National Television Awards: Guide to this year’s nominees ahead of London ceremony

The British ceremony stands out for placing the decision in the hands of the viewing public – but will they get it right? Jacob Stolworthy breaks down what to expect

Will Jodie Comer (left, with co-star Sandra Oh) grace the stage for ‘Killing Eve’?
Will Jodie Comer (left, with co-star Sandra Oh) grace the stage for ‘Killing Eve’?

Today marks a huge day for the 2019 awards season. Not only are the current crop of Oscar nominations announced in the heart of glitzy Hollywood but, about 6,000 miles away in far colder terrain, a more humble – and to a select audience, equally as important – event is due to take place: the National Television Awards (NTAs).

The British ceremony, this year presented by Dermot O’Leary, has been celebrating the best of the small screen since 1995, albeit with less fanfare than its US counterpart, the Emmys. Whereas most ceremonies have their winners decided by a select voting board – often accused of being made up of biased or out-of-touch journalists – the NTAs stand out for placing the decision in the hands of the viewing public.

Honouring shows that were broadcast in 2018, the NTAs arrive at an interesting moment for British television. Not only are the country's homegrown series drawing huge audiences, with episodes of certain shows feeling like national events once more, but for what feels like the first time in a while, the US is embracing our offerings as equal to their own.

Look no further than BBC ratings heavyweight Bodyguard, which unexpectedly competed in the coveted Best TV Drama category at the Golden Globes earlier this year (it was beaten by The Americans). Even former Game of Thrones star Richard Madden seemed surprised when he took home the Best Actor trophy earlier that evening. That he’s not a shoo-in for an award at the NTAs reveals the high calibre of talent nominated.

But it also highlights the progressive way the nominees are compiled: since 2014, the acting categories have not been separated by gender, meaning Madden will face off against female contenders, namely the two Jodies: Whittaker and Comer (for Doctor Who and Killing Eve respectively).

Such refreshing choices are typical of this particular ceremony’s unpredictability. The good money would be on the extremely likeable Whittaker for pulling off her first outing in Doctor Who with style, but it’d be pleasing to see Comer grace the stage for her role as the nefarious Villanelle in Killing Eve. Being robbed of recognition at the Emmys and Globes (her co-star Sandra Oh was nominated at both), Comer is officially the series’s unsung hero and a win tonight would be vindication for Villanelle.

Lurking on the sidelines is the category’s curveball, Cillian Murphy. Peaky Blinders is one of the most popular dramas on television and the Irish actor’s win would inject the evening with serious star wattage. And the period gangster series will certainly be the one to beat in the Best Drama category, thanks to underwhelming competition from Call the Midwife, Casualty and Michelle Keegan drama Our Girl. If Peaky Blinders does have a rival in this category, it’s Doctor Who whose dedicated fandom knows no bounds.

The NTAs also dedicate a category to television’s biggest audience-magnet: soaps. As ever, it’s a duke-out between heavyweights Coronation Street, EastEnders and Emmerdale (better luck next year, Hollyoaks). Emmerdale‘s days as the underdog have long been over: it has reigned supreme for the past two years, with BBC rival EastEnders winning the two years before that. Could Corrie be waiting in the wings to reclaim the crown? Probably not – viewers will most likely wait to see what the soap has in store for its 60th year before awarding it again. Should Emmerdale win, EastEnders will have to settle for Serial Drama Performance as cockney favourite Danny Dyer undoubtedly takes home his third NTA – a sentence I never thought I’d have written a decade ago.

2018 was also the year that saw Ant McPartlin – of Ant and Dec – step away from his television duties to treat his alcohol and painkiller addiction in rehab. But the duo still succeeded in earning a nomination for Best Presenter thanks to their tireless work on Saturday Night Takeaway. The pair have won for a staggering 18 years on the trot; a surprise win for Holly Willoughby, who stepped into Ant’s role alongside Dec for the latest series of I’m a Celebrity, would be one hell of a twist.

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The fact that the awards are essentially a popularity contest is most obvious when looking at the Best New Drama category. Nominations that almost certainly won’t win include A Discovery of Witches (Sky One), Girlfriend (ITV1) and The Cry (BBC1), leaving Killing Eve and Bodyguard to do battle. The victor will speak volumes about voters: will they favour the former – 2018’s razor-sharp standout – or the entertaining, if ultimately underwhelming, Bodyguard? Both were immensely popular, but a win for the former would be deserved. Its first season was one of the most air-tight debuts in recent memory.

What would a self-respecting television ceremony be without a category honouring the year’s greatest talent shows? Love or hate them (I veer towards the latter), they comprise a large chunk of the schedules so it’s only right they have their moment. Surely the winner will be Strictly Come Dancing, perhaps the only talent contest the British public still really needs. In its 16th year, the cynicism-free entertainment series, which saw Stacey Dooley dance her way to the glitterball trophy, managed to attract more viewers than ever (up to 13 million). It’s a feat that fellow nominees The X Factor and The Voice UK could only dream of and deserves to be rewarded.

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In my view, the entire ceremony rests on the Entertainment trophy, lovingly named after Bruce Forsyth who died in 2017. While some may assume the prize will go to heavyweights Saturday Night Takeaway or I’m a Celebrity, surely the British public will favour Love Island? Last year, no entertainment show captured the zeitgeist in quite the way this Caroline Flack-fronted reality series managed. Nightly television viewing became mandatory again, arguably for the first time since the early days of Big Brother. Forsyth would approve, and for that reason, I’m keeping my Love Island-loving fingers crossed.

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