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?

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Crimestoppers versus Lawyers: The State of Modern Television Folds Inward Yet Again Tonight

Three major premieres tonight, and all three reflect the current TV tendency to solve crime. Whether this is because we like the comfort of watching square-jawed heroes catch bad guys before we shuffle off to bed or because we like to unwind puzzles or because there’s something in the SAG contract guaranteeing the opportunity to play both a cop and a criminal to each and every union member, a large percentage of shows on every night focus on crime solving. Tuesday’s new offerings don’t offer much new–although they will claim they do–but they do offer some intriguing actors.

“You could watch Kelly Osborne do a bad salsa on Dancing with the Stars, or you could watch a star the likes of Linda Hunt–she alone makes NCIS: Boba Milk worth checking out.”

NCIS offers a cleverly named spin-off, NCIS: Los Angeles, which shall shortly be the recipient of a rude, fast food-based nickname. The NCIS franchise is a police procedural, but they’re Navy cops in some fashion, so that’s different. The cast is intriguing, however, anchored by unfortunate Robin Chris O’Donnell (less interesting) and LL Cool J (more interesting–as Mama told him to knock you out, I assume he’ll be delivering Mark Harmon-approved head slaps) and flavored by Oscar winner Linda Hunt (perhaps better known on TV for The Practice and Carnivale). You could watch Kelly Osborne do a bad salsa on Dancing with the Stars, or you could watch a star the likes of Linda Hunt–she alone makes NCIS: Boba Milk worth checking out.

ABC hands the DwtS lead in audience to the forgotten (yes, they’re avoiding capital letters), a show from the Bruckheimer stable in which a team of dedicated crimesolvers follows up on cold cases where “the forgotten” are unidentified murder victims who will be buried in a potter’s field unless they are identified. What makes the forgotten different from other, similar shows focusing on cold cases, like, I don’t know, Cold Case? The crimesolvers are civilians. Sure, that’ll make all the difference (and will likely make it so much easier to get information and evidence! In TV Land, that is). Said civilians are led into combat by Christian Slater, who, after his split-personality spy show My Own Worst Enemy failed, may have found he liked TV work. I’m not sure I want him on my TV every week, but I’m willing to be persuaded.

CBS volleys the Christian Slater serve with The Good Wife, a show that is much, much different than our previous two entries because it solves crime from the law side of the ledger rather than the order side. In addition, its lead character (played by Julianna Marguiles of ER fame), is not just a lawyer, she’s a politician’s wife. A dirty politician’s wife. Oh, and a district attorney, which means she may as well just wave across the aisle at Sam Waterston [edited: my bad; I read bad intell–she’s defending people pro bono! Maybe George Michael will start singing soon.]. Presumably this means we’ll be getting more detail about the intrepid crimefighers’ personal lives here, but do we want that detail in our tidy procedurals?  The Good Wife may not be blazing new ground, but it’s bringing a lot of firepower with a cast that is, at first glance, at least, more intriguing than the forgotten‘s : in addition to Marguiles, we’ll be treated to Josh Charles (Sports Night–yay!). Christine Baranski (Cybill, Welcome to New York), Matt Czuchry (Gilmore Girls, Friday Night Lights), Chris Noth (Law & Order, Sex and the City), and by far my favorite, Christine Willes. Yes, Dead Like Me‘s Delores Herbig (“her big brown eyes”) and Reaper‘s DMV demon Gladys is likely to bring more pep to these proceedings than the entire case docket. I’d tune in just for her. NCIS: West Coast Style on CBS at 9pm Eastern followed by The Good Wife at 10; the forgotten (still missing its caps) airs on ABC at 10pm Eastern.

Is There An Awards Show Tonight? 2009 Emmy Awards Allegedly Given

We’ve been trying to think of something to say about the Emmy awards–we supposely think about TV a lot around here–and we’ve got nothing. Susannah’s a lot better at accepting this than I am, but we’re just not well aligned with the Academy. We realized last year that we agreed with about 25% of the official nominees, and…that was apparently a good year. This year is no different: the lead actress in a drama category, for example, is just embarrassing, and expanding some of the major categories hasn’t expanded my affection for the possible winners (Simon Baker? Really? Really.). I’ve heard people say that the people who make TV don’t have time to watch it, and I’ve wondered if those busy voters just float toward the general zeitgeist. In the end, however, it may just be a difference of taste, and the Emmys don’t reflect mine.

Then again, Mariska Hargitay could win an Emmy tonight. Another one. So I guess the jury is out on that taste thing.

I just can’t get worked up about the Emmys, then, not even with the wondrous Neil Patrick Harris hosting (I’d call it a boycott, but I can’t care enough to work up that kind of umbrage). I hope Harris wins his category, and I hope he kills as host, but as soon as Kristin Chenoweth wins for supporting actress in a comedy–AND SHE HAD BETTER–well, the Giants and Cowboys are on NBC tonight. Who would you have preferred to see nominated?

THE PHILANTHROPIST: When Naivete Meets Arrogance

I’m a tiny blue dot in the midst of the reddest county in one of the reddest states in the US of A (thanks for overtaking us, Oklahoma!). I’m also a TV lover who is crazy about much of the oeuvres of both Tom Fontana and Barry Levinson (oh, how I miss Homicide: Life on the Street, for example). So I’m pretty much smack on the nose the target audience for The Philanthropist, a combination of action-adventure stories set in exotic climes and the tale of naive rich people (lead character Teddy [Rome‘s James Purefoy] and his friends/co-workers) coming to realize they could use their power and money for good. As Sam Seaborn once said in that great liberal wish-fulfillment show The West Wing, “Let’s forget the fact that you’re coming a little late to the party and embrace the fact that you showed up at all.”

