Repeat Offenders: Consequences of Emmy Love Affairs

Ah, spring–when a TV watcher’s heart turns to Emmy consideration. Ballots come out on Monday, and since there’s nothing the Baconeers love so much as a good list (you may have noticed), said ballots whet our appetite. As much as we are sometimes frustrated with the Emmys–and oh, how frustrated we get–last year’s had some surprisingly great moments. Remember the murderous comfort food cookoff judge from the greatest Pushing Daisies episode ever? Eric Stonestreet has an Emmy now. How neat is that?  While we might gripe about who was excluded from nominations–wherefore art thou, Community and Friday Night Lights?–Modern Family and Mad Men were deserving winners. Huh. Maybe that adorable Jimmy Fallon-Glee opening just put everything in a more flattering light.

Bryan Cranston gives me pause, though. I love Cranston–I thought he was robbed of an Emmy for his Hal on Malcolm in the Middle, and his performance on Breaking Bad is a genuine tour de force. It’s certainly hard, then, to argue that he shouldn’t have won. At the same time, this was Cranston’s third win in a row, while nominees like Hugh Laurie–who, believe it or not, has never won for House–continue to languish unrewarded. While I’m not ready to ask Cranston to remove himself from contention this year (Breaking Bad‘s broadcast schedule takes care of that), it got me to wondering about how often the Emmys get “stuck” on one winner, and what repercussions that might have beyond the winner.

We looked back at the last 20 years, examining in particular three things: first, the percentage of repeat winners (winning in consecutive years for the same role or show), such as the Cranston example above. Second, we looked at the percentage of multiple winners (winning in non-consecutive years for the same role/show)–two lauded performances trading off wins across several years might block notable others from winning just as much as one repeat victor might. Third, we looked at who the other nominees were during years with repeat or multiple winners. Who is potentially being blocked from an Emmy when the Academy becomes obsessed with a single winner? If, for example, Frasier‘s multiple wins came at the expense of The Nanny, maybe that’s not a problem–maybe it’s justice.

Drama Series: 40% repeat winners; a whopping 75% multiple winners

While Mad Men has won the last three trophies, the most notable repeat winner in this category in the past 20 years was The West Wing. The show usually cited as a close second-place–or robbed, depending on your perspective–was The Sopranos…which won the Best Drama Emmy twice, so maybe things turned out just fine. In the past 13 years, however, only 6 series have won (The Practice, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Lost, 24, and Mad Men). Notable nominees during that time who never won? Six Feet Under, Deadwood, House, Grey’s Anatomy, Boston Legal, Damages, Breaking Bad, and Dexter. While I like some of those shows very much, and while I would have preferred to see some of them win in their nominated year(s) (hi, Deadwood), the repeat winners do look pretty strong.

Maybe the problem is in the nomination process: notable shows that couldn’t break the repeat stranglehold because they were never nominated include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars, and Friday Night Lights, among others. If repeat winners had to skip a year or took themselves out of contention, would genre spoilers sneak into contention?

Comedy Series: 30% repeats and 60% multiple winners

Two non-consecutive wins each for Murphy Brown and Everybody Loves Raymond (Except Me), but four consecutive wins for 30 Rock and five for Frasier (Modern Family‘s win certainly raises the question of whether Christopher Lloyd has the submission process dialed in). Frankly, I personally have more trouble with some poorly chosen one-time winners than these repeaters (Ally McBeal? Really?), but notable nominees who lost to repeaters include Scrubs and The Larry Sanders Show. On the other hand, I can’t feel that bad about Two and a Half Men.

Still, perhaps the problem is–again–in the nominating process, since Frasier and 30 Rock tended to beat the same competition over and over: Pushing Daisies, Gilmore Girls, and, perhaps most notably, The Simpsons were boxed out entirely during these repeat winner years.

Are repeat winners a problem, or just rewards for a job well done? Should the Academy attempt to spread the wealth more? What series do you think were most unfairly denied the gold by repeat winners?

Friday: But you were talking about Bryan Cranston and Hugh Laurie. Does the tendency toward repeat winners hurt individual actors more than series?

6 thoughts on “Repeat Offenders: Consequences of Emmy Love Affairs

  1. Another example is Best Variety Series – The Daily Show has won for 8 years in a row now. I’m not saying they don’t deserve it, but even they seem to be getting a little embarrassed about the whole thing.

  2. That’s a great example–Real Time with Bill Maher, various iterations of Conan O’Brien, and, of course, The Colbert Report have all been nominated multiple times during the Daily Show reign but have never won. I wonder to what degree the fact that many of the people winning for The Daily Show have worked with many of the people not winning for The Colbert Report drives the former’s discomfort.

