Parallel Universes: Repeat Emmy Winners among Supporting Acting Nominees

Over the past couple of days, we’ve been exploring the question of how Emmy voters’ love affairs with a handful of shows or actors might create a sort of Emmy carousel, with the same few favorites winning over and over while others are forever kept off the ride. While there have been a lot of repeat winners over the past two decades, nine different women have won the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Comedy in the last nine years. Does this signal a new dawn of diversity for the Emmys?

We’re especially curious about how these patterns work for supporting categories. Not only are ensemble shows where all of the actors submit in supporting categories common (think Modern Family, for example, where everyone from Ed O’Neill to Nolan Gould submitted in the supporting category last year), but shows that center around a lead character, such as House or The Closer or The Office, are often successful because of the strength of their supporting casts. There are so many supporting roles and so many excellent performances in them that we often have great difficulty narrowing down these categories to just a few nominees. With so many possible nominees, repeat winners might be an even bigger problem in supporting categories. So–are they?

Supporting Actor in a Drama: 5% repeat winners, 5% multiple winners

I would have sworn on my grandmother’s grave that William Shatner had won multiple times, but nope–only Ray Walston for Picket Fences all the way back in 1995 and 1996. We have tons of complaints about who doesn’t get nominated, but the wealth certainly gets spread in this category, at least in terms of wins. And last year’s winner, Aaron Paul, can’t repeat this year because of Breaking Bad‘s broadcast schedule. So much variety might point to the popularity and quality of ensemble shows, with many deserving performances from which to choose. But since the Academy shows here that they can be eclectic, why aren’t they in other categories?

Supporting Actress in a Drama: 10% repeats, 15% multiple winners

In fairness, this is probably less balanced than it seems, as Allison Janney might have dominated for years if she hadn’t started entering in the lead category after winning here twice. Still, it’s much more balanced than the lead category, where 65% were multiple winners. I blame Blythe Danner, who won in 2005 and 2006, for blocking CCH Pounder, Chandra Wilson, and Sandra Oh, but mostly I blame her for foisting Gwyneth Paltrow on the world.

So far, it seems like things are looking up–there are many more winners in the supporting categories as compared to the lead categories, where more than three times out of five we’re getting repeats. Rather than greater numbers of terrific performances leading to greater numbers of actors left in the cold, the ensemble shows are producing a greater variety of winners. This might be plain old common sense, since there should be many more supporting performances to choose from than there are lead performances. That doesn’t mean the Academy would have to use common sense, though, so hooray for them. It’s all good from Diego to the Bay, right? Right?

Supporting Actor in a Comedy: 25% repeats, 65% multiple winners

Really? Really. Puzzling. This category is regularly at least as difficult to narrow down as the supporting actor in a drama category–let’s examine the possibilities this year. Aziz Ansari. Ty Burrell. Chris Colfer. Ted Danson. Charlie Day. Garrett Dillahunt. Peter Facinelli. Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Zach Galifianakis. Donald Glover. Ian Gomez. Neil Patrick Harris. Ed Helms. John Benjamin Hickey. Josh Hopkins. Ken Jeong. Nick Kroll. Stephen Mangan. Rob McElhenney. Nick Offerman. Ed O’Neill. Oliver Platt. Danny Pudi. Stephen Rannazzisi. Paul Scheer. Adam Scott. Atticus Shaffer. Eric Stonestreet. Brian Van Holt. Rainn Wilson. I know I watch too much TV, but that’s 30 excellent actors in excellent performances of excellent roles just this year–just off the top of my head. That doesn’t count previous winners who just aren’t to my taste (Jon Cryer and Jeremy Piven, for example), or probably good performances on shows I just don’t like (the Big Bang guys or the great Weeds ensemble), or good actors I just don’t think are getting good enough material (former nominees Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer, or Cory Monteith), or the fourth person from the same show who is great but doesn’t rank quite as highly as his brethren (Chevy Chase or Mark Duplass), or actors and performances I like that I’ve just never thought of in terms of Emmy quality (the guys from Chuck and Psych, for example). Add those in, and you’re up to around 50 actors off the top of my head who could have a justifiable claim on a nomination this year…and yet a handful of winners take home the hardware over and over (and over).

David Hyde Pierce won four times for his role as Niles Crane on Frasier, and Michael Richards, Brad Garret, and Jeremy Piven won three Emmys each. During those same years, actors who didn’t win included Jeffrey Tambor, Phil Hartman, Peter Boyle, John Mahoney, Bryan Cranston, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, and Neil Patrick Harris. Shoot, I can’t stand Seinfeld and I still feel sorry for Jason Alexander. And that’s just among the actual nominations, which also tend to circle around the same people over and over. With so many worthy performances to choose from, why is this category so stuck on the same winners over and over?

