Age is just a number... But not at the Emmys.
The Television Academy has handed out hundreds of acting trophies in its 68-year history, but only three times has one gone to someone under the age of 18 — and two of them went to the same person. Roxana Zal was 14 when she won for her supporting performance in the TV movie Something About Amelia in 1984. And Family's Kristy McNichol took home a pair of drama supporting actress Emmys on her 15th birthday in 1977, then two days before her 17th birthday in 1979.
No minor has won since, and only a handful have been nominated. The Emmys' aversion to youngsters can be attributed to a number of factors: they don't take kids seriously? They resent them? They think the director did half the work? Kids make it look too easy? Kids haven't paid their dues? It's not completely impossible to crack the short list; 11 performers under the age of 18 have been nominated, total. But it is difficult to win.
Good thing Eleven is also the magic number (and name) this year.
Millie Bobby Brown is favored to score her first Emmy nomination in drama supporting actress for her breakthrough turn in Stranger Things. At 13, she'd be the first minor to be nominated since Frankie Muniz was shortlisted at 15 in 2001 for Malcolm in the Middle, and the first in drama since 16-year-old Claire Danes for My So-Called Life in 1995. That would be a historic achievement in and of itself, but unlike them and most kiddos who came before her, Brown has a very good chance of winning the damn thing.
Stephen Colbert to host the Emmys
"To me, I'm obviously very grateful," Brown told E! News' Jason Kennedy on the Emmys red carpet. "I haven't processed it. It hasn't sunk in. I think it should've by now but it still hasn't. Maybe when I set in my chair, and I realize. Right now it's pretty surreal."
As Leonardo DiCaprio can tell you, winning awards has as much to do with luck, timing and narrative as it does with performance — sometimes the latter hardly at all. Brown's hypnotic performance as Eleven is wholly worthy of hardware, but it's the perfect storm of circumstances that could make her the youngest Emmy winner ever.
The whole Stranger Things cast is submitting in supporting — wise, because it's an ensemble. You could make lead arguments for some of them, but lead is a tougher field for kids to crack unless you're indisputably the main protagonist. Even better for Brown, the drama supporting actress race is by far the most wide-open category this year. There are four guaranteed open slots, with Game of Thrones' Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey and Maisie Williams ineligible and defending champ Maggie Smith out since Downton Abbey is dunzo.
The Affair's Maura Tierney and UnREAL's Constance Zimmer are the only nominees from last year who could return, but both are in precarious positions. The Emmys have never cared for The Affair — it was snubbed for its first season, and Tierney was the show's first (and so far only) nod. Not to mention, The Affair's buzz is next to nothing right now. Zimmer, meanwhile, is hampered by a show that went off the rails in Season 2 and could easily be dropped without much thought. (It's telling that Season 3 is being delayed until 2018.) So we could potentially have a complete overhaul of the entire lineup, which would 1) be exciting in general and 2) make it even easier for Brown to break in and win.
The teen breakout also has the most momentum at the moment. Not only are she, her character and her show phenoms, but there is clear, strong industry support, which was somewhat unexpected. There isn't always a correlation between being a massive pop culture hit and an awards magnet, but Stranger Things shocked twice during the guild precursors earlier this year, winning drama series (over Game of Thrones) at the Producers Guild Awards and drama ensemble at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, where Brown was also up for drama actress. (The show also received two Writers Guild Awards nods.)
SAG is a notoriously kid-friendly body — there have been many SAG-nominated child actors on the film side who failed to convert that into Oscar nods — but Brown was the first child to score a nod for a regular TV series role. More impressively, SAG doesn't have TV supporting categories, so she managed to beat out big names and former champs like Maggie Smith and Viola Davis for one of the five slots. That cannot be ignored and neither can the ensemble win — a name-check-happy group went for a show comprised of mostly unknown kids. It's a sign of how truly popular and beloved the show is.
Emmys: How voting works
Popularity goes a long way at the Emmys these days. The voting system changed in 2015, moving from selective peer group (acting, directing, writing) voting to a membership-wide pool. The old one, in which 70-to-80-member panels would vote in two peer groups and two program races after watching submitted episodes, gave underdogs a shot. Now, all eligible members can vote for winners in all races in their respective peer groups, and all of the program categories (read: no one is watching all those hundreds of submitted episodes). It now pays to literally be the most popular kid in the class.
But there was one other voting tweak made last year that works even more in Brown's favor. Winners used to be determined by a preferential ballot, in which all nominees were ranked, and the lowest-scoring one wins. Under that, if you don't want a kid winning an Emmy, you might rank Brown last to screw with her total. It's now a plurality vote, so voters just check off their top choice. Don't open the calculator app: That means you'd only need at least 16.67 percent of the vote to win in a field of six. Totally feasible for El to pull off.
There are some speed bumps for Brown. There are the other nominees, obviously, but of note would be her co-star Winona Ryder, who might also be nominated alongside her like she was at SAG. Vote-splitting was never really an issue under a preferential ballot, but it's a factor in a straight tally. If you're a Stranger Things fan, you can only vote for one of them: the established veteran making a comeback, or the fan favorite. The good news for Brown is there is far more passion around her than Ryder, and passion rules under a plurality vote.
Of course, this is all moot if Brown doesn't even get nominated, but chances are she will. She is the rare child actor who has buzz, support, and gave a nuanced, wonderful performance. Maisie Williams' nod at age 19 last year also bodes well for our favorite Eggo lover, as if the partition blocking youngsters the past decade and a half is cracking. And, frankly, it's high time for another minor to get recognized for a major award.
Emmy nominations will be announced Thursday, July 13. The 69th Primetime Emmy Awards airs Sunday, Sept. 17 at 8 p.m. ET / 5 p.m. PT on CBS.