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The Emmys are confusing this year, so here's a guide to what is and isn't eligible

We pull back the curtain on Emmy eligibility and explain why the seasons you'd <em>think</em> are up for awards just ... aren't.
Robyn Beck
AFP via Getty Images
We pull back the curtain on Emmy eligibility and explain why the seasons you'd think are up for awards just ... aren't.

Here we sit in January 2024 and the Emmys are nigh — the ceremony that should have taken place in September was postponed due to the Hollywood strikes. Now, some of the Emmy contenders you'll see Monday night aired well over a year ago – as far back as June 2022. How, exactly, did that happen? Skip ahead to see what's eligible in outstanding drama and comedy. Or, gather 'round for a little history:

Some of us are old enough to remember a time before streaming, before cable, when there were just the three television networks. Back then, during the Cretaceous, as ichthyosaurs swam the turbid seas, there was a system that every network followed: Television series premiered in the fall and had their season finales in the spring; the summer was given over to reruns.

From the mid-1970s on, the Emmys ceremony always took place in late August/early September, which made sense – they were, after all, largely a promotional tool to herald the new television season by honoring the one that came before. They were part of the hype surrounding the networks' launches of their new fall line-ups, which used to be surprisingly glitzy affairs, replete with earwormingly cheesy theme songs.

But then came cable, and streaming, and the gradual phasing out of the hoary 22-episode season, even on broadcast networks. Today, television seasons start and end at will, yet the Television Academy has maintained a white-knuckle grip on the Old Ways: The Emmys ceremony takes place in September, and it honors shows that aired in the window between the start of summer of the previous year and the spring of the current one.

Other awards that honor television make it simpler. The Golden Globes ceremony, for example, takes place in January, and any television show that aired any time in the previous calendar year is eligible.

As prestige streaming services started lapping up greater and greater shares of Emmys, the Television Academy's antiquated adherence to the notion of a September ceremony made it difficult to keep track of which seasons of a streaming series were eligible in any given year.

This year, that confusion is compounded by the fact that the Hollywood strikes caused the Academy to delay the Emmys ceremony. For the first time since the 1950s, Emmys will be handed out in January – this Monday night, in fact.

Yet the Emmys' eligibility window hasn't changed. This year's ceremony will only honor shows that aired between June 1, 2022 and May 31, 2023. That's a long time ago, and it means that several nominated shows have had time to produce and air full seasons beyond the ones that are currently nominated.

Given all that, it'll be useful, come Monday night, to keep straight which specific seasons and which performances are actually in the running. So here's a handy guide.

Outstanding drama series

Andor, Season 1, Disney+

This one's easy – we're talking the first and only season (so far) of Andor, the Star Wars series that eschewed lightsabers, lore and lyricism for a refreshingly grounded tale of rebellion, sabotage, incarceration and (most marvelously!) the petty office politics that drive the engine of the evil Galactic Empire.

Better Call Saul, Season 6, Part 2, AMC

For those of us, like me, who'd prematurely resigned ourselves to a world where Better Call Saul ended without the Emmys ever recognizing the outstanding work of Bob Odenkirk and Rhea Seehorn, good news. The series intentionally divided its sixth and final season so that its last six episodes would air during this ceremony's eligibility window. So we're talking about the episodes that take place in the immediate aftermath of a major character's death, and that portray the resolution of the Nebraska flash-forward, involving a hilarious mall heist, and Saul Goodman's final fate. That means those of us who've been pulling for this show and these actors for years are gonna get still another chance to get our hearts broken one last time.

The Crown, Season 5, Netflix

Take note: We're not dealing with the most recent, bifurcated final season, but the one before it, which introduced a new raft of cast members, most notably Imelda Staunton's Elizabeth, Elizabeth Debicki's Diana and Dominic West's Charles. The season mostly tracked the implosion of the Charles-Diana marriage; it ended with the handover of Hong Kong and the ascension of Tony Blair. (Last weekend, Debicki's performance as Diana won her the Golden Globe for best actress in a television drama — but that award was for her work in the first half of the show's final season. Got it? Still with me?)

House of the Dragon, Season 1, HBO/Max

Again, no confusion here: This is the only season of HBO's Game of Thrones prequel that's aired so far. All those characters with their irritatingly similar names (Rhaenys! Rhaenyra!), all those dragons, all those ghastly kids being even ghastlier jerks to each other. The series is a huge investment for HBO/Max, so the execs will be looking for some love Monday night. (It's probably churlish to note the conspicuous absence, in these nominations, of another hugely expensive fantasy series from another major streaming service, so let's just give Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power some time alone to lick its wounds.)

