Emmy Network Spotlight: ABC Needs to Go All In on Their Variety and Comedy Contenders

ABC black-ish

Welcome to the 2019 Emmy Circuit series, where we analyze and predict all your favorite TV series and their chances with the Television Academy (at least at this time of publishing).  The series examines the shows and performances about their awards potential, most notably the Emmy Awards.  Emmy nomination voting opens June 10 and closes on June 24.  The official Emmy nominations will be announced on Tuesday, July 16 while the ceremony airs on FOX Sunday, Sept. 22.  All Emmy pieces run with the following schedule: Mondays (Dramas), Tuesdays (Network Spotlight), Wednesdays (Comedies), Thursdays (Network Spotlight), Fridays (Limited Series, Variety Series, Below-the Lines).

Comedy Contenders

ABC blackish
“black-ish” Stars Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross

ABC should be pushing two shows above the rest of their lineup. “Black-ish” should continue its success at the Emmys, with Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross likely nominees for Outstanding Actor and Outstanding Actress in a comedy series. The show has not quite hit the zeitgeist this season, so a miss in Outstanding Comedy Series may be in the cards, especially with “Veep” returning. Still, it has not felt like fatigue for the series has begun. Instead, the internet has voiced its support for other shows without Emmy success. The biggest threat the series poses will be the ever-expanding spin-offs. In the meantime, you may want to bet big on the show that has received multiple Comedy Series nominations.


Meanwhile, “The Conners” should continue to trudge along. While the ratings are certainly not what they were when the show first came back, the “new series” opened the doors for some interesting plots. The beneficiaries will be John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf, who received a nomination last year. Without Roseanne’s name attached and with a far less tumultuous season under its belt, this could have a huge bounce-back season with the Emmys.

ABC Modern Family

It’s impossible to discuss the Emmys without bringing up “Modern Family,” ABC’s five-time Outstanding Comedy Series champ. While the show missed out last year, don’t count it out from bouncing back into the fray. A final season has been announced for next year, and promises of a character’s death may have drawn eyeballs back to the show. If enough voters were entertained, it would be far from crazy to see Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell, or Jessie Ferguson make a comeback.

ABC has a few other series making waves this year. “The Kids Are Alright” picked up a nomination at the WGA Awards late in 2019. If the support for the show is still there in the Television Academy, it could be a surprise nominee. At the same time, ABC canceled the show earlier this month. This may come down to how hard ABC chooses to push “The Kids Are Alright” to the voters.

There’s an outside chance for nominations for ABC’s freshmen shows “Single Parents” and “Bless This Mess” but both seem unlikely. The old guard of “The Goldbergs,” “Speechless,” and “Fresh Off the Boat” seem unlikely as well. The controversy surrounding Constance Wu killed her chances at a nomination (her first full season since “Crazy Rich Asians” could have given her a bump). The other two should have already received nominations, but the Emmys never went for them before. Nothing has changed to make them Emmy players now.

Drama Contenders

ABC has a Drama problem and it shows this year. ABC’s strongest chances come with former Emmy shows and a weird miss from last year. On paper, “The Good Doctor” should be their Emmy stud, but after missing across the board last year, it might not ever happen. However, a depressed category in Drama (thanks to “Game of Thrones”) may help it gain footing. Freddie Highmore was the talk of the town last year, and he could surprise with a nomination a year late.

ABC How to Get Away with Murder

Meanwhile, Shonda Rhimes staples “How to Get Away with Murder” and “Grey’s Anatomy” are still on the table in several categories. Again, the lack of several contenders and the love affair with Viola Davis could allow her to find her way back into Lead Actress. Voters did put Davis in Guest Actress last year, but that out does not exist this year.

Simultaneously, discussions about Ellen Pompeo potentially leaving “Grey’s Anatomy” helped refocus audiences on the series this season. Could the voters feel nostalgic and bring it back to the Emmys? There would be some great narratives to write about Chandra Wilson returning ABC to the Supporting Actress category for the first time since 2009. That year, Wilson and Sandra Oh both received nominations for “Grey’s.”

Other than those shows, ABC has populist hits or canceled series. “A Million Little Things” struggled throughout the year but was already renewed for a second season. “The Rookie” and Nathan Fillion feel like an unbelievable longshot, and “Agents of SHIELD” has never really clicked with the Emmys.