And I’ve tried to be their audience–I’ve been trying for over a month now, because a show with that pedigree and that subject matter that also features Jesse L. Martin (best known for Law and Order: Original Flavor, but also much loved for being a baseball-playing alien on The X-Files) and Michael K. Williams (the great Omar Little on The Wire) should be pretty much my favorite thing in the world. Instead, watching The Philanthropist is like having someone read hectoring op-ed pieces at you. Since the show inexplicably uses a voiceover narration framework to explain the story as it unfolds, it is like having someone literally read hectoring op-ed pieces at you.

And these op-ed pieces are the worst flavor of the genre, as they combine the indignance of someone who, as an educated adult, ought to have known better discovering a social problem and screaming at everyone around them about it with the arrogance of someone who thinks their recent discovery of a social problem makes them superior to everyone else. A recent episode’s in-show commercial for sponsor Bing had Williams’ problem-solver Dax make the following astonishing statment when asked about troubles in Burma:

“Hellish. I’ll tell you, that place needs more help than what Teddy and I can give.”

Really. A rich guy and his muscle can’t waltz in and set straight in a week a country with a history of warring kingdoms, of being a British colony, and of being ruled by a military junta for nearly fifty years? Really? I’m shocked and disappointed at this failure–surely men of your poise and talents could have expected to unroll centuries of complicated political machinations. Why didn’t you just stay another week? The characters reflect the show–it certainly means well, but its own high opinion of itself is undercut by its slapdash approach. If this is what my neighbors think liberals are like, no wonder they dislike the whole crew. If only we could introduce them to Sam Seaborn instead.

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.

Squee! It’s…

Ooh, double squee tonight. The brilliant William H. Macy returns to ER in their continuing self-congratulatory parade of former stars (eh, they survived 15  years–let ’em have their parade. If it weren’t for Macy, we wouldn’t notice it going by anyway). Though perhaps best known for films such as Fargo, Boogie Nights, Seabiscuit, and Pleasantville, Macy’s won a boatload of awards for his work in TV movies like The Wool Cap and Door to Door and has been a guest on many well-known series. We, unsurprisingly, will always love him for stirring up trouble and then resolving it on Sports Night.

On Bones, Deirdre Lovejoy pops up as a US Attorney. You’ll remember Ms. Lovejoy not as part of the reverend’s family on The Simpsons, but from Eli Stone, Law & Order: Honey Barbecue Flavor, and the last great episode of The West Wing (“The Supremes”). We remember her most fondly, however, as another attorney: ADA Rhonda Pearlman on The Wire. Just thinking about her makes us happy, because Pearlman was one of the few characters who got an unobstructed happy ending (Cedric Daniels/Lance Reddick, rowr). She’s joining Bones for the return of the Gravedigger storyline; since that plot produced what might be the show’s finest episode (2006’s “Aliens in a Spaceship”), we expect all kinds of sparks to fly tonight. Bones appears on FOX at 8pm Eastern and Pacific; ER on NBC at 10.

30 ROCK, MAD MEN, CLOSER Top SAG Noms

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This year’s Screen Actors Guild nominations, announced this morning, seem to look an awful lot like last year’s SAG nominations. There were only a few surprises, among them well-deserved nods for Mad Men‘s Elisabeth Moss and Tracey Ullman’s State of the Union. Also, oddly, this is the first year that House has been nominated for an ensemble award by SAG.

The 15th Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards will be simulcast live on TNT and TBS on Sunday, Jan. 25, 8 p.m. ET/PT. Recipients of the stunt ensemble honors will be announced from the SAG Awards red carpet during a live pre-show webcasts.

A complete list of primetime television nominees is behind the cut…

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Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s Courtney B. Vance on ER tonight! I suppose one of the bonuses that comes with casting Angela Bassett as a regular is getting her talented husband to make an appearance as well. While Vance is largely known for his movie career (how much do we love Jonesy in The Hunt for Red October? Crazy Ivan!), you’ve seen him on TV before in thirtysomething, Boston Public, and as Law and Order: Barbecue Flavor (Criminal Intent)‘s district attorney. Strangely, he played a character named Bud Greer on Law and Order: Original Flavor and one named Warren Grier on Picket Fences…in the same year. Here’s hoping his ER character is a Greer, too.

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.

Bacon Bits: THE EX LIST, EARL and More

CBS has dropped The Ex List from its schedule, making it the ex-Ex List (har har). Other casualties of the season so far include Fox’s Do Not Disturb and Hole in the Wall, and ABC’s Opportunity Knocks.

The Battlestar Galactica diaspora continues: Katee Sackhoff will guest on Law & Order Nov. 5 and Mary McDonnell will appear on Grey’s Anatomy starting Nov. 13.

Is the wobbly economy saving low-rated shows from cancellation? And does this mean that underperforming Bacon favs Life, Chuck and Pushing Daisies have a chance after all?

• In case you were wondering how long it takes to grow Earl Hickey’s mustache, the answer is 5-6 weeks.

Entertainment Weekly remembers the 25 cheesiest syndicated TV shows.