Supporting Actress in a Comedy: 25% repeats, 65% multiple winners

The same as their funny brethren. Double winners include Bebe Neuwirth, Kristen Johnson, and Megan Mullaly, while Laurie Metcalf and Doris Roberts won three apiece. While there has been more variety recently, nominees who never won in those repeat years include Faith Ford, Estelle Getty, Rhea Perlman, Janeane Garofalo, Jennifer Aniston (who finally won in lead), Kim Catrell, Wendie Malick, Cheryl Hines, Vanessa Williams, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Perkins, and Jessica Walter. (And, again, that’s just among the nominees, most of whom were nominated multiple times.)

So…what the what? The idea that Emmy voters just get stuck on the same few winners, whether that’s because of buzz, comfort, or plain old love, makes sense, as the supporting comedy numbers are similar to those in all four lead categories. But then why are the supporting drama categories so different? The theory that the wealth will be better spread in supporting categories makes sense, too–the numbers for the drama categories suggest that when there are lots and lots of great possibilities, Emmy voters are capable of enjoying a large variety of performances. But then why are the comedy supporting categories so much different than the dramatic categories? Friend O’ Bacon Bgirl suggests that people who make TV have little time to watch TV and tend to vote based on buzz and social networks. Even though voting panels change annually, there’s probably not a huge shift in the overall population of Academy members from whom those panels are drawn from year to year, so that explanation makes a lot of sense for the categories that are stagnant–people vote for their friends or what they hear is good year after year without seeing other notable performances. But if that’s the case, why doesn’t it hold true for the supporting dramatic categories? We’d love to hear your explanations.

Sunday: Is this a problem? I mean, it’s not like According to Jim ever won for Outstanding Comedy. Maybe Academy voters just recognize the best quality, and quality doesn’t go away from year to year. But if stagnation is an issue, or if there are lots of high-quality programs and performances that could be equally honored, are there solutions to break away from repeat winners and spread the wealth?

CHUCK “Chuck Versus the Dream Job”: What A Special Snowflake

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Oh, Chuck. We asked you not to do this. We specifically asked you not to do this. Yes, Scott Bakula is a hoot as Chuck and Ellie’s long-lost father. Yes, we like that the Intersect storyline is moving along at a good clip. But part of the show’s charm was that Chuck was a an ubergeek everyman. Does everyone go to Stanford? Well, no. But it’s pretty likely that a lot of Chuck’s audience is pretty smart. And that they have some geeky friends who aren’t moving forward in life very fast, like Morgan and the BuyMore All-Stars. The fantasy of Chuck isn’t in the slow-mo tossing of Sarah’s perfect hair–it’s in the idea that someone who is smart and wishing for more could become special–could become an indispensible, brilliant cog in saving the world flanked by gorgeous, amazing people.

With the revelation that Chuck has always been at the center of his own mystery–that his own father created the Intersect before going into hiding–that fantasy is punctured. Chuck never was an ubergeek everyman. He’s so very, very special and has always been surrounded by such very, very special people that it’s pretty likely we’re going to find out that the unicorn in his backyard is hiding the cure for the common cold. What, isn’t your unicorn an international superscientist? While the charming trappings embellishing Chuck are still in play, here’s hoping the charming core of the show settles in and becomes the everyday center of Chuck‘s life again.

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s Andy Richter up to no good tonight on Chuck. You may recall Andy Richter from his time as Conan O’Brien’s second banana, his short-lived NBC spoof Andy Barker, P.I., or guest spots on everything from Malcolm in the Middle to Arrested Development to 30 Rock and a recent stint on Bones. We’re awfully fond of Office-precursor Andy Richter Controls the Universe (“What, you think when Hitler comes, he’s just gonna goosestep in in uniform?” “I’m sorry, when Hitler comes?”). If Richter brings even half the funny to Chuck he did to those shows, he’ll elevate an already amusing romp. Tonight on NBC, 8pm Eastern and Pacific.

