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…

Squee! It’s…look, I just want to point out how excruciatingly fair this squee makes me. It’s Jamie Bamber on the season premiere of Dollhouse tonight! You may recall that the Baconeers had…issues with Dollhouse when it premiered last year. People I trust keep telling me it got better, and I really, really want to love Joss Whedon, so I’m willing to give it another chance. And it may be clear that I had some Lee Adama issues in the Battlestar Galactica odyssey, but I chalk that up to the fact that the writers couldn’t figure out what to do with the character. Bamber was wonderful in the Horatio Horblower movies–he even held the screen against a really yummy Ioan Gruffudd–and was perfectly lovely in fare such as Cold Case and Band of Brothers. He’s even acquitted himself well as the British version of a district attorney in the new Law & Order: Picadilly Circus spin-off. Did you see what I did there? With the acquitted and the lawyer thing, and…never mind.

Come join me on my squee-filled journey of forgiveness. Dollhouse airs on Fox tonight at 9pm Eastern and Pacific.

Squee! It’s..

There’s a whole lot o’ squeeing going on tonight if you’re a TV fan (smells like sweeps spirit). Christine Baranski, Emmy winner for Cybill, star of several other sitcoms, and Law and Order briefcase carrier, shows up on Ugly Betty along with Ralph Macchio. The Karate Kid, people! Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory pops up on Supernatural. Rob Benedict, former hand model entrepreneur on Felicity (as well as nervous Nelly engineer Lucas Pegg on Threshold–oh, how we wanted that show to be good) has a role on CSI: Original Flavor. Oh, and that Clooney guy is supposed to show up on ER.

Now, I love me some George Clooney–no, I love me some George Clooney–and since he’s off being a movie star-fancy director-Oscar nominated writer, he doesn’t have much time for TV these days, so I suppose this is a treat. If I’d watched ER at any time in the last decade, the thought of him and Julianna Marguiles showing up in County General again might hold more appeal. Still, I’m reserving our ultimate squee tonight for a member of the Buffy family. Maybe the reason we’ve been rolling our eyes so strenuously at Dollhouse is because we’ve loved Joss Whedon’s other work so thoroughly, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the beginning of all of that. Amber Benson, who played shy witch (and eventual love interest for Willow) Tara, appears tonight on Private Practice. Benson has also appeared in Supernatural and Cold Case and is the author of several books, plays, and screenplays. So flip back and forth between medical shows and catch two hyphenates for the price of one. Private Practice (ABC) and ER (NBC) both air tonight at 10pm Eastern and Pacific.

DOLLHOUSE “The Target”: Really? We’re Doing This Now?

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It would be great if I could say that this week’s episode showed significant improvement over last week’s dismal premiere. Unfortunately, after watching “The Target” I am, if possible, even less enamored of Dollhouse.

The fact that they’ve already resorted to a tired television trope in the second episode doesn’t bode well. The Most Dangerous Game has been done and redone by dozens of TV shows over the years, from the pilot episode of Fantasy Island to Whedon’s own Buffy the Vampire Slayer and three separate incarnations of Star Trek. We’ve all seen it before, and it doesn’t get any more interesting with repetition–when it’s already been spoofed by both The Simpsons and American Dad, I’d say it’s ready for retirement. And casting Matt Keesler, late of the excellent (and tragically canceled) The Middleman, as the skeevy hunter just adds salt to the wound.

But worst of all, last night’s episode made me wonder at what point Joss and Co. stopped being feminists. When the man who once made ass-kicking young women standard television fare is now serving up an extended rape fantasy, things have gone badly wrong. And no, it doesn’t make it okay even if the victim gets one good shot off in the end.

There is one shining point of light in all this mess. The ratings for last week’s premiere were so dismal that it’s unlikely we’ll be subjected to many more episodes of this disaster.

DOLLHOUSE “Ghost”: We Are Not Amused

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Joss Whedon’s television shows are not typically an easy sell. Teen vampire romps and space westerns pretty much have “limited cult appeal” stamped on them right out of the gate. Yet despite middling ratings, Whedon’s shows have always earned a shower of critical acclaim and a dedicated fan following. But his long-awaited return to the small screen, which premiered on Fox last Friday, looks to be even harder to swallow.

Dollhouse is about a super secret (and highly illegal) service that leases out people who’ve had their personalities wiped so they can be imprinted with a temporary new persona and skill-set. Hired by the ridiculously wealthy, these “Actives” don’t just perform their parts, they actually believe they are whomever or whatever their client wants them to be.

It’s a premise that’s not only implausible (why would anyone hire a fake expert when they could just hire a real expert for far less money and without breaking the law?) but troubling (the loaning out of beautiful young women who’ve essentially had their free will removed is just plain creepy–and not in a good way). Those aren’t necessarily insurmountable flaws, however. Buffy the Vampire Slayer had a thoroughly ridiculous premise and it never stopped me from the loving the show (okay, it did at first, but I got over it). And tackling thorny gender issues is pretty much Whedon’s trademark, so he’s earned a little latitude with the creepy factor.

