You may have noticed something strange when the Emmy nominations were announced Tuesday morning. (Other than almost every single actor from Game of Thrones getting a nom, we mean.) The Handmaid’s Tale was conspicuously absent from the major categories, yet it picked up nominations for guest actors Bradley Whitford and Cherry Jones, along with nine other nods in below-the-line categories like writing, directing, and cinematography. What, exactly, is up with that?
It all comes down to the Emmys’ complicated eligibility rules. Basically, to compete for a given year’s Emmys, a show must air at least half of its season between June 1 (of the year preceding the ceremony) and May 31 (of the year of the ceremony). Handmaid’s Tale just barely made the cut last year: Its second season had 13 episodes, and the seventh was released May 30, 2018. The show received 20 nominations, including Outstanding Drama Series, and won in three categories. This year, however, Handmaid’s Tale’s currently airing third season was ineligible to compete, as the premiere didn’t drop until June 5.
But there’s another crucial twist in the Emmy rules that explains the show’s presence this year. Categories such as Best Drama and the acting races for series regulars (Lead Actor/Actress, Supporting Actor/Actress) nominate for seasons as a whole. But the writing, directing, and technical categories, as well as Outstanding Guest Actor and Actress, nominate individual episodes, and abide by the same deadline rules. Thus, episodes that air after the May 31 cutoff are eligible for the next year’s Emmys, even if their season has already competed.
Ergo, Hulu was able to submit several season 2 episodes for consideration this year, a strategy that has clearly paid off, at least so far. (As EW’s Lauren Huff put it: “Sneaky, sneaky.”) Incidentally, this explains how Jones earned a nom both last year and this year: Her nominated performance in 2018 was in the episode “Baggage,” released May 2.
There’ll be no such tricks from Handmaid’s next year, of course, as it returns in full force to compete in a newly Game of Thrones-free field alongside Stranger Things, Big Little Lies, and more. Might as well start on your 2020 predictions now! The train never stops.
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