Emmys 2023 Voters’ Guide: Breaking Down Early Frontrunners and Co-Star Showdowns

This year’s Emmy nominations pit multiple actors from the same series against one another in several categories — and a few series dominate throughout all the noms — but it’s still not going to be easy for voters to choose the winners. Below, Variety breaks down several high-profile categories.

Drama Series

HBO’s “Succession” seems to be the one to beat in this year’s Emmy drama race — and in most of the other above-the-line categories. Last year’s winner not only nabbed 27 nominations in total, but after its final season, it has more power than ever. The competition is a bit different than last year, with “The White Lotus” moving from limited series last year (where it won) into the drama category for Season 2. Plus, it’s racked up a whopping 23 nominations, so down the line voting could happen for the series. AMC’s “Better Call Saul” and Showtime’s “Yellowjackets” return to the race as well this year, with the former hoping for its first (!) Emmy — and this is officially its last chance. “The Crown” re-enters the race as well, and the last time it was nominated for drama, in 2021, it took home … the crown (along with six other trophies that year). Disney +’s freshman series “Andor,” HBO’s “House of the Dragon” and HBO’s “The Last of Us” round out the category, proving just how big of a presence genre shows have in today’s landscape.

Lead Actor — Drama

Despite the rule change, in which the number of selections each voter can make per category is capped at the number of nominations specified for that category, the wealth was not spread in the lead drama actor category. For the first time, three lead actors from the same show — “Succession’s” Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin and Jeremy Strong — will face off against each other. Other category nominees — FX’s “The Old Man” lead Jeff Bridges and “The Last of Us” star Pedro Pascal — are both beloved. And Bob Odenkirk surely deserves love for “Better Call Saul,” as this is the last time he’ll be eligible for the final season of the “Breaking Bad” prequel, which has still, somehow, never won an Emmy. However, with the amount of love for “Succession” across all categories, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than a Roy family member will take the win.

Lead Actress — Drama

This category included a few surprise nominees, though not unwarranted. Sharon Horgan, co-creator, writer and star of Apple TV+’s “Bad Sisters” was the first surprise — while the show landed on many lists of the best shows of 2022, pundits didn’t think she’d earn recognition in such a difficult race as the show didn’t create much buzz outside the industry. Keri Russell’s nomination for Netflix’s “The Diplomat” was even more surprising; Russell landed three nominations previously for “The Americans,” but the Netflix series that premiered in April wasn’t on the radar in early predictions. The category is broad regarding networks. HBO Max is the only service with two nods, thanks to Bella Ramsey from “The Last of Us” and “Succession” star Sarah Snook, the latter of which is the favorite in this category. Melanie Lynskey is a voters’ favorite, though the second season of Showtime’s “Yellowjackets” was not as well received as the first. Meanwhile, Elisabeth Moss has won twice for Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” (and has been nominated 12 other times!), so never count her out. 

Comedy Series

Will “Ted Lasso” come out on top one (last) time? It’s a definite possibility, as the Apple TV+ series is a favorite among voters, earning 21 nods this year — the most of all the comedies nominated. It’s directly followed by Amazon Prime Video’s “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” which earned 14, with FX on Hulu’s “The Bear” nabbing 13. The Jason Sudeikis-led “Lasso” has won the last two years in a row, but this is the first year “The Bear” is in the mix. Plus, it’s on many minds as the explosive second season just debuted. Elsewhere in the category are ABC’s “Abbott Elementary,” HBO’s “Barry,” Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” and Netflix’s “Wednesday.” Of course, the most surprising entry — and one of the most talked-about shows — is Amazon Freevee’s “Jury Duty,” which breaks format more than any other. It’s important to remember that “Maisel,” which aired its final season, took home this trophy for its first season in 2018 — and it’s no secret that voters love cast members Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein and Tony Shalhoub.

Lead Actor — Comedy

In the guild awards leading up to the Emmys, Jeremy Allen White was the clear frontrunner for his part as the lovable rough-around-the-edges chef in “The Bear.” Of course, this time he’s facing Jason Sudeikis, who won in both 2021 and 2022 and is once again in the mix for his role as the titular character in “Ted Lasso.” At the SAG Awards, White beat out Bill Hader (“Barry”) and Martin Short (“Only Murders in the Building”), both of whom are in the category this year. Surprisingly, Short’s co-star Steve Martin didn’t make the cut. Jason Segel earned his first-ever Emmy nomination for his role as the depressed therapist in “Shrinking,” the series created by “Ted Lasso” creator Bill Lawrence and actor/writer Brett Goldstein. 

