You Just Keep Me Hanging On: Repeat Emmy Winners among Lead Acting Nominees

All hopped up on the excitement of Emmy ballots coming out on Monday, we posed the question yesterday of whether Emmy voters’ love affairs with certain shows might be blocking other deserving winners. 30 Rock and Mad Men are great, but does rewarding them over and over “cheat” other great shows out of the prize? It’s a tricky question–maybe these shows (or their submissions) really are the best, or really do best match voters’ tastes. While voting panels change from year to year, it’s not like there are sweeping changes to the overall Academy membership across short periods of time.

Still, the numbers suggest that there’s a pretty good case to be made that logjams among series winners are creating a few victors and a block of losers. We wondered, however, whether the pattern of repeat winners would be the same for performers. There are obviously many more actors to choose from than series, and since actors submit a single episode to be judged, an especially striking performance or storyline might propel a seeming underdog to victory. At the same time, everyone can think of anecdotal evidence suggesting that some lauded actors just aren’t able to break through. Hugh Laurie and Steve Carell, for example, have both done seven seasons of their signature roles, they’ve both been nominated for performance Emmys five times for those roles…and they’ve both won exactly zero times. Could repeat wins for other actors be the explanation? Today we look at 20 years of actors in lead categories.

Lead Actor in a Drama: 25% repeat winners, 60% multiple winners

Dennis Franz, who was terrific on NYPD Blue, won four times; during those years George Clooney, Anthony Edwards, Jimmy Smits, Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, and David Duchovny were nominated multiple times and never attained the prize. (You thought Jimmy Smits won one of those years, didn’t you? Me too. Like Laurie and Carell, he was nominated five times without a win.) James Gandolfini’s three wins kept Orbach, Peter Krause, and–hold me closer, tiny dancers–Martin Sheen off the podium, while James Spader’s and Bryan Cranston’s three wins apiece have pretty effectively blocked Laurie, Michael C. Hall, Gabriel Byrne, Denis Leary, and Jon Hamm.

Lead Actress in a Drama: 15% repeats, 65% multiple winners

To be fair, the annual nominations of the usual suspects in this category probably reveals a dearth of quality roles for women. But from year to year, this tends to be the same small number of women trading off the trophy. With a historic lack of good leading roles for women, is rewarding the same good stuff over and over a problem? As much as I like Angela Lansbury, for example, I can’t get that worked up over Kathy Baker’s three victories keeping Murder, She Wrote out of the winner’s circle. Still, The Edie Falco and Allison Janney Hootenanny Variety Hour (I would totally watch that) that soaked up five Emmys effectively blocked Jennifer Garner and Frances Conroy from winning for notable performances, and a second win for Glenn Close for a lesser season of Damages could have gone to someone like Holly Hunter.

Lead Actor in a Comedy: 20% repeats, a staggering 70% multiple winners

The six-year Kelsey Grammar/John Lithgow stranglehold shut out John Goodman, Gary Shandling, and even Michael J. Fox’s Spin City performance until he was forced to leave his show. (It also shut out Paul Reiser while Helen Hunt won four Emmys in a row for the same show and Jerry Seinfeld while his show was the biggest phenomenon on TV, but, like Sue Sylvester, I don’t care so much about that.) While Tony Shaloub’s Monk was certainly a great performance, his three wins came at the expense of  Matt LeBlanc, Bernie Mac, and Steve Carell, who I note again has never won for playing Michael Scott. (Alec Baldwin’s repeat win in 2009 helped with that little blockade.)

Lead Actress in a Comedy: 25% repeats, 50% multiple winners

While the 50% multiples number is a lot, there hasn’t been a repeat winner in almost a decade. The Candice Bergen/Helen Hunt (four in a row)/Patricia Heaton era, during which five women won in 12 years, meant no awards for Betty White, Delta Burke, Marion Ross, Cybill Shepherd, Ellen DeGeneres, Calista Flockhart, and Jane Kaczmarek. Since Heaton’s repeat win in 2001, however, nine different women have taken home the Emmy in this category. A sign of a sea change?

All of this is only mentioning the repeat nominees who were blocked–second, third, and fourth wins also beat out solo nominations for the likes of Ian McShane, Dylan McDermott, Matthew Fox, Kyle Chandler, Amber Tamblyn, Minnie Driver, Zach Braff, Jason Bateman, Bonnie Hunt, Marcia Cross, and Connie Britton (although we’re still hoping Chandler and Britton will become two-time nominees this year). And of course, repeats mean leaving out a laundry list of never-nominated actors too long to list here. As was true of serial series nominations and wins, there is little representation for genre stories (where is Mary McDonnell’s Emmy? Where is Nathan Fillion’s? Where is Kristen Bell’s? Where is Sarah Michelle Gellar’s?)–would requiring a winner to sit out, even a year, open up the field for unexpected nominees and maybe even winners? Would instituting such a rule have solved your favorite example of a great performance that missed out on a nomination or win?

Saturday: Ensemble shows probably make up the bulk of TV–quality and otherwise–today, and we tend to find the supporting categories the toughest to winnow down as we try to pick nominees. With so many actors to choose from, is the winners carousel even more problematic in supporting categories?

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.

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s George Michael on Eli Stone tonight. No, really–I know they’ve been using his songs (even naming the episodes after them) and he’s shown up in little cameos, but he’s actually a key character in tonight’s episode, unfortunately titled “I Want Your Sex” (oh, dear–didn’t Mr. Michael earn a pass on that after his hilarious Extras appearance?). He’s got a sense of humor about himself and one of the greatest pop voices ever, which makes him a pretty good match for this show.

