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?

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?

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.

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.