No, Dollhouse‘s biggest failing is that it feels like it could have been written by anyone.

One of the reasons I’m willing to follow Whedon to the gates of hell and back (literally, in the case of Angel) is his brilliant wit. No matter how dark things get (and things can get pretty dark in Mutant Enemy territory), there’s always a moment of levity to drag you back from the abyss. And we’re not just talking run-of-the-mill comic relief here–Whedon’s trademark quips are funnier than you’ll find on most of the “comedies” on the air today.

Yet the premiere episode of Dollhouse? Elicited not a single laugh, nary a mild chuckle, nor even the faintest wisp of a smile.

Okay, so maybe Whedon wanted to get serious about sci fi for a change. I’m willing to buy a ticket for that train provided he still delivers the walloping emotional punch I’ve come to expect. Except that Dollhouse‘s main character doesn’t actually have any character. How am I supposed to become attached to Echo (or the other Actives, for that matter) when she’s a totally new, fake person every week? And since most of the other characters are complicit in this highly disturbing venture, there’s not really anyone to root for. It doesn’t help matters that lead Eliza Dushku is an actress who succeeds on charisma more than craft, thrust here into a role that’s all about craft. I’ve always found her enjoyable, but I’m not convinced she’s got the chops to do the heavy lifting a show like this requires.

Given Dollhouse‘s tumultuous history, it’s hard to know how closely Friday’s premiere hews to Whedon’s original vision. But what we got felt far more like something created by a team of Fox execs than than the vision of a gifted writer with a unique voice. This Dollhouse is a ready-made procedural with a sci fi twist, dressed up with sexy girls and motorcycle chases and shootouts. Something only slightly less absurd than last fall’s failed My Own Worst Enemy and marginally more interesting than the previous fall’s failed Journeyman. Maybe Fox figures what bombed on NBC will fit right in on their network–Dollhouse certainly seems made for a lineup that already features Fringe and Sarah Conner Chronicles.

That may be good enough for Fox, but it’s not good enough for me. I expect more from Joss Whedon. Far more.

Maybe it’ll get better. Pilots are rarely the best example of a show to begin with, and Dollhouse has had a bumpier-than-usual ride to the screen. I’m going to keep watching because I desperately hope it will get better. But at this point I’m not sure I actually believe it will.

Whedon Reveals the Bumpy Road to DOLLHOUSE

After months of assuring us that everything was fine with his upcoming series Dollhouse–despite the reported rewrites, reshoots, scrubbed pilots, and unplanned shutdowns–Joss Whedon has finally come clean about the chaos behind the scenes.

Posting on Whedonesque this week, the Almighty Joss admitted to fans that Dollhouse hasn’t exactly been “blazing an untrammeled path to surefire success, with nary a hitch or a hiccup.” In fact, it’s been a pretty rough ride. Says Whedon:

Basically, the Network and I had different ideas about what the tone of the show would be. They bought something somewhat different than what I was selling them, which is not that uncommon in this business. Their desires were not surprising: up the stakes, make the episodes more stand-alone, stop talking about relationships and cut to the chase. Oh, and add a chase. That you can cut to. Nothing I hadn’t heard before on my other shows (apparently my learning curve has no bendy part) but frustrating as hell given our circumstances – a pilot shot, scripts written, everybody marching together/gainfully employed… and then a shutdown. Glad I was for the breathing room, but it’s hardly auspicious. So back into the writer cave I went, wondering why I put up with this when I can make literally dozens of dollars making internet movies.

Trying to mitigate the inevitable tsunami of fan outrage directed at Fox, Whedon explains why all this network interference isn’t as bad as it sounds:

One: They’re not wrong. Oh, we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything, but wanting the first episodes to be exciting and accessible is not exactly Satanic. Being Satan is, but that’s in their free time and hey, there’s no judging in the Dollhouse. This kind of back and forth has happened on every show I’ve done, so if you liked those, chances are that was a part of why. And the need to focus on the essentials of what makes this universe tick – and which wire to cut to make it stop – really does bring up our game. So we as a staff have gone from blinking like unhoused moles to delving in with the same relish we had when we started. The show is really coming together now, in a way that I believe excites us and satisfies the Network. Of course, I have no idea if anybody else will like it, but I have the same faith in the staff, the crew and the remarkable cast that I always did. More, in fact. And what’s more crucial:

Two: Nothing essential has changed about the universe. The ideas and relationships that intrigued me from the start are all there (though some have shifted, more on that), and the progression of the first thirteen eps has me massively excited. The episode we’re shooting now I wrote as fast as anything I have before, not because I had to (although, funny side-note: I had to) but because I couldn’t stop the words from coming. Because I can feel the show talking to me; delighting, scaring and occasionally even offending me. It’s alive. Alive! Which is a far cry from how I felt a month ago. It’s been hilarious trying to keep up with what’s in, what’s out, who’s met whom and when – we’ve shot all of the first seven episodes out of airing order – but it’s come together in a pretty thrilling way. My huge gratitude to our cast for their precision and patience. Which also includes…

Three: Eliza. Watching her on the monitors at two o’clock this morning I was reminded forcibly how much I wished I were in bed – but also how strong, radiant and unmistakable her presence is. She’s someone who could coast on talent and never ever does. I love to watch her work. In fact, I think I got myself into this mess for that very reason, and though I have this fall occasionally sworn never to eat lunch with an actor I like again, I’m pretty pleased and crazy proud.

