The arrival of Covid-19 early last year shut down filming and upended TV production schedules, meaning the overall number of Emmy contenders has fallen.
Heavyweights like Netflix's royal drama "The Crown" managed to wrap just before lockdown, while others including Hulu's dystopian saga "The Handmaid's Tale" rushed back to set as soon as restrictions eased.
But the enforced hiatus meant popular shows like "Succession," last year's best drama winner, failed to produce a season in time for this year's awards.
That has created room for newcomers -- especially in comedy, where Michael Douglas's "The Kominsky Method" is the sole nominee from last year running again.
The race for best comedy series "is going to have so much fresh blood in it," said IndieWire's TV awards editor Libby Hill.
"When your job is to have an idea of what's going to happen, a year like this is just pandemonium."
Netflix eyes top prize
In recent years, Netflix has unseated HBO in the battle for the most nominations.
Given the streaming giant's prodigious output, that is unlikely to change this year, according to Hill, who describes premium cable channel HBO as the "niche arthouse to Netflix's megaplex."
But nominations don't necessarily translate into wins, and Netflix has somehow never won the Emmys for best drama, best comedy or best limited series.
Could that change come September?
"This is most likely The Crown's year," said Hill, with previous drama winners "Succession" and "Game of Thrones" absent, and the British royals saga delivering "a spectacular fourth season."
Netflix's cultural phenomenon "The Queen's Gambit," which sent chessboard sales soaring, is tipped to dominate the limited series awards.
Not so limited
The Emmys' limited series category -- for shows stopping after one season -- has become ever more competitive in recent years, drawing Hollywood's top A-listers to the small screen's most prestigious projects.
This year, "The Queen's Gambit" faces formidable competition from Kate Winslet's small-town murder mystery "Mare of Easttown," and the Barry Jenkins-directed slavery tale "The Underground Railroad."
Also competing are two series delving into London's Black communities -- HBO's critically adored "I May Destroy You," which follows the aftermath of a rape, and Steve McQueen's "Small Axe" immigrant anthology.
All those limited series must fend off a new foe -- the superheroes of Marvel's "WandaVision."
The show starring popular characters from Marvel's record-breaking films, including Elizabeth Olsen's magical witch Wanda Maximoff, won legions of fans and critical praise for its quirky send-up of classic TV sitcoms.
It is not the only "genre" show gatecrashing the Emmys -- fellow Marvel series "The Falcon and the Winter Soldier" is running for best drama, alongside "Star Wars" spin-off "The Mandalorian," which earned 15 nods and seven wins last year.
"I don't think there's that inborn bias like you find in film, that divide between what's 'popular' and what's 'high art,'" said Hill.
"I think there's plenty of room for Marvel at the Emmys."
Traditional US television networks are rapidly vanishing from the Emmys conversation, but the number of streamers in play continues to multiply.
Looking to build on their launches last year, Apple TV+ is campaigning hard for "Ted Lasso" -- the hot favorite in comedy, about a hapless American football coach thrust into English soccer -- while Disney+ has "Hamilton" in addition to its superhero offerings.
Making their debuts, HBO's new sister streaming platform HBO Max has original comedies "The Flight Attendant" and "Hacks," and NBC's Peacock streamer boasts the Tina Fey-produced "Girls5eva."