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Emmy watchers should not be surprised if multiple top contenders this year opt to take a shot at the drama series race rather than compete in the limited series category. The list is known to include Apple TV+ ‘s “Masters of the Air,” FX’s “Shōgun” and HBO’s “The Sympathizer,” which means that those platforms are considering future seasons of those shows.

Multiple sources tell Variety that the top-tier contenders that seemed naturally bound for the limited series race are the subject of intense strategy discussions among network executives, agents, creators, PR and awards consultants. In order to win the Television Academy’s blessing to compete for drama series, networks would have to prove that the production will be ongoing beyond one season, which would differ from their original intent. Decision time is fast approaching as the submission deadline is May 9 for programs that aired between June 1, 2023-May 31, 2024. Representatives for Apple TV+, FX and HBO declined to comment.

The drama vs. limited debate reflects the general openness of this year’s Emmy series races as HBO’s “Succession,” the dominant drama in recent seasons, is no longer in the running after last year’s series finale. HBO’s “The Last of Us,” which grabbed 24 nominations for its freshman season last year, is also sitting out the 2024 Emmys. In comedy, Apple TV+’s “Ted Lasso” soaked up dozens of nominations over its three seasons, leaving plenty of real estate to be divided up. It’s not a surprise that the series contenders weighing whether to pursue Emmy gold via the drama series or limited series route are those that have been successful for their networks, making it a more attractive option to bring them back for more episodes.

Last year, Variety reported exclusively that Netflix’s “Beef,” which had been developed as an anthology series, would vie for limited series rather than comedy series as pundits had expected. The Ali Wong-Steven Yeun went on to win five Primetime Emmy Awards in January, including the top kudo for limited or anthology series.

The top drama series category is typically seen as the most competitive Emmy field of all. But this year, limited series is expected to be stuffed with strong competitors angling for what will likely be only five nominees. This contrasts with the drama and comedy series races, which are guaranteed at least eight nominee slots regardless of the number of submissions. The limited series category requires a minimum of 80 entrants to reach the threshold of six nominees, and more than 240 submissions to yield eight nominees. At present, Variety is tracking only 50 limited contenders. It’s highly unlikely that another 30 shows will surprisingly emerge and release all episodes before the May 31 eligibility deadline.

Looking at the drama landscape, the sixth and final season of Netflix’s “The Crown,” the only returning drama series nominee from 2023, appears to be the frontrunner. The show’s fourth season swept every major Emmy drama category in 2021, from series to every acting race, making it the first drama to achieve this feat. The critical consensus on Season 6 has been mixed, leading competitors to see the show as vulnerable this time around.

“Every network is looking at its roster and assumes they can beat ‘The Crown.’ But such decisions like this can be risky,” says a veteran Emmy PR strategist.

Awards insiders tracking FX’s Japanese period epic “Shōgun,” an adaptation of James Clavell’s 1975 novel, have viewed it as the one to beat in the limited or anthology series category. Developed as a miniseries, its two-episode premiere garnered 9 million views globally, besting previous record-holders “The Kardashians” and “The Bear.”

A “Shōgun” transition to drama series has been circulating in network and awards meetings the past few weeks. The original 1980 NBC miniseries adaptation won the Emmy in what was then known as the miniseries and movies category. The Television Academy has confirmed that the new model of “Shōgun” is not bound by the past categorization.

For “Masters of the Air,” hints sprinkled around have suggested a possible drama series submission is further along. Apple’s FYC awards site has “Masters” classified as a drama series alongside its counterparts “The Morning Show” and “Slow Horses.” However, on its main consumer programming site, it labels its “Part Nine” finale episode from March 15 as the “series finale.” An updated marketing message will be needed if the Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks produced war drama will opt for more battles.

Adapted from Donald L. Miller’s book, “Masters of the Air” dramatizes the wartime efforts of the U.S. 100th Bomb Group.

The protocols around submissions for drama and limited series were influenced by HBO’s experience with “Big Little Lies,” In 2017, “Big Little Lies” found massive success for HBO with the Nicole Kidman- Reese Witherspoon series adapted from the book of the same name. After sweeping the Emmys, a second season was produced, but the 2019 edition of “Big Little Lies” competed as a drama series, with a third presumably coming down the pike.

“The Sympathizer,” a dark spy thriller created by Park Chan-wook and Don McKellar, already has the bones for extending its run. It’s based on the 2015 debut novel by author Viet Thanh Nguyen, who published a sequel, “The Committed,” in 2021. “Sympathizer” stars newly minted Oscar winner Robert Downey Jr. It’s unclear if Downey would be game for another season.

If “Sympathizer” and the two other heavy hitters exit the limited series race, it would create breathing room for some well-loved shows including the latest edition of FX’s “Fargo” and Ryan Murphy’s most recent FX series, “Feud: Capote vs. the Swans.” Netflix’s “Ripley” and Starz’s “Mary and George” would also stand to benefit.

Every major network has big decisions to make as the May 9 submission deadline draws near. And no one should be surprised if big series renewal announcements follow shortly thereafter.

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