On Monday, members of the Television Academy ceased voting on the nominations for this year's Emmy Awards. The nominations will be announced on July 14 and then the hard work will begin – choosing between one nominated show or performance, and another.
The Emmys used to be a repetitive procedure. The cliché was that those members who bothered to vote were older and stuck in their ways. Thus, even as the cornucopia of excellent television grew and grew, some familiar and sometimes stale network series got more awards than deserved.
That's changed, but not enough. There are now so many magnificent and compelling shows on cable that the matter of winning an Emmy comes down to what's on the radar and what isn't. Sometimes it's a matter of great shows airing on channels that aren't watched by many – Rectify on Sundance TV is an example – and more often it's a matter of genre. Series that bend or warp genres puzzle Emmy voters. Series that fall into a loose sci-fi/fantasy/romance/historical category baffle the voters.
That's Outlander's hurdle. Outlander fans have conducted a massive online and social media campaign to secure Emmy nominations for the series but they are up against a brick wall of set-in-stone attitudes and perceptions. The series is probably as popular as Game of Thrones worldwide, but doesn't get the same respect in Emmy circles.
In the category Outstanding Drama Series, Mad Men is no longer a contender, setting up a battle between Game of Thrones and Netflix's House of Cards. This has been the theme for a few years, with PBS's Downton Abbey an inevitable contender, too. This year, critics and some viewers are screaming for The Americans to be included, rightly, and the new entry Mr. Robot is a strong contender, too.
Outlander belongs in the nominations, but it's unlikely it will make the final cut. Because – first – it airs in the U.S on Starz, a channel that has aired great drama and comedy but has yet to find its niche in the perception of the Emmy voters and the powers-that-be.
Second, Outlander is also a series that has had difficulty drawing an audience outside its core, fanatical constituency. For all the praise and a Golden Globe nomination for Caitriona Balfe, the show's easiest-to-grasp synopsis – a time-travel romance – is off-putting to many Emmy voters, who define excellence in the simplest terms. Downton Abbey is well-delivered drivel but it's British, so drivel amounts to prestige.
In the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series category, the field should be wide open. Keri Russell is deserving for The Americans and both Krysten Ritter for Netflix's Jessica Jones and Sarah Lancashire for the Netflix/BBC series Happy Valley certainly should be honoured.
Caitriona Balfe is absolutely deserving, too, for Outlander. She anchors an extremely complex character with aplomb, one that transcends its face value. Her Claire has two husbands in two time periods and in one, the husband is the villain intent on erasing her true love. The hard-headedness of Claire is one of contemporary TV's great concoctions.
But there are barriers to recognition.
Balfe has had few roles apart from Outlander and, for all her skill, there's a prejudice against newcomers. It is very likely that Claire Danes will be nominated again for Homeland and Julianna Margulies will be acknowledged for many seasons on the just-ended The Good Wife.
In Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, who might follow Jon Hamm? Well, it should be an open field, too. But there is a strong possibility that Kevin Spacey will be nominated again for House of Cards – all the Emmy voters get Netflix, but not smaller cable channels – and Liev Schreiber might well get a nomination for Ray Donovan.
In the latter case, it's a matter of an overdue honour being bestowed and Ray Donovan's L.A. setting makes it appealing to Emmy voters. There's an outside chance that Matthew Rhys will be nominated for The Americans, as he should be. Mind you, the perception problem arises again. To many older Emmy voters, a spy drama with the main characters being Soviet agents is too much to take. Bob Odenkirk is deserving for Better Call Saul and the truly radical choice, and plausible, is Rami Malek for his extraordinary work on Mr. Robot. Possibly, an inclusion will be Damian Lewis for Billions.
And where is Sam Heughan of Outlander in all of this? Probably outside the box that Emmy voters are comfortable with – it's a hard-to-categorize series, the acclaim to date has been given to Ms. Balfe and, well, Heughan is perceived as a sex symbol, admired by Outlander fans, but not an actor with gravity.
All of that about Heughan is wrong. All the hostility to Outlander is wrong. Every year, anyone who pays close attention to television is flummoxed by the Emmy nominations. I expect to be flummoxed again, and so should Outlander fans campaigning so passionately. But its time will come, one hopes.