LOS ANGELES — “Watchmen,” cloaked in superhero mythology and grounded in real-world racism, received a leading 26 nominations Tuesday for the prime-time Emmy Awards.
The HBO series, which captured America's deep unease as it faces racial and political clashes amid a pandemic, was nominated as best limited series and received bids for cast members including Regina King and Jeremy Irons.
King was part of a vanguard of actors of color indicating that TV academy voters took heed of the social climate.
"Zendaya!" exclaimed Emmy announcement host Leslie Jones, her gleeful reaction to the "Euphoria" star's nomination as best actress in a drama. "This is a great day," Jones said.
She was part of a socially distanced, virtual release of nominees that was online, not on television as is usual. But nothing is usual during a coronavirus era that has brought Hollywood production to a virtual standstill and is making the Emmys and other awards grasp for alternatives.
The strong showing by Netflix's "Ozark" helped the streaming service achieve a record-setting 160 nominations that bested onetime perennial leader HBO, which earned 107 nods.
Streaming newcomer Apple TV+ earned attention in its first season with Jennifer Aniston's best drama actress bid for "The Morning Show." Another streaming newbie, Disney+, saw its Star Wars franchise spinoff, "The Mandalorian," claim a best drama nomination among its hefty 15 total nods.
The Amazon comedy "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" is the second most-nominated series with 20, followed by Netflix's "Ozark" with 18.
"This year, we are also bearing witness to one of the greatest fights for social justice in history. And it is our duty to use this medium for change," Frank Scherma, chairman and CEO of the Television Academy said at the outset of the presentation.
Kerry Washington's four nominations covered a wide range, including lead actress for "Little Fires Everywhere" and for her production company's work on the limited series and other programs.
Diversity was especially notable in the comedy categories after being nearly absent last year.
"Ramy," which finds nuanced humor in a young Muslim American's crisis of identity and faith, earned a best actor bid for its star and co-creator, Ramy Youssef. Issa Rae returned to the best comedy actress category for her series "Insecure," which earned a best comedy bid.
"Schitt's Creek," the quirky little show that went without Emmy recognition until last year, received 15 nominations for its final season, including for best comedy series and lead acting nods for Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara.
"The Good Place," also at an end, earned a best comedy bid and, for Ted Danson, a best comedy actor nomination.
The farewell was less fond for other shows that wrapped last season, with no major bids for "Modern Family," "Homeland" or "Silicon Valley."
But the late Fred Willard received a nod for his "Modern Family" guest appearance. A posthumous nomination also went to director Lynn Shelton, for the limited series "Little Fires Everywhere."
"I'm so incredibly grateful that the Television Academy has chosen to honor Lynn with this very deserved nomination," Washington said. "I know she's celebrating in the beyond."
The eight nods for "Unorthodox," a limited series about a dissatisfied Orthodox Jewish woman, may reflect the virus-quarantine downtime that drew Emmy voters to shows they might otherwise overlooked, said Daniel Fienberg, chief TV critic for The Hollywood Reporter.
A far different pop-culture phenomenon also was a likely beneficiary.
"A show like 'Tiger King,' for example, which got a handful of nominations, It's not really all that great, but it absolutely was the junk food that people were craving at the beginning of this quarantine period," Feinberg said.
Joining Jones on Tuesday were presenters Laverne Cox ("Orange is the New Black"), Josh Gad ("Frozen") and Tatiana Maslany ("Orphan Black"). Cox, Gad and Maslany appeared on by video feeds.
Among the honorees whose nomination collided with current events: Brad Pitt earned a nod for a guest appearance playing Dr. Anthony Fauci on "Saturday Night Live."
Here’s a partial list of Emmy nominees in top categories:
Comedy series: “Curb Your Enthusiasm”; Dead to Me”; “The Good Place”; “Insecure”; “The Kominsky Method”; “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”; “Schitt’s Creek”: “What We Do in the Shadows.”
Actor, comedy series: Anthony Anderson, "black-ish"; Don Cheadle, "Black Monday"; Ted Danson, "The Good Place"; Michael Douglas, "The Kominsky Method"; Eugene Levy, "Schitt's Creek"; Ramy Youssef, "Ramy."
Actress, comedy series: Christina Applegate, "Dead to Me;" Rachel Brosnahan, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel;" Linda Cardellini, "Dead to Me;" Catherine O'Hara, "Schitt's Creek;" Issa Rae, "Insecure;" Tracee Ellis Ross, "black-ish."
Supporting actress, comedy: Yvonne Orji, "Insecure"; Alex Borstein, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"; Betty Gilpin, "GLOW"; Marin Hinkle, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"; Kate McKinnon, "Saturday Night Live"; Cecily Strong, "Saturday Night Live"; D'Arcy Carden, "The Good Place;" Annie Murphy, "Schitt's Creek."
Supporting actor, comedy: Mahershala Ali, "Ramy"; Alan Arkin, "The Kominsky Method"; Sterling K. Brown, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"; Daniel Levy, "Schitt's Creek"; Tony Shalhoub, "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel"; Kenan Thompson, "Saturday Night Live"; William Jackson, "The Good Place"; Andre Braugher, "Brooklyn Nine-Nine."
Drama series: "Better Call Saul"; "The Crown"; "Killing Eve"; "The Handmaid's Tale"; "The Mandalorian"; "Ozark"; "Stranger Things"; "Succession."
Actor, drama series: Jason Bateman, "Ozark"; Sterling K. Brown, "This is Us"; Billy Porter, "Pose"; Jeremy Strong, "Succession"; Brian Cox, "Succession"; Steve Carell, "The Morning Show."
Actress, drama series: Jennifer Aniston, "The Morning Show"; Olivia Colman, "The Crown"; Jodie Comer, "Killing Eve"; Laura Linney, "Ozark"; Sandra Oh, "Killing Eve"; Zendaya, "Euphoria."
Supporting actor, drama series: Kieran Culkin, "Succession"; Billy Crudup, "The Morning Show"; Giancarlo Esposito, "Better Call Saul"; Bradley Whitford, "The Handmaid's Tale"; Mark Duplass, "The Morning Show"; Nicholas Braun, "Succession"; Matthew Macfadyen, "Succession"; Jeffery Wright, "Westworld."
Supporting actress, drama series: Helena Bonham Carter, "The Crown"; Laura Dern, "Big Little Lies"; Julia Garner, "Ozark"; Thandie Newton, "Westworld"; Fiona Shaw, "Killing Eve"; Sarah Snook, "Succession"; Meryl Streep, "Big Little Lies"; Samira Wiley, "The Handmaid's Tale."
Limited series: “Little Fires Everywhere”; “Mrs. America”; “Unbelievable”; “Unorthodox”; “Watchmen.”