Triple chocolate backflip bonus–the promo clips not only feature George Michael but give us Victor Garber singing “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me.” He never did that on Alias. It’s squee overload!

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s…well, maybe it’s the flu medication talking, because I’m about to squee over Law and Order: Honey Mustard Flavor (er, Criminal Intent). In fact, I’m about to double squee over it, because tonight’s rerun includes not only Amy Acker but Jim Gaffigan, both squee-evoking. Acker doubled up on Angel, first as timid physicist Fred and then as otherworldly Illyria (blue!). You may also recall her from stints as Nathan Fillion’s wife on Drive (oh, the extended Whedon family) and Alias.

You’d think it might be hard to watch Jim Gaffigan in a serious crime story without thinking of manatees or Pale Force, but he’s an accomplished actor, as well. In addition to appearances on That ’70s Show, Ed, and racking up the L&O trifecta, you should definitely catch him as Amber Tamblyn’s concerned father in Stephanie Daley. Double squee on L&O: D’Onofrio tonight!

Tryptophan Television

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As the denizens of TV Bacon gather together to ask the Lord’s bles…er, to make pumpkin pie and pumpkin muffins and pumpkin pancakes and other assorted holiday foods, we celebrate TV-wise with guest blogger Lisa‘s list of the best Thanksgiving television. Enjoy it while celebrating with someone you love, or use the episodes to escape from family gatherings with people you love but could use a break from. Happy holidays!

“Do you know what I dream about when I dream about Thanksgiving, which is often? I dream about eating SO much deliciousness that all the blood rushes to my stomach and I pass out at the table.” – Seth Cohen

“Shibboleth” – The West Wing
Written by Aaron Sorkin

There’s nothing I can say about “Shibboleth” that would do it any sort of justice. It’s a brilliant hour of television and one of the finest episodes of The West Wing that ever aired. This episode has it all – specially raised turkeys Eric and Troy gobble their way to a presidential pardon; Toby fights prayer in school; Bartlet goes head-to-head with China over a container ship full of men, women, and children; and we hear one of the most heartfelt speeches about religious freedom ever. And just when you think that your overworked heart can’t take another minute, the music swells and your eyes get a little misty as we close on Bartlet declaring a National Day of Thanksgiving. It’s simply not the holidays until I watch this episode. I cry every darn time.

“The One With Chandler In A Box” – Friends
Written by Michael Borkow

Monica gets an ice chip in her eye and is forced to see the substitute ophthalmologist, who just happens to be her ex-boyfriend’s son. And happens to be totally hot. Michael Vartan guest stars in the ep where Chandler spends some time thinking in a box. A really big box. Oh, and Monica gets to wear an eye patch.

“Thanksgiving” – Felicity
Written by JJ Abrams

Hands down one of the best episodes of Felicity ever. It’s pretty perfect – jealousy, flirting, cooking in a dorm lounge. Julie and Felicity try their hand at a turkey and all the trimmings, but find that their makeshift dinner leaves much to be desired. It all works out in the end, after Javier brings his turkey and makes things as awesome as possible with his adorable and judgmental self. And when Noel plants one on Felicity in the bathroom? Kissing, y’all. Be still my beating heart.

“The Homecoming” – The O.C.
Written by Josh Schwartz & Brian Oh

I’m not going to mince words here – Seth Cohen is ten thousand kinds of adorable as he juggles two women on Thanksgiving Day. But while Summer and Anna vie for his affections, Ryan goes back to the old neighborhood to settle a score for his brother. Those crazy Cohens down bottles of wine, pitchers of margs, and end up eating Chinese take-out as the day goes from perfectly pleasant to downright nutty. And even though Seth doesn’t win the heart of either girl that evening, he sure captured mine.

“Thespis” – Sports Night
Written by Aaron Sorkin

Dana test runs her Thanksgiving turkey by thawing it out on the light board, much to the confusion of the entire staff. Meanwhile, Dan and Casey celebrate their “anniversary”, Jeremy convinces the staff that a Greek ghost named Thespis is out to ruin their evening broadcast, and Isaac worries about his pregnant daughter after she’s unexpectedly rushed to the hospital. Maybe it’s Robert Guillaume’s quiet grace and maybe it’s because he’s what made Sports Night so amazing for me, because when he happily passes out cigars in honor of the birth of his healthy grandson? It’s a happy Thanksgiving indeed.

“Colorblind” – Alias
Written by Alex Kurtzman & Roberto Orci

I confess. I usually don’t watch this entire episode. Because really, the Thanksgiving part starts at around the 32-minute mark and that’s where I start, too. After a crappy day of saving the world, Sydney comes home to find an annoyed Francie burning Thanksgsiving dinner. What ensues is the sweetest gal pal cooking scene ever, a Thanksgiving proposal, and all-around good times. But the best scene comes at the very end as we see Jack’s icy exterior thaw just enough to give Syd a slight smile after she brings him Thanksgiving leftovers.

“The One Where Underdog Gets Away” – Friends
Written by Jeff Greenstein & Jeff Strauss

After everyone’s plans go awry, Monica makes Thanksgiving dinner with three kinds of potatoes (lumps, tots, with peas/onions) to mark their first holiday together. But all is not well for the gang as Joey deals the fallout from being cast in a VD prevention ad, Rachel misses her flight to Vail, dinner burns after an unfortunate (but hilarious) miscommunication, and Chandler relives his worst Thanksgiving ever. The “Got the keys?” vs. “Got the keys!” is still one of my favorite Friends moments.