Can 'Game of Thrones' regain Emmy throne after winter vacation?

Emmy Awards air Sept. 17 on NBC

(CNN) - When it comes to the Emmy nominations, what isn't on the ballot has become a significant factor, with more shows taking longer-than-customary lapses -- for reasons ranging from scandal to health to simple logistics -- that sometimes have them sitting out a year of eligibility.

This year, that raises the question of whether absence will make the heart grow fonder for "Game of Thrones" -- which sat atop the Emmy throne in 2015 and '16 -- and what series might be the beneficiaries of "Veep," "Master of None," "Better Call Saul" and "House of Cards" all sitting out the 2018 race.

"Thrones," HBO's elaborate fantasy drama, figures to have a major impact when the nominations are unveiled Thursday, having claimed back-to-back wins as outstanding drama in 2015 and '16, including a record 12 Emmys the latter year. After a slow start, the show is now the most-honored scripted series in Emmy history, with 38 trophies overall.

"Veep," meanwhile, is coming off three consecutive wins as best comedy, but shifted its production schedule to accommodate star (and eight-time Emmy winner, six of them for that show) Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who took extra time to undergo from treatment for breast cancer.

Those HBO series, of course, are just a small part of a TV universe seemingly overflowing with worthy contenders, with the disclaimer being that relatively few of them enjoy the kind of mass appeal that "Thrones" commands.

While "Veep" opens the door for a new comedy champ, there should be additional opportunities at least in terms of drama nominations, with "Breaking Bad" spinoff "Better Call Saul" having pushed its fourth-season premiere until August -- missing the annual Emmy eligibility window, which closed May 31 -- and "House of Cards" delayed by the decision to oust star Kevin Spacey amid sexual-assault allegations.

A more prosaic reason for longer layoffs involves producers wanting more time to craft their shows -- a sign of the heightened ambition and auteur influence that is now a part of the TV landscape.

The Emmys generally are well served by having some new blood to spur interest in the ceremony, especially if those shows enjoy broad popularity, a la NBC's "This is Us," an increasingly rare contender among the major broadcast networks.

As it stands, the awards have become a more niche-oriented proposition, with major wins for shows like Hulu's "The Handmaid's Tale," which became the first streaming series to break through in the highly competitive drama balloting in its first season.

Among this year's likely newcomers, Amazon's "The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel" has already earned some noteworthy hardware. The period dramedy premiered in November, meaning it missed the Emmys, but then proceeded to win the Golden Globe as best comedy in January.

Comedy and drama remain the two most closely watched categories, but there's plenty of intrigue surrounding others, including limited series, reality and late night, which has

garnered additional attention as hosts like Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Kimmel and Samantha Bee have pivoted more directly into politics during the Trump administration.

Last year, that shifting tide left "The Tonight Show" on the Emmy sidelines for the first time since Jimmy Fallon took over in 2014. HBO's "Last Week Tonight With John Oliver" has claimed back-to-back awards in that field.

The 70th primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast Sept. 17 on NBC.

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