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?

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Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s W. Earl Brown on The Mentalist and Paula Malcomson on Law and Order: Honey Barbecue (Special Victims’ Unit) tonight! Since we’ve mentioned Al Swearengen around here this week, it’s only right that Deadwood‘s lovable, violent Swearengen sidekick show up as well. You’ve also seen Brown on Psych, Angel, CSIs both Original Flavor and Extra Spicy, NYPD Blue, and The X-Files. Malcomson played Swearengen’s employee, hooker with a heart of…silver Trixie. She’s also appeared on ER, Lost, and Six Feet Under. Back-to-back Deadwooders in primetime tonight!

Bonus on each show: Michael O’Neill, The West Wing‘s Agent Butterfield, joins Brown on The Mentalist, while the legendary Martin Mull (Gene Parmesan!) joins L&O: SVU. I might even have to watch.

SUPERNATURAL: So A Man Wakes Up In A Box

When last we saw The Brothers Winchester, Sam was standing over Dean’s body, which had been ripped up by an off-screen hellhound, while Dean was apparently in Hell, which looks like a neuron map. No, I’m not making that up, and if it sounds strange to you, you’re missing the best scary time on TV.

Supernatural follows the exploits of the aforementioned Winchesters, demon hunters and messed-up good guys. In a previous season, rebel with a cause Dean (Jensen Ackles, Smallville and Dark Angel) had negotiated for straight arrow Sam’s (Jared Padalecki, Gilmore Girls) life by offering up his own, and last season was all about how to stop that bill from coming due. One of the things that makes this show fun, however, is their willingess to go as dark as TV goes–the heroes failed, the debt was collected, and Deano’s in Hell. They must find some way out, as tonight’s season premiere is called “Lazarus Rising” and descriptions of it suggest that Dean wakes up in a pine box, apparently free of his demon overlords. The boys’ friend Bobby (Deadwood‘s wonderful Jim Beaver), that rare demon hunter who has survived to a reasonably old age, is suspicious, however–what new bargain has provided this little gift, and what new debt is ripening?

Supernatural does a nice job with overarching story arcs like this, but they’re just as good at creepy one-offs that focus on the real origins of fairy tales or ancient links to Christmas creatures that want to eat more than cookies left by the fireplace. Unlike recent entries to the goosebump genre (Fringe, I’m looking at you), Supernatural benefits from heaping spoonfuls of dark humor–we’ve mentioned previously that The Tick‘s brilliant Ben Edlund is on the writing staff, and it shows. Supernatural has the bad luck of airing opposite the terrific NBC comedy block (or, for people outside of TV Bacon’s immediate circles, CSI: Original Flavor) but it’s premiering a week earlier than its competition so you have a chance to dip your toe in their scary, dangerous, invisible universe. Give them a try–but leave your lights on. Tonight and every Thursday at 9pm Eastern/Pacific on the CW.

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s John Hawkes on a rerun of Without a Trace tonight! Hawkes is one of those delightful stories of a great character actor who you know you’ve seen before (in this case, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X Files, ER, The Practice, 24, Monk, Profit…) getting a couple of big breaks at the same time. There was never enough Sol and Trixie on Deadwood, and I could have watched 10 more hours of Me and You and Everyone We Know, but I guess we’ll have to settle for a Hawkes fix from Without a Trace.

Squee! It’s …

Squee! It’s Garret Dillahunt on Life tonight. Although he had several small roles before his big TV breakthrough, I took notice of him when he played Deadwood‘s ruthless, troubled, wrong Francis Wolcott, chief geologist and twisted John the Baptist figure to the corrupt George Hearst. You may also remember him as manipulative Matthew Ross on The 4400 or a perplexed senior partner in the law firm Patty Hewes is wrangling with in Damages. Check out what new off-kilter delights Dillahunt may have in store when he reunites with fellow Deadwooder Robin Weigert (Calamity Jane)–the prospect of which amuses me deeply–on Life tonight.