So what’s the Dollhouse heading to our TV screens this winter going to look like as a result of all this? Whedon explains the changes:

The original pilot was in fact thrown out. Again, at my behest. Once it became clear what paradigm the Network was shooting for, it just didn’t fit at all, even after I’d reshot more than half of it (see above re: despair). To get a sense of how completely turned around I was during this process, you should know there was a scene with Eliza and the astonishing Ashley Johnson that I wrote and shot completely differently three different times, with different characters in different places (actually I wrote it closer to eight times), and none of it will ever see air. Which is as it should be (though I’m determined to get Ms. Johnson back in the future). The scene just didn’t belong anymore. Similarly, the character of November has fallen out of the mix, because the show simply moves too fast now for me to do what I wanted with her. Season three, anyone…? Happily, Miracle Laurie is still with us in a new role, playing against (and pining for) Tahmoh’s character, Paul Ballard. Their chemistry is deeply nifty. The only other major cast shift is that the Dollhouse head of security, Laurence Dominic (played by Reed Diamond), who was written just for the now-defunct first ep, has stuck like fly-paper, and Reed is very much in the family for the present. (Most of my problems seem to involve my actors making themselves indispensable. This is the good problem kind.)

Apart from that, it’s all hush-hush: some things I’d intended to hold back are laid out much sooner, and some are rolling out more slowly. We’re still heading toward Tim’s intense two-part mind-blower – right before a thirteenth ep that may actually just be insane.

And finally, young Steve DeKnight, after writing and shooting an ep so cool it helped not only define the show but save its ass, is ending his consulting duties, the f#%&er. I will be crying on the shoulder of Jane Espenson come Monday, so congratudolences are in order. Excited for the Jane Flava.

As are we, Joss. As are we.

So, apparently the dealio is that everything kinda sucked for a while there, but not to worry, crisis averted. Everything’s just peachy now. We think. Hopefully.

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.

Bacon Bits: DR. HORRIBLE, LOST and more

– Can’t wait for Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog to go live? Dark Horse has posted a companion comic online, following the adventures of Captain Hammer, Dr. Horrible’s superhero arch nemesis.

– Reruns of Lost will air on Sci Fi Channel starting Sept. 15. Speaking of, watch out Oprah, ABC has launched a Lost Book Club.

– Keith Olbermann is reuniting with SportsCenter bud Dan Patrick for NBC’s Football Night in America.

– The Wire‘s Omar may get his own movie.

– Good news: Jane Espenson is writing the Battlestar Galactica TV movie. Bad news: Edward James Olmos is directing. And apparently it’s all about Cylons.

– If you haven’t seen them yet, check out these hilarious Hellboy/NBC cross-promotions featuring Chuck, American Gladiators and James Lipton. Rumor has it that The Office, Heroes, and Law & Order are next.

Whedon Reveals DR. HORRIBLE Master Plan

Finally, Joss Whedon fans have a premiere date for his highly anticipated series of web shorts, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-Long Blog.” Whedon unveiled the release plans for the supervillian musical in an open letter to fans:

ONE WEEK ONLY! AN INTERNET MINISERIES EVENT!

“Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog” will be streamed, LIVE (that part’s not true), FREE (sadly, that part is) right on Drhorrible.com, in mid-July. Specifically:

ACT ONE (Wheee!) will go up Tuesday July 15th.

ACT TWO (OMG!) will go up Thursday July 17th.

ACT THREE (Denouement!) will go up Saturday July 19th.

All acts will stay up until midnight Sunday July 20th. Then they will vanish into the night, like a phantom (but not THE Phantom – that’s still playing. Like, everywhere.)

Whedon goes on to say that the series will be made available for download for a small fee once all three parts have been published, and there are also plans in the works to release the series on DVD. More details will be unveiled at Comic-con later this month.

DR. HORRIBLE’S Teaser Trailer

At last, here’s a glimpse of Joss Whedon’s upcoming series of web shorts, “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog,” set to launch sometime this summer.

The cast and crew (including actors Neil Patrick Harris, Felicia Day and Nathan Fillion and writers Joss Whedon, Jed Whedon, Zack Whedon and Maurissa Tancharoen) will be participating in a panel at San Diego Comic-Con on Friday July 25. (That is, if the actors don’t go on strike and ruin Comic-con for everyone.)