The Last of Us, Season 1, HBO/Max

This twisty fungus-among-us post-apocalyptic series has only aired its first season, but that season was meaty as a portobello. Pedro Pascal and Bella Ramsey are in the running, and Nick Offerman took home the Emmy for guest actor in a drama category for his heartbreaking work in episode 3.

Succession, Season 4, HBO/Max

The series' turbulent and triumphant final season ended juuuust under the wire. That surprising character death, and all the venal, grasping, desperate jockeying for position it kicked into motion, all took place during the Emmy eligibility window: The series finale aired on May 28 of last year, and the window closed just three days later; they knew what they were doing. Brian Cox gets his one last shot at an Emmy for the role of Logan Roy, but he's up against fellow actors Kieran Culkin (who hasn't won for his portrayal of Roman Roy) and Jeremy Strong (who took home an Emmy for his performance as Kendall Roy back in 2020).

The White Lotus, Season 2, HBO/Max

Yes, this is Season 2 – the Italy season. Sex workers, Vespas, villas, "These gays are trying to murder me," the whole sun-baked Sicilian schmear. Pretty much the entire ensemble cast is up for acting Emmys; root against Jennifer Coolidge at your peril.

Yellowjackets, Season 2, Showtime

The furious (you'll forgive me) buzz around this time-hopping series cooled a bit in its second season, which earned it fewer Emmy nominations. But Melanie Lynskey's fearless and funny performance as a survivor of a group of athletes stranded in the Canadian wilderness years before earned her her second Emmy nom for the role.

Outstanding comedy series

Abbott Elementary, Season 2, ABC

This raft of nominations are for the show's sophomore season. The show's first season earned it a win for outstanding writing for a comedy series, outstanding casting for a comedy series, and a win for Sheryl Lee Ralph. It's up for all three of those again, along with repeat acting noms for creator Quinta Brunson, Janelle James and Ralph. New this year: acting nominations for guest Taraji P. Henson and series regular Tyler James Williams.

Barry, Season 4, HBO/Max

Barry's fourth and final season just beat the eligibility buzzer: Its harrowing/hilarious final episode aired three days before the window closed. This is the season where everything catches up to Barry at last, even as he escapes prison, and lives off the grid before returning to LA for a final reckoning.

The Bear, Season 1, FX

Cast your mind back, back to June of 2022, when all of a sudden your most TV-savvy friends started talking about this riveting, funny, stressful show about a sandwich place in Chicago. It's hard to remember, now that The Bear is widely considered one of the best shows on television, what it was like to discover how raw and real and refreshing it was back then. But Monday night is the first chance the Emmys will have to recognize this show – all of the nominations are for Season 1, when it was still a scrappy underdog that could all too easily have disappeared into the glut of the cable grid. Rest assured: There will come a time for Season 2's brilliant, cameo-studded Christmas dinner episode to receive its due – but that's next year's concern. This is the first chance The Bear's stars, writers, directors and producers will be able to step into the Emmy spotlight.

Jury Duty, Season 1, FreeVee

This one'll be easy to keep straight. There's only been one season of this fake reality series that cast a good-natured real guy as a jury member, surrounded him with actors, and had him sit through a fake trial. It's hugely unlikely that a second season is even possible, now that the game's been revealed.

The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Season 5, Prime Video

The fifth and final season of Amy Sherman-Palladino's profile of a fictional female comic took real chances, offering teasing flash-forwards that threw the show's (too-comfortable) status quo into disarray. In the main storyline, meanwhile, Midge got a writing gig on a talk show, and chafed against its demands. The Emmys showered the show with awards in its opening seasons; it remains to be seen if the series' gratifying willingness to shake things up in the home stretch will turn their heads again.

Only Murders in the Building, Season 2, Hulu

Don't get it twisted – these nominations aren't for the most recent season of Hulu's comedy mystery series, which widened out the world of the show into musical theater, and featured guest stars Paul Rudd and Meryl Streep. No, we're talking about Season 2, which stuck to the murderous goings-on within the tony Upper West Side apartment building referenced in the title. RIP Bunny.

Ted Lasso, Season 3, AppleTV+

The third and final season may have its detractors, and the show never recaptured the cultural cachet it enjoyed when it debuted, but never mind. Season 3 has got plenty of chances to win something Monday night. It alone ate up half of the slots in the guest actress in a comedy series category, though that award ended up going to Judith Light for her work in Poker Face.

Wednesday, Season 1, Netflix

A huge hit that likely owed more to star Jenna Ortega's pitch-perfect deadpan delivery and less to its setting (another school for outcasts) or its plotting (a clunky love triangle). But a hit it was, and it stands poised to soak up a lot of Emmy love on Monday night, albeit mostly for technical awards.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Glen Weldon is a host of NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast. He reviews books, movies, comics and more for the NPR Arts Desk.