TV SAG Award Nominations Follow Familiar Patterns, Even as ‘The Crown’ and ‘House of the Dragon’ Disappoint

TV SAG Award Nominations Follow Familiar Patterns, Even as ‘The Crown’ and ‘House of the Dragon’ Disappoint

January 11, 2023

The SAG Awards — like many winter awards split between television and film honors — tend to lend more focus to the cinematic nominees. After all, movies follow the traditional calendar year, the SAG Awards are a key precursor to the Oscars, and, at least until the last few decades, acting on the big screen was seen as a higher artistic expression than popping into people’s living rooms every week. Even in 2023, the bias lingers, as evidenced in everything from how the press covers the morning’s nominations (with many outlets ignoring TV altogether) to how the nominations are announced (TV first, because you have to save the best for last).

That’s fine. By now, TV fans are used to being the tag-alongs. Culture doesn’t change overnight (or in 20 long years, it seems), and the small screen gets a ceremony all to itself in September. But where things get less fine is within the nominations themselves. This year’s batch of SAG Award nominees aren’t all that shocking. Some may have raised an eyebrow at both “Pam & Tommy” stars being left off the list, and others may be surprised to learn that no one earned more nominations than Julia Garner and Jean Smart (three apiece!), but many of the guild’s established patterns remained. They love Netflix and, to a slightly lesser degree, HBO. They love “Barry,” “Only Murders in the Building,” and “Ozark.” They love Christina Applegate (nominated for a seventh time), Jason Bateman (who landed his tenth and eleventh nominations), and Steve Carell (given his 19th nod in just 16 years).

Still, such repetition can also explain snubs. Of this year’s first-time individual nominees, only 11 of the 25 came from television, despite TV having six individual categories and film only four. Of the 45 total TV nominations, only 15 were for new shows — meaning, shows that either premiered in 2022 and hadn’t already been elevated by the Emmy Awards. So let’s take a closer look at a few of this year’s nominations trends and learn what we can learn from what the actors have chosen to favor.

Actors Don’t Care About Blockbusters — Even the Good Ones

I guess if Tom Cruise wasn’t getting in for “Top Gun: Maverick,” then his acting brethren in big-budget TV shows shouldn’t have expected any nominations either. The SAG Awards shut out “Andor,” “House of the Dragon,” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power” in all categories except for Stunt Ensemble (where all three were nominated). Considering all three received high marks — with “Andor” and “House of the Dragon” building especially fervent fanbases — their exclusions from Ensemble and individual categories are surprising.

Stellan Skarsgärd and Diego Luna certainly merited consideration, as did the full cast. (From Andy Serkis to Fiona Shaw, each part was filled with ideal actors — credit to casting directors Nina Gold and Martin Ware.) As for “House of the Dragon,” everyone was reminded of Emma D’Arcy’s bonafides during the previous night’s Golden Globes, but Paddy Considine and Matt Smith were reasonable predictions, as well. And I’ll be damned if anyone gave a more impactful supporting turn than Owain Arthur in “The Rings of Power,” who infused the warmth and soul needed to make an epic tale tug at the heartstrings.

Typically, contenders in fall and winter premieres are overlooked because there’s not enough time to watch everything, and there’s less time to watch what’s released latest — especially when those screeners are competing with all the buzzy film screeners dropping at the same time. But based on what metrics we have in the age of streaming, people tuned into these shows. Did the actors who voted on nominations? There’s no way of knowing, but there could be a different bias at play than film over TV. Actors just may not be that into blockbusters. Even “Stranger Things,” which has been nominated for Best Ensemble and had three separate actors up for an individual honor (Winona Ryder, David Harbour, and Millie Bobby Brown), only got a Stunt Ensemble nod this year.

Julia Garner in “Ozark”

Courtesy of Netflix

Netflix Dominates, but “The Crown” Disappoints

Speaking of “Stranger Things,” let’s look at the Netflix numbers. Once again, Netflix landed the most TV nominations at the SAG Awards, securing 12 slots — three more than HBO/HBO Max, and four more than Hulu/FX. Those dozen nominations were spread across seven shows, with “Ozark” leading the way with four (it’s the most nominated program overall) plus “The Crown” and “Dahmer” landing two apiece. It’s a strong showing, and one in line with what Netflix has done for years at the SAG Awards. (You can even see its influence on the film side, with Ana de Armas’ somewhat surprising nomination for “Blonde” and Adam Sandler’s very surprising nomination for “Hustle.”)

But their golden goose only laid enough eggs for a small omelette. (Can goose eggs make an omelette? Let’s just go with it.) “The Crown” has long been a SAG favorite: Its first season snagged three nominations and won two; Season 2 earned only two nominations, but won one; Season 3 pulled in three nods and won the series’ first Ensemble trophy, before Season 4 roared back to life with five nominations and two wins (including one more Ensemble prize). Season 5 dropped back down to two nominations: one for Best Ensemble, the other for Elizabeth Debicki. That makes Imelda Staunton the first actor to play the late Queen Elizabeth and not get nominated in her debut season. It also means Jonathan Pryce and Dominic West were shut out, all of which could indicate weakness around a presume frontrunner. Are SAG voters tiring of Royal drama? Were they disappointed with the new season? Or is the competition simply that great?

Old Shows and Favorite Actors Are Still In Control

No matter how you take “The Crown’s” dwindling returns, it didn’t change the overall trend of old shows and personal favorites controlling the SAG Awards. Returning series (aka shows not in their first seasons) and 2022 Emmy juggernauts (like “Severance” and “Abbott Elementary”) make up 30 of the 45 total nominations, and 22 of the 25 Drama and Comedy slots. (Limited Series tend to be new, because they have to be to qualify for the category.) “Barry” and “Only Murders in the Building” secured four of the five Best Actor in a Comedy slots, while the only nominee in the Best Actress in a Drama category who hasn’t been nominated before is Debicki for “The Crown,” which has obviously been nominated a gazillion times.

The point being: SAG Award voters didn’t branch out much in 2022. In addition to “Andor” and “House of the Dragon,” freshman series like “Pachinko,” “Somebody Somewhere,” “Mo,” “High School,” “Our Flag Means Death,” “Interview with the Vampire,” “Slow Horses,” “Bad Sisters,” and “This Is Going To Hurt” were nowhere to be found — not to mention the second season of critics’ favorite “Reservation Dogs.” The morning’s biggest surprises were noms for Anthony Carrigan and Jonathan Banks (two deserving actors on shows we already know the SAGs are watching), along with Sam Elliott, a three-time nominee starring in a limited series (“1883”) who also happens to be Sam Freaking Elliott.

It may just take time for television to be seen as truly equal to film (or, at least, for the inherent biases to be wiped away from awards shows), but until then, SAG TV voters could sure help by expanding their horizons.

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