Lead Actress — Comedy

In the last two years, “Hacks” star Jean Smart dominated the category; this time out, she’s not in the race, leaving the door open for someone new. At the SAG Awards, Smart took home the award when she was nominated against four of this year’s five nominees: Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Quinta Brunson (“Abbott Elementary”), Jenna Ortega (“Wednesday”) and Christina Applegate (“Dead to Me”). The fifth spot goes to Natasha Lyonne, who is returning to the category for the first time since 2019, this time for Peacock’s “Poker Face.” It’s anyone’s award to win. Both Applegate and Brosnahan closed out their respective series with strong final seasons, while Brunson won for writing “Abbott” last year. Plus, Ortega may have created the most buzz with her take on the famous Wednesday Addams — and the show had quite an FYC campaign.

Limited/Anthology Series

Netflix leads this pack with two big nominees in this category: “Beef” and “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story,” both of which caused more chatter than any others on this list and landed 13 noms each. Still, Amazon Prime Video’s “Daisy Jones & the Six” made an impressive splash on Emmy nomination morning, with nine noms for the Taylor Reid book adaptation. Meanwhile, both FX’s “Fleishman Is in Trouble” and Disney+’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi” proved that despite airing early in the eligibility window, they were able to garner some love from the voters. The “Star Wars” series, starring Ewan McGregor as the title character, premiered more than a year ago and still managed to sneak its way in and land five nominations. The TV adaptation of “Fleishman Is in Trouble” landed seven, including acting nods for Claire Danes and Lizzy Caplan.

TV Movie

Every year, predicting who will win in the outstanding television movie category becomes increasingly impossible. Last year, Disney+’s “Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers” took home the trophy, surprising many. This year, there’s one that may have a slight advantage, coming in the form of Dolly Parton. NBC’s “Dolly Parton’s Mountain Magic Christmas” is the only holiday movie nominated. It’s the fourth time the country icon has had a movie in the category — and the last time it was a holiday movie, she won (“Dolly Parton’s Christmas on the Square” in 2021). That said, Hulu has two strong entries with “Fire Island” and “Prey,” while the Roku Channel debuted the Daniel-Radcliffe led “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story,” which also led to Radcliffe’s acting nod. Lastly, Disney+ had the splashy “Hocus Pocus 2,” bringing back Bette Midler, Kathy Najimy and Sarah Jessica Parker as the Sanderson sisters.

Lead Limited Series/TV Movie Actor

In the guild awards, Evan Peters swept the trophies for his part as Jeffery Dahmer in Netflix’s “Dahmer — Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story.” While he is an early favorite for the category, he has something in common with the other nominees: five of the six in the category are portraying a real person. Taron Egerton stars as James Keene in Apple TV+’s “Black Bird,” Kumail Nanjiani plays Somen “Steve” Banerjee in Hulu’s “Welcome to Chippendales,” Radcliffe portrays Al Yankovic in “Weird: The Al Yankovic Story” and Michael Shannon plays George Jones in Showtime’s “George & Tammy.” The only new character is Danny Cho, the angry driver in Netflix’s “Beef,” played by Steven Yeun.

Lead Limited Series/TV Movie Actress

Unlike the limited/TV movie actor category, only one actress portrays a real person. After taking home the SAG Award for her portrayal of Tammy Wynette in Showtime’s “George & Tammy,” Jessica Chastain landed her first Emmy nom. While they aren’t real people, three of the nominees portrayed beloved characters first defined in books: Lizzy Caplan for FX on Hulu’s “Fleishman Is in Trouble,” Riley Keough for Prime Video’s “Daisy Jones & the Six” and Kathryn Hahn for Hulu’s “Tiny Beautiful Things.” Lastly, Ali Wong (“Beef”) earned a nod — one of her two, since she also was recognized for her voice work in “Tuca & Bertie” — as did Dominique Fishback, earning her first nod for Prime Video’s “Swarm.”

Outstanding Talk Series

Previously titled Variety Talk Series, this category has undergone many changes this year, and it will in the winners’ circle, too. “Last Week Tonight With John Oliver” won the last seven years in a row but now, it lives in the outstanding scripted variety series category, up against another constant winner, “Saturday Night Live,” and the final season of “A Black Lady Sketch Show.” This leaves the door open for a new champion as ABC’s “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” NBC’s “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” CBS’ “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert,” Apple TV+’s “The Problem With Jon Stewart” and the final season of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show With Trevor Noah” vie for the trophy.

Reality Competition 

Another category in which change is difficult is reality competition. But this year, a returning nominee snuck back in. CBS’ “Survivor” was an original nominee when the category was created in 2003 and stayed there four years in a row. After 2006, it disappeared from the category — until now. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” (previously on VH1, now on MTV) won four years in a row until last year, when “Lizzo’s Watch Out for the Big Grrrls” knocked it out of the top spot. Bravo’s “Top Chef,” NBC’s “The Voice” and CBS’ “The Amazing Race,” all of which were nominated last year, are also back in the race. 

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