Emmy nominations: 'This is Us' could bring smiles, not tears

'This Is Us' cast surprises fans
'This Is Us' cast surprises fans

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(CNN)"This is Us" is renowned for making its audience cry, but major Emmy nominations for the NBC drama would likely put a smile on plenty of faces, including those of Television Academy officials.

The Academy is supposed to love all its nominees equally. In terms of ratings, though, having a few more hit shows in the lineup when nominations for the 69th annual Emmy Awards are announced Thursday is perceived as an asset in getting people to watch, providing a greater rooting interest among potential viewers.
With several higher-rated programs out of the running or fading in Emmy prestige, "This is Us" is among the few programs that could find the overlapping sweet spot between awards recognition and widespread appeal.
Although Emmy voters often nominate the same shows over and over, some extra choice real estate has opened up this year. Two high-rated drama contenders, "Game of Thrones" and "Downton Abbey," won't be represented -- the former because it's premiering outside the June-through-May eligibility window, the latter because it completed its run in 2016.
    Several strong new candidates, meanwhile, come from the world of prestige cable or streaming services. And while programs like Netflix's "Stranger Things" and Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale" have generated critical acclaim and plenty of excitement, there's not even reliable data made public regarding how many people have actually watched them.
    If the drama slate could lose some of its popular power this year, the situation could be echoed in comedy. That's because of an infusion of niche-oriented comedies in recent years that have generated critical praise, with FX's "Atlanta" (already honored by the Golden Globes) joining such shows as Netflix's "Master of None" and Amazon's "Transparent."
    At the same time, some of the big network shows that have made noise in those categories -- such as CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" and ABC's five-time winner "Modern Family" -- have aged out of generating as much enthusiasm. HBO's "Veep" remains a good bet to be tasked with defending the comedy crown it's worn two years running.
    Mindful of the somewhat unsettled, more wide-open-than-usual nature of the race, pay outlets have invested heavily on advertising pushing their shows. The combination of new blood and a more diverse slate of contenders should lend heat from the media's perspective, with the tradeoff being the equivalent of art-house fare can have the same drag on Emmy ratings that an abundance of similar films historically do at the Oscars.
    If the top series categories promise to showcase some fresh faces, the limited-series and TV movie balloting could offset that with a host of movie stars, including several past Academy Award winners and nominees. Some of the big names are Robert De Niro ("The Wizard of Lies"); Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange ("Feud"); Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon ("Big Little Lies"); Ewan McGregor ("Fargo"); and Oprah Winfrey ("The Secret Life of Henrietta Lacks").
    Notably, all of those programs aired on cable, which merely adds to the pressure on "This is Us." If the NBC show does break through in the drama-series field, it would be the first broadcast network series to earn a bid since "The Good Wife" in 2011.