CHUCK Returns Tonight with Surprisingly Super Bowl-esque Gimmick

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It was a little surprising to see The Office get the plum post-Super Bowl slot, which has often been used as a springboard to promote the networks’ new darlings (granted, this hasn’t always been true–NBC gave the slot to that little show Friends once, and Fox recently handed it to House). The Office used the opportunity to great effect–their less-than-subtle cold opening was perfectly designed to pull in post-Super Bowl viewers new to the show, and it made this long-time fan laugh harder than I have at the show in quite some time (I demand a “Save Bandit!” t-shirt),

It still seems, however, like this was a slot made for Chuck, a show whose backstory isn’t too inaccessable to viewers who have been drinking beer all day (hi, Heroes), that’s loaded with likable characters and good jokes, that has action and soft-focus lenses pointed at a hot blonde for the male component of the football audience, and that could use an audience boost. The 3-D gimmick also seems like the kind of thing that would have tied in better to the Super Bowl hoopla than into a Monday night. I guess I was supposed to get some 3-D glasses somewhere, although I haven’t been able to find a pair (and I was looking–do you need 3-D glasses to find them?). I guess I’ll  just watch and be dizzy (maybe that will just be the effect of guest star Dominic Monaghan, who amuses me). Is anybody running this network?

In better news: Chuck is back! (So are Heroes and Medium, but we don’t care so much about that.)

CHUCK “Chuck Versus the Santa Claus”: Times to Break the Rules

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We’ve said before that the delights of Chuck can be found in the sizzle rather than the steak. The sizzle is even more fun than usual this week, which suggests they should work harder to get all the main characters in the same room more often. From Casey being told an electronics store isn’t Basra and growling about a lost toe being his first war wound to an inept bad guy being named Ned R(h)yerson, Santa’s Workshop was filled with little treasures. Our favorite was the jaw-dropping Die Hard homage with Reginald VelJohnson reprising his role as Sgt. Al Powell…who just happens to be BuyMore manager Big Mike’s cousin. They even throw in snippets of “Ode to Joy” to complete the effect. We just want to know if the same Twinkies from the movie are reprising their roles, too.

What’s different about Chuck this week is that the steak is as good as any of the sizzle. Chuck’s shock at Sarah’s execution of a Fulcrum agent isn’t just another obstacle to stretch out their love story: it’s both a fundamental wedge that separates Chuck’s two lives and new glue that cements Sarah’s two lives. Chuck’s the one who introduced the idea that when it comes to family and friends, there are time when you should break the rules, but Sarah’s decision show that not only does she place Chuck squarely in that rarified company, but that Chuck may still think there are rules that shouldn’t be broken (whether that special rule is “don’t shoot an unarmed man in cold blood” or “don’t lie to me about shooting unarmed men in cold blood” remains to be seen). In addition, they’ve planted the seeds to blow up the format of the show. We kind of doubt they will–the BuyMore set can’t be cheap, and we’d miss Ellie, Awesome, Morgan, Anna, Lester, Jeff, Big Mike, and Big Mike’s fish–but the fact that Fulcrum has noticed John Casey and the CIA “yogurt girl” protecting someone or something at the BuyMore suggests the Intersect can’t stay there forever. In one fell swoop, Chuck has reintroduced genuine tension to the show’s central relationship and injected genuine uneasiness and questions into the overall structure. Obviously, the titular Santa Claus thinks we Chuck fans have been very good girls and boys this year.

CHUCK “Chuck Versus the Sensei”: Big Damn Heroes

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As much as I enjoyed the Awesomes and the Chuck and Ellie bonding, I have to admit to being a little worried that Chuck’s quest to find their father so he can walk Ellie down the aisle will reveal that said father left because…he, too, is a spy. Hey, Chuck’s best friend and girlfriend both turned out to be spies–surely Tony Hale and Chuck’s dad aren’t far behind. I lived through Alias once already, thank you very much, so I hope Chuck will treat us better than that. The poorly filmed fight scenes and weird close-ups in this episode don’t exactly inspire confidence.

I can’t stay too worried for too long, though, when the great delight that is John Casey is in the house. From his disgust at Chuck’s behavior with Jill (consequences for bad behavior? On a TV show? Never!) to his recitation of faux feelings to his desire to protect Chuck and Sarah even as he’s getting his behind handed to him, watching our favorite Reagan-loving agent helps cover up things like Chuck’s persistent inability to do what he’s told. And I need you to confirm for me that I’m not losing my mind–please, please tell me that Adam Baldwin, the former Jayne Cobb, actually said that Chuck was damaging his calm. I’m kind of surprised they didn’t have Firefly and Serenity playing on the BuyMore TVs.

Squee! It’s…

It’s a veritable smorgasbord of squee tonight on Chuck. Just having Carl Lumbly show up as Casey’s turncoat mentor would have made us happy, as we adore Lumbly for everything from Alias to Battlestar Galactica to Cagney and Lacey and EZ Streets (those were the days) to Justice League (he’s The Martian Manhunter’s voice, for heaven’s sake!). We admit we might love him most for arguing with Josh Lyman about slave reparations on a very special West Wing episode (ask Susannah why it’s so special).

