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?

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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?

To Be Competent Or Not To Be Competent: NBC’s Loveable Comedy Losers Take On Fox’s Intrepid Investigators

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It’s the first huge night of the new fall season, with season premieres of several returning shows and the bow of a notable newbie. Hope you’ve got a quad-tuner DVR, because there’s a lot to see tonight. All times listed below are Eastern and Pacific, so if you’re like me and don’t actually trip the light fantastic in LA or NYC, count on your TiVo to help you add or subtract an hour. The TiVo is smarter than we are anyway.

You could tune in to the loveable losers on NBC’s strongest night, where even the characters who manage to do something right usually spiral gently downwards. Uneven Amy Poehler vehicle Parks and Recreation, where the failures occur regularly and have yet to be terribly funny, returns at 8:30. It’s followed at 9pm by its much more successful sibling, The Office, which promises an episode in which Michael causes an awkward situation that is resolved by Pam saving the day. Isn’t that essentially every episode of The Office? Doesn’t matter–with characters so engaging and writing so dry, we’re willing to go along for the same ride a few times. The Office is followed immediately by the debut of Community, a comedy in a similar single-camera, vertias vein, starring the delightfully snarky Joel McHale (The Soup) as an attorney whose license is pulled until he gets a real college degree. In addition to being in the middle of a promising set-up, McHale is supported by luminaries ranging from The Daily Show‘s John Oliver to Ken Jeong (Party Down, Role Models) and the legendary Chevy Chase. Here’s hoping the earn an A+.

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If the cavalcade of failure gets you down, you might prefer the return of the ultra-competent investigators on Fox. Many Bones fans (8pm) seem to be hoping that the show actually returns to competently solving mysteries after an odd detour into tumor-induced hallucinations. While the creators have promised more of the budding Booth-Brennan romance (pushed along by guest star Cyndi Lauper!), if you want to get your geek on this show has one of the highest science-to-silliness ratios on TV. Things get more serious with the return of the rejuvenated Fringe at 9pm. We weren’t terribly convinced by early Fringe episodes, but the show hit a groove later in the season and had fun, juicy cliffhangers. It might be difficult to keep the various timelines untangled, but both Joshua Jackson and Anna Torv have improved, making acceptable foils for John Noble‘s inspired wackiness.

If FBI agents aren’t your thing, you might check out a new season of Survivor (8pm on CBS), which moves to Samoa. I personally don’t think of Samoa as “off-road” enough for Survivor’s needs, but I suppose they could find a mile of isolated beach somewhere and limit their adventures to that. And the castaways tend to be neatly divided between loserdom and competence, so you can get it all in one classic reality show. Finally, you could always check out the Brothers Winchester on a new Supernatural. They’re pretty darned competent, considering their job is dispatching demons and other things that go bump in the night, but they do tend to suffer a bit from the Peter Principle. Snuff a demon, release Lucifer into the world–who knew that could happen? You can catch Supernatural on the CW at 9pm, putting it right up against The Office, Community, and Fringe. Be kind to your fine feathered DVR–you’re gonna need it.

PARKS AND RECREATION “Pilot”: Few Have the Will to Prepare to Win

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So sayeth Bobby Knight, current Guitar Hero pitchman and poster on the wall at the Pawnee, IN, government offices. Leslie Knope, however, has the will to prepare to win–the question is whether you want to watch her try.

I’ve been accused of attending town hall meetings merely for the entertainment value. This accusation is 100 percent true. I have even stopped at the store to get peanut M&Ms on the way to the aforementioned town hall meetings because all entertainment deserves snackies, and they don’t sell popcorn or Cracker Jacks in public forums (they totally should–they could fund new parks!). I think my favorite memory from one of these meetings was seeing an old man screaming, “Stifle! STIFLE!” at a sitting Congressman. Good times. Parks and Recreation is going to have a hard time topping that kind of hilarity, even with Loudon Wainwright III threatening to list Laura Linney’s shortcomings.

