The 72nd Primetime Emmy Awards nominations honoring the best and brightest in television will be announced early Tuesday, kicking off an unusual awards season clouded by the COVID-19 pandemic. The live, virtual ceremony is taking place at a turbulent time for the industry, which has been hit hard by the virus outbreak that derailed the TV calendar and prevented some shows from being considered for this year's awards. Still, the Television Academy's 24,000 members were given a record number of entries to sift through this year, and presumably had plenty of free time to watch TV while cooped up at home due to the coronavirus lockdown. "COVID has obviously canceled in-person events, so there's been no face-to-face schmoozing this year," said Joyce Eng, senior editor at award-tracking website Gold Derby. "Between quarantine and the extended deadline, the assumption is that voters have more time to watch TV, but we don't know what they're watching," Eng told AFP. "Are they watching shows that premiered three years ago but (they) haven't had a chance to watch until now? Are they watching all the shows that premiered this spring? Are they looking for 'escapist' fare?" Some surprises can be expected, industry experts say, especially with the reigning champions for drama and comedy --"Game of Thrones" and "Fleabag" -- out of the race, having ended their runs last year. Among the frontrunners for best drama are HBO's darkly humorous "Succession," which centers on a powerful media family's wrangling for control of its company, as well as dark crime thriller "Ozark." - 'Even more resonant' - Netflix's flagship "The Crown" and Hulu's dystopian drama "The Handmaid's Tale" -- both of which sat out the awards last year -- are also likely to be considered, along with AMC's "Breaking Bad" prequel "Better Call Saul" and "The Morning Show," from newcomer Apple TV+. On the comedy side, "The Marvelous Mrs Maisel" -- Amazon's story of a 1950s housewife-turned-stand-up comic -- is considered a favorite, along with offbeat hit "Schitt's Creek," which just wrapped its run. In the limited series race, HBO's "Watchmen," a superhero tale that tackled racism in America, is expected to be the frontrunner. "Watchmen is a great series on its own, but it's become even more resonant in recent weeks and will likely have a big day in the limited races," Eng said, referring to protests against racism and police brutality that have roiled US cities in the last two months. In the best drama actor categories, Brian Cox is likely to top the list for his role in "Succession," along with Jason Bateman for "Ozark" and Bob Odenkirk for "Better Call Saul." Oscar-winner Olivia Colman of "The Crown" is expected to lead the best actress category, along with Laura Linney ("Ozark"), Jennifer Aniston ("The Morning Show") and Elisabeth Moss ("The Handmaid's Tale"). Eng noted that a new rule instituted by the Television Academy tying the number of nomination slots in each category to the number of submissions, except in drama and comedy series, will be another aspect to watch this year. The nominations are to be announced Tuesday during a virtual ceremony hosted by former "Saturday Night Live" star Leslie Jones. The Emmy Awards are set to take place September 20 and will likely also be a virtual event because of the pandemic.