, and 11% for fifth. The remaining 25% have been for sixth seasons and beyond. 14% of these actors have prevailed for final seasons, with those seasons’ numbers having ranged from one to 11.

Of the 15 supporting performers recognized for their comedic work this year, nine represent their shows’ inaugural seasons, including half a dozen cast members from “Ted Lasso”: Brett Goldstein, Brendan Hunt, Nick Mohammed, Jeremy Swift, Juno Temple, and Hannah Waddingham. Rounding out this subset are Carl Clemons-Hopkins and Hannah Einbinder (“Hacks”) and Rosie Perez (“The Flight Attendant”). Five of the remaining actors – Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon, Cecily Strong, Kenan Thompson, and Bowen Yang – are nominated for their work on the 46th season of “Saturday Night Live.” The last slot on the male list is filled by Paul Reiser, who has earned a bid for the third season of “The Kominsky Method.”

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The drama supporting awards have also typically gone to actors who have played their characters for two seasons, with these cases representing 23% of all Best Drama Supporting Actor and Actress wins. The male and female ratios here are 1:5.7 and 1:2.3, respectively. 22% of wins in these categories have been for first seasons, 18% for third, 15% for fourth, and 14% for fifth. The other 8% have come for sixth seasons and beyond. 15% of these performers have been honored for final seasons, with numbers ranging from one to eight.

Sixteen featured players are nominated for dramatic acting this year, with only three representing new shows: Aunjanue Ellis and Michael K. Williams (“Lovecraft Country”) and John Lithgow (“Perry Mason”). The remaining female nominees are up for their shows’ fourth seasons, including three from “The Crown” (Gillian Anderson, Helena Bonham Carter, and Emerald Fennell) and four from “The Handmaid’s Tale” (Madeline Brewer, Ann Dowd, Yvonne Strahovski, and Samira Wiley). Three male actors from “The Handmaid’s Tale” (O-T Fagbenle, Max Minghella, and Bradley Whitford) also received bids, as did Tobias Menzies from “The Crown.” Giancarlo Esposito earned a notice for the second season of “The Mandalorian,” while Chris Sullivan is nominated for the fifth season of “This Is Us.”

Several of 2021’s supporting nominees said goodbye to their characters within the past year, as “The Kominsky Method” and “Lovecraft Country” both ended their runs. The contenders from “The Crown” will also not be returning to their roles, which have been recast ahead of the final two seasons, and the “Saturday Night Live” cast members have yet to confirm their plans to stay on. If either “Lovecraft Country” actor pulls off a win, they will join Madge Sinclair (“Gabriel’s Fire,” 1991), Alex Rocco (“The Famous Teddy Z,” 1990), and Art Carney (“The Honeymooners,” 1956) on the list of supporting performers who triumphed although their shows only lasted one season.

The winners of this year’s Best Supporting Actor and Actress awards will be revealed during the 73rd Primetime Emmys ceremony, airing September 19 on CBS and Paramount+.

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