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?

LEVERAGE “The Two Horse Job”: Was It Just to Watch Him Die?

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While this week’s new Leverage was another knotty, naughty affair–a shell game with horses instead of a ball under the shells–“The Two Horse Job” was the first time we wondered how long this show can keep those kinds of stories coming. It seems awfully early in the game to be revealing big chunks of character background by making the clients important parts of our heroes’ past. (It also seems kind of early to put Christan Kane on a horse with his luxurious locks flowing behind him, but mileage may vary on that point.)

We’re reassured, however, by the weird wit that sets Leverage apart from other puzzle shows. Hardison’s frustration that no one pays enough attention to his PowerPoint presentations on their new cases rings true for any of us who have to make serious business a song and dance. Parker trying to sneak a sick day because of her equinophobia is odd enough, but her claim that the fear engulfs her because she “once saw a horse kill a clown,” complete with flashback to a childhood birthday party with costumed entertainers fighting, makes it art. We’d cheer for her when she sneaks through ductwork to free a horse, overcoming her terror and declaring brightly that “horses are much less murderous” than she’d originially assumed, but we’re too busy laughing. Toss in genre favorite Mark Sheppard (Firefly, The Middleman, Battlestar Galactica24) as the #2 insurance fraud investigator in the world (second only to the disgraced Nathan Ford, of course) as a semi-permanent adversary, and we’re convinced they’re not going to stop the fun train.

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.

DOLLHOUSE Pilot to Be Reshot

Joss Whedon logged on to Whedonesque this week to gently break the news to fans that he would be reshooting the pilot episode of his hotly anticipated Fox series Dollhouse. Getting a bit of deja vu? That’s because the pilot episode of Whedon’s Fox series Firefly was also reshot–at the network’s request–signaling the beginning of the network’s clumsy meddling with and lack of faith in a show that would eventually go on to be a cult hit with remarkable legs on the DVD sales chart (no thanks whatsoever to Fox).

The new pilot reportedly will be a prequel of sorts to the original, which will then air as the second episode, with a few minor adjustments. Whedon attempted to put a positive spin on the reshoot, which he said was for issues of tone and clarity, but he’s pretty much required to toe that party line.

So is this the beginning of the end for Dollhouse? Ordered just days before the WGA went on strike, Whedon and co. had only two months to write and prep the series, which didn’t leave a lot of time for network feedback to be worked into the process. Whedon admits that he “was in a dark, noir kind of place” when he came back from the strike, which was not necessarily the tone the suits were looking for. And it’s not like Dollhouse is an especially easy sell. Look, I’d practically follow Whedon into fire, but a show about brainwashed prostitutes is treading precariously close to the edge of my personal comfort zone, so what’s a mainstream audience going to think? It’s not altogether unreasonable that the series might legitimately require a bit of fine tuning to hit the butter zone.

The good news, however, is that Fox is making an attempt to tap into the wave of internet interest following the debut of Whedon’s internet musical “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog” (which drew 2.25 million streams in five days) by allowing the creator to produce a series of companion webisodes for Dollhouse. An entire season’s worth of webisodes in fact, one for every episode. The shorts will be released throughout the season and the on-air episodes may even include a teaser for the next webisode. Maybe Fox has learned a thing or two since Firefly after all.

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s Melinda Clarke tonight on Reaper! She’s not just Julie Cooper (The O.C.). She’s not just Nandi, the hooker with the “Heart of Gold”and eyes for Mal on Firefly. She’s not just Lady Heather (CSI: Original Flavor, and yes, I am snickering now). Now she’s the devil’s girlfriend. They just don’t come much cooler than Melinda Clarke. Also, previous Squeer Patrick Fabian pops up on NCIS tonight, and Urkel’s long-suffering neighbor (Reginald VelJohnson), whom I prefer to remember as Sgt. Al from Die Hard, graces a Bones epsiode entitled “The Santa in the Slush.”  I’m not kidding. So it’s just a gooey night of TV goodness all the way around.