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Emmy Nominations For 'Transparent,' Tatiana Maslany Showcase New Talent

If there is one complaint which has dogged the Emmy awards year after year, it is the repetition of beloved series and performers, time and again, as nominees and winners.

But all that bad buzz went out the window when nominations for the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards were announced Thursday, revealing a roster of nominees with more new faces and new shows than the contest has featured in quite a long while.

As example, consider the category of Outstanding Actress in a Drama. Half of the six nominees — Taraji P. Henson from Fox's Empire, Viola Davis from ABC's How to Get Away With Murder and Tatiana Maslany from BBC America's Orphan Black — earned their first nominations or were nominated from a new series.

For that to happen, longtime favorites from 2014 including Lizzy Caplan from Showtime's Masters of Sex, Kerry Washington of ABC's Scandal and 2014 winner, Julianna Margulies from CBS' The Good Wife, didn't get nominated this year.

This is also a category featuring two black women — Henson and Davis — in the running for best drama actress honors for the first time. If either of them win, it will be the first time a black woman has ever been named outstanding lead actress in a Drama.

Maslany's nomination was a particular bone of contention for fans and critics who noted she had been snubbed in the past, despite playing at least seven different clones on the same TV series. Her nomination now highlights another problem Emmy has struggled with: nominating great performers long after their achievements have been noticed elsewhere.

Still, some other actors who scored their first nominations today reflect some of the hottest names in show business, including Empire's Henson, nominated from the biggest new hit in prime-time TV this year: Amy Schumer, nominated as best comedy actress for her buzzed-about show Inside Amy Schumer and Jeffrey Tambor, nominated as best comedy actor for the first season of his Amazon series Transparent.

It's tempting to say this was a triumph of streaming services, as shows from online platforms like Netflix and Amazon earn recognition. But new performers and shows from established cable platforms also did well, signaling a welcome influx of new talent from many corners of the TV industry.

Still, Emmy held onto some traditions. HBO's Game of Thrones was once again the most-nominated TV series, with 24 nods, followed by FX's American Horror Story: Freak Show (19) and HBO's miniseries Olive Kitteridge with 13. HBO also had the most nominations of any TV outlet, with 126 nods, followed by ABC at 42.

Changes in the rules helped the Academy of Television Arts and Science recognize more shows — especially exciting new series cropping up on streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon. They increased the number of nominees for best drama and comedy series from six to seven, ensuring at least one show that hadn't been nominated before would surface.

In comedy series, Amazon's Transparent and Netflix's Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt joined last year's nominees Louie (FX), Modern Family (ABC) and Silicon Valley (HBO). NBC's Parks and Recreation wasn't nominated in this category last year, but returned in 2015 for work done on its final season.

Among nominees for Outstanding Drama Series, AMC's new Better Call Saul surfaced alongside perennial nominees Downton Abbey (PBS), Game of Thrones (HBO), Homeland (Showtime), House of Cards (Netflix) and Mad Men (AMC).

Joining them in the drama category for the first time was Netflix's Orange Is the New Black, which got moved from the comedy categories by the academy this year. Some critics — myself included — worried that Orange might get swamped in a competitive field, and the show did earn about one-third the total nominations it got last year.

Still, Orange scored four nominations today, including one for supporting actress Uzo Aduba as Suzanne "Crazy Eyes" Warren. (I'm still a little bummed that Lorraine Toussaint, who was amazing as gang leader "Vee" last year, didn't get a nomination).

The Emmy academy also split up the variety series category into talk shows and sketch shows. So the recent influx of vibrant new sketch series like Inside Amy Schumer, Key & Peele (Comedy Central), Portlandia (IFC) and Drunk History (Comedy Central) can compete against NBC's Saturday Night Live.

And HBO's Last Week Tonight with John Oliver will compete in the talk show variety category with Comedy Central's The Colbert Report and The Daily Show, TBS' Conan, NBC's Tonight Show, ABC's Jimmy Kimmel Live and The Late Show With David Letterman on CBS.

Of course, for new names to get recognized, some longtime favorites also have to take a back seat. So that meant Jim Parsons, last year's winner as best comedy actor, got snubbed this time around; he had won the category four times before, so perhaps it was time. His series, CBS' Big Bang Theory, also wasn't nominated as best comedy, though it has been nominated in that slot every year since 2010.

In the comedy actress category, Lena Dunham of HBO's Girls and Melissa McCarthy of CBS' Mike and Molly, both nominees last year, were left out this time. Margulies and her show The Good Wife also failed to score major nominations after past Emmy success.

There were lots of surprise nominations for fans of under-the-radar contenders, including a best comedy actor nod for Will Forte of Fox's The Last Man on Earth, a supporting actor in drama nod for Jonathan Banks from Better Call Saul and a best comedy actress nod for Lily Tomlin from Netflix's Grace and Frankie.

And there's lots of interesting questions left for the Emmy broadcast. Will Modern Family win best comedy series for a record-breaking sixth time? Will David Letterman's final season beat Stephen Colbert's final season or a departing Jon Stewart's Daily Show in best variety talk show?

But Mad Men's Jon Hamm may face the ultimate test. He's nominated as best drama actor and for a guest role on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, giving him a total 15 nominations for lead and guest roles over the years and no wins.

Yes, the guy who plays Don Draper could do worse than soap actress Susan Lucci did in the Emmys — forever nominated but never winning. Let's hope the academy avoids that by extending its spirit for recognizing new blood to the winners circle.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.