Reality Series 

While the Drama Series on ABC struggled this year, there was no shortage of drama on the network. With the fence jump seen around the world, expect “The Bachelor” to push hard for its first-ever Emmy nomination. It likely could have picked up a nomination last year, but this year it would be well earned. Chris Harrison could also earn a nomination for Host of a Reality-Competition Series.

Dancing with the Stars” hopes to bounce back this year, after only receiving two nominations last year. The series had been nominated for Outstanding Reality-Competition Program as recently as 2016. It’s possible that “Dancing with the Stars: Juniors” splits the support, or even overtake the original with voters. Finally, “American Idol” has continued to gain traction. It’s another show that could make a return to the Emmys, but it hasn’t quite struck a chord with Emmy voters since its revival.

Variety Series/Special 

Jimmy Kimmel has continued to show his strength as a late-night host in recent years. He’s become a fan favorite for taking on politics over the past few years, and he’s used that platform to create some great content. Expect “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to hold onto its place in the Outstanding Variety Talk Series race.

Kimmel may actually find another program he hosted this year in the race as well. “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” was extremely well received and featured dynamic performances from the massive cast. It would be a shame for Norman Lear’s classics to go home empty-handed. While Jaime Foxx may have stolen the show, Woody Harrelson, Jennifer Hudson, and Wanda Sykes were all excellent. Kimmel hosted the night and may be in line for a nomination if voters go for it. With “Hairspray Live!” and other shows of its ilk laying the groundwork, it would be a shame if ABC misses out on a nomination.

While Kimmel did not return to host the Oscars, ABC is still very much in play for a nomination in Variety Special (Live). They’ve received a nomination in this category (or the named equivalent) every year since 2007. Considering the positive reviews for this year’s telecast, another nomination seems locked in.

History of ABC at the Emmys

ABC has picked up its game significantly in the last few years when it comes to the comedy side of the Emmys. Last year, “black-ish” was the only network broadcast show in Outstanding Comedy Series. In fact, over the past three years, “black-ish” and five-time winner “Modern Family” were the only network shows in the top category. Since the year 2000, ABC’s found its way into the race with four shows, including the two aforementioned series, “Ugly Betty” and “Desperate Housewives” each getting mentions.

Meanwhile, the drama side has been a little tougher. ABC surprisingly has the third most wins ever in the category but hasn’t been nominated for Best Drama this decade. The last nomination and win for ABC on the Drama side came with “Lost” (winning in 2005 and nominated in 2009). Despite the long gap, “Grey’s Anatomy” is still running and has nominations for Outstanding Drama Series.

ABC Modern Family
The Cast of ABC’s “Modern Family”

While ABC hasn’t always found its way to the winner’s circle in series, they’ve been far more successful on the acting front. Wins for Viola Davis, Eric Stonestreet, and Ty Burrell highlight the decade. “Modern Family” took home six wins between the two men and Julie Bowen. The regulars in the cast earned 29 nominations over the years. Anthony Anderson (4 nominations) and Tracee Ellis Ross (3 nominations) have each pushed hard for wins as well, as ABC pulled off a strong decade in the comedy categories.

Outside of Drama Actress, ABC dramas have struggled in the acting categories in recent years. “Lost” received nominations for Matthew Fox, Michael Emmerson and Terry O’Quinn in 2010. “Grey’s Anatomy” picked up nominations for Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson in 2009. The days of nominations galore for “Boston Legal” and “The Practice” are long gone. Instead, Viola Davis, Kerry Washington, and Connie Britton kept ABC relevant with nominations in the lead categories. It doesn’t seem likely that ABC breaks that trend this year either.

The Network Conclusion

ABC blackish

This could be a huge year for ABC. It could also be a watershed moment in how the network lost its pole position with the Emmys. Their Drama lineup is a mess, and it’s not clear how circumstances could improve moving forward. They may earn a nomination thanks to Viola Davis, but otherwise, the outlook is bleak. On the comedy side, “black-ish” will carry at least a few nominations on the morning, with the question being can anything else show up? Finally, the Variety categories look to be the big winners for ABC this year. If “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” clicks, the network could see a boon in its nomination count. Without that, this could be one of ABC’s weakest Emmy performances in years.

What do you think of ABC’s chances at the Emmys? Let us know in the comments below!