But does Chuck stop there? Nooooo. Just as the BuyMore provides after-Thanksgiving bargains, Chuck piles on the awesome–Mommy and Daddy Awesome, that is, who are played by Morgan Fairchild and Bruce Boxleitner. Captain Awesome was spawned by Flamingo Road‘s femme fatal and Babylon 5‘s Captain Sheridan! Or Falcon Crest‘s femme fatal and Scarecrow (where’s Mrs. King?)! Or, or Chandler Bing’s erotic novelist mother and TRON! This truly is awesomeness at work, tonight on NBC.

CHUCK “Chuck versus the Fat Lady”: It’s Powdered Fruit Punch, Dumbass

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It’s probably not fair to expect plot consistencies from a show like Chuck. After all, the entire premise hinges on the idea that every scrap of knowledge the intelligence community holds could be accessed inside the skull of a guy who works retail. The whole “ex-girlfriend is back in Chuck’s life, but she’s a spy!!!1!” storyline, however, is as trite as the excuse producers used to get Chuck and Sarah in a shower together. They want to have a love triangle, but they don’t want a love triangle that lasts forever. Hence, a bad-guy ex. Upon whom Chuck never flashes. There really isn’t much tension in the scenes where Chuck escapes with the Fulcrum flash drive to save Jill, because the solution to his non-treason white knighting has been so thoroughly telegraphed. Not their finest moment.

Fortunately, there’s a lot to love in the land of Buymoria even when the plot isn’t running on all cylinders. It’s nice to see the much-maligned Morgan prove why he’s a friend worthy of Chuck. Multiple mentions of dead scientist Guy LaFleur remind us that this is the second time in as many weeks characters have been named after old-school athletes. Adam Baldwin as a disgruntled bellhop will never, ever get old. And we have to applaud any television show where, after they’ve made reference to fat ladies singing and visited opera productions, the classic Bugs Bunny cartoon “What’s Opera, Doc?” is playing on the Buy More TVs. Sometimes the forest can get away from Chuck, but their trees are always worth visiting.

CHUCK “Chuck Versus the Ex”: That Was the Only Syringe?

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Chuck perhaps made even less sense this week than usual (and realism is not exactly why we tune in to this show, so that’s saying something). While it’s fun to see different constellations of characters interacting, getting Ellie and Captain Awesome hooked up with the Buy More crew took some pretty pretzeled logic. The plotline concerning superflu and Chuck’s ex-girlfriend was rushed, silly (people dealing with deadly biohazards and their antidotes only carry around one syringe? Really?), and tangential to trying to create a love triangle that’s unlikely to go anywhere. Perhaps said love triangle is even more difficult to buy because Jordana Brewster a) always brings to mind the fact that they must have stuck Elijah Wood on a box to kiss her at the end of The Faculty and b) is sporting bangs that put her in the bad-hair territory currently being occupied by Good Eats genius and shill for Chuck-sponsor-Welch’s Alton Brown (why the hair, Alton? WHY?).

Happily, this is the kind of show where those things don’t matter so much as long as you have Chuck coming up with harebrained schemes that require him to lay a big wet one on John Casey. Who would prefer to die with dignty rather than be saved by a Bartkowski buss. Put Adam Baldwin in a bad wig and a terrible soul patch and let Yvonne Strahovski deliver lines in her native Australian accent, and we’ll show up through any amount of nonsense.

CHUCK “Chuck Versus the Cougars”: People Besides Teenage Boys Watch This Show

I like Chuck, I really, really do. Zachary Levi is perfectly cast, and his touching portrayal of the way Chuck is trying to find himself grounds an otherwise ridiculous show. We’ve discussed Adam Baldwin’s greatness before. I even like the Buy More crew (and could stand to see a little more of last episode’s kick-ass Anna).

So I’d really love to keep loving the show, and it would help a lot if they’d back off the “we’re going to emphasize how hot Sarah is by tossing in some soft-porn shots” jokes. I genuinely believe they are jokes–the show is just so warm-hearted otherwise that it’s hard to believe they’d be so cynical as to up viewership in the teen male demographic with extra-gratuitous girlie shots, and they’ve always made a joke of the uniforms Sarah has to wear at her cover jobs. But from the season opener’s slow motion yogurt to Sarah’s imaginary slow-motion crawl across the Buy More floor to this week’s girlfight in the showers, the joke is getting stale. Seeing Nicole Richie get her ass handed to her by our heroine is fun enough–do they really have to be wet, too?

Let Chuck be Chuck–and let Sarah be Sarah: a smart, dangerous patriot whose past is more interesting than her cleavage.