    I am having difficulty telling from the Emmy rules whether series in this category submit episodes in the same way shows in the Drama and Comedy categories do (six episodes paired into three sets, with one-third of the voters on the designated panel getting each of the pairs), but it does appear that the voting is done in different fashion: “Voting in VMC special and series categories is a non-preferential, ratings-score voting in the final, winner-choosing round.” There’s a lot of non-awards show research on how different voting structures affect outcomes; it would be interesting to see if the Daily Show rampage might play out differently with a different voting structure

  3. The issue that you don’t address is that repeat winners often happen because those who work in television, and who vote for the nominees and winners, often don’t watch a lot of television (and they don’t watch a lot of the screeners, can’t tell you how many screeners I’ve gotten unopened over the years.) So they often only watch a few shows, and so vote for those, or they vote for what they’ve heard is good, or for the people they know (which is why you predominantly see stunt-casted celebs as nominees in the guest starring role these days, “Hey, Kathy Bates is a great actress, I’ll just vote for her.”) Until there is some change to the voting process (and no, I don’t know what that could be) there aren’t going to be very many surprises come Emmy night.

  4. Pingback: You Just Keep Me Hanging On: Repeat Emmy Winners among Lead Acting Nominees | TV BACON

  5. Hey, B!

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you, but the degree to which that happens *should* (a key word we’ll return to in a second) be a problem more for nominations than for winners. Since the nominations for the categories we’re talking about here (unlike the special or juried awards) are pretty much a matter of anyone who’s a member of the Academy/a peer group ticking boxes, I have no trouble imagining a scenario like you describe–where buzz and buddies help explain the same people being nominated over and over. (I’m interested to see what happens to Glee this year–it’s become a money-making monster, but the critical reception has been much more mixed. What kind of buzz does that translate to for voters?) And, of course, a real statistical analysis of this kind of stuff would have to model the fact that a person/show has to be nominated in order to win, so the repeat nominees are driving part of the problem. Like you, I don’t know that I have a practical solution to that.

    The winners are tougher for me to understand in terms of the “I vote for what I hear is good” perspective because of the specific Emmy rules that have rotating panels watching screeners and voting. I thiiiiiink voters can only serve on two panels a year, and the darn DVDs containing the nominated performances are delivered right to their doors, so there’s not much excuse for not voting for a stand-out performance/episode. Of course, this may just mean that the Academy has a plurality of its voting block that has a specific taste (“30 Rock’s about people like us! Yay!”), so voters actually do watch the submissions and vote for what they like best.

    Bringing what you point out back into the equation, though, and coming back to the “should” from above, it may also mean that voters don’t bother watching the screeners and end up voting based on buzz and buddies. This should be more of a problem for nominating than for voting because voters sign affidavits stating they’ve watched the DVDs, and, damn it, it’s not that much work. Voters in the Supporting Actor in a Comedy category last year, for example, had to watch about 2.5 hours of tape across three and a half weeks. I weep for them. It’s not rocket science, and if they can’t manage it they shouldn’t vote. But hence the quotes around “should”–just because it shouldn’t be a giant imposition, and therefore what you describe should be a bigger problem for nominations than for wins, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

    I seem to recall that one thing the Emmys tried in an attempt to deal with this was having the voting panels come to one physical location to watch the screeners together (although I think there may have been more than one screening opportunity to attend, voters had to literally go somewhere to watch with other voters rather than getting DVD screeners delivered to their homes). In other words, unless they fell asleep at the screening, voters definitely watched the submitted work that year(s?). In addition to lots of other consequences (are voters influenced by seeing other voters’ reactions?), this obviously creates a lot of complications and probably even further dilutes the pool of willing voters, but my recollection is that the winners that year were a lot more surprising than other years, suggesting that when voters actually watched the work, voting patterns changed.

    Of course, my recollection is far from perfect, and no one really knows the minds of the voters. Maybe that was just a weird year. I keep trying to remind myself that voters probably really do vote for what they like best–it’s just an issue of a) trying to figure out why the heck they like what they do and b) whether what they like is in any way influenced by what’s actually on the screen (like the situation you describe). Noodling around wondering what would happen if winners had to sit out a year is really just another way of trying to nibble at that question.

    While I haven’t counted up this category (since they rarely appear in more than one year), I think you really hit the nail on the head with the guest category observation. In addition to familiarity, do you think there’s any sense of “having a movie star class up the joint brings greater respect to my TV medium thing!”?

  6. Pingback: Parallel Universes: Repeat Emmy Winners among Supporting Acting Nominees | TV BACON

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