But it might get better. Parks and Recreation is famously from a lot of the same people who make the US version of The Office, and it shows–the same documentary style, the same earnest kinds of characters. In fact, P&R is very much what The Office would be if Toby Flenderson really, really cared about Dunder Mifflin and Michael Scott had a poster of Bobby Knight hanging on his wall. P&R has something else in common with The Office–the pilot wasn’t particularly funny. There, I said it–the pilot for The Office didn’t have a lot of laugh out loud moments. Neither did Parks and Recreation, but it did have snarky coworkers, obtuse bosses, and a lead character who will kill herself trying to change the world with her smile and a hard hat. With a similar pedigree, a similar setting where the mundane becomes the ridiculous, and a similarly talented cast (Amy Poehler, Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, and yes, NBC, I would date Aziz Ansari, thanks for asking), why not give Parks and Recreation a chance to blossom into something in the same ballpark as The Office? I actually did laugh out loud at the idea of do-gooder Leslie drunk-faxing people fruit roll-ups, so I’m willing to come back for another serving next week. The second episode of The Office? Was “Diversity Day”. If P&R can come up with something that uncomfortable and funny, they’ll be fine. Fingers crossed they don’t fall into a big hole instead.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency: More Tea, Please!

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Pop quiz: If you were HBO, and had burned through season after season of violence and profanity on The Sopranos, Oz, Deadwood, and The Wire, what show would you commission to take the slot of the somewhat violent, profane Big Love? If you said The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, you would be correct. If you are surprised by that answer, you would also be correct. Parachuting Precious Ramotswe into the land of Tony Soprano, Al Swearingen, and Omar Little seems…odd.

This is a show, after all, that essentially opens with an adorable, brilliant girl who has a meerkat sitting on her head and closes with clever animation over the end credits. The lead character is besotted with her country of Botswana and just wants everyone to behave in a manner befitting that motherland. She solves the case of an imposter father with a nurse’s uniform and the threat of a transfusion, and the case of a missing child with a cake (well, sort of). Steve Buscemi slamming a stripper’s head into a curb, this is not.

And thank goodness for that, because Mma Ramotswe deserves a television landscape all her own. Jill Scott, perhaps better know for her singing career, is excellent as our No. 1 detective, who has left an abusive husband and used her late father’s legacy to start a new life. She’s hard-nosed and soft-hearted by turns, and not above being nosy and heartsick as the situation requires. Perhaps even better is Anika Noni Rose (Dreamgirls) as Mma Makutsi, the new secretary who set an all-time high on her qualification exam. The stellar scene between the two where Mma Makutsi grimly explains that she regularly loses out on jobs to prettier, but less able, secretaries and Precious instantly understands what Mma Makutsi’s’ life has been like makes clear the differences between The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and HBO’s previous shows: this is a woman’s world, with a focus on women’s lives, women’s problems, women’s anger and desire and understandings. And these particular women are going to clean up the neighborhood.

A charming and lovingly photographed neighborhood it is, too, with Botswana being a compelling character in the drama. The show does not move at a snappy pace (I predict said pace will be criticized hither and yon by people used to more murder in their crime shows), and that would have been true even without the gentle hand of (the late, great) Anthony Minghella, who directed the pilot and wasn’t exactly known for moving a story along at a fast clip. The pace reflects the setting, creating a storytelling flow unlike anything else on television today. There are still plenty of laughs (Mma Makutsi’s running commentary from the outer office); there is still plenty of menace (provided by the boatload in this episode by the terrific Idris Elba [The Wire, The Office]); there is still romance (between Precious and neighborly mechanic JLB Matekoni [Lucian Msamati]) and mystery (where was that finger really lost?). Those things just unfurl at the pace of life instead of with a craggy white guy poking them in time to bad techno music on CBS.

So make yourself a cup of bush tea and settle in to watch Mma Ramotswe solve cases of claimed paternity, cheating husbands, and missing children–this focus on the ways real women’s lives get caught up in loss, confusion, and mystery translates across all continents. Sunday nights on HBO, with reruns throughout the week.

CHUCK Returns Tonight with Surprisingly Super Bowl-esque Gimmick

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It was a little surprising to see The Office get the plum post-Super Bowl slot, which has often been used as a springboard to promote the networks’ new darlings (granted, this hasn’t always been true–NBC gave the slot to that little show Friends once, and Fox recently handed it to House). The Office used the opportunity to great effect–their less-than-subtle cold opening was perfectly designed to pull in post-Super Bowl viewers new to the show, and it made this long-time fan laugh harder than I have at the show in quite some time (I demand a “Save Bandit!” t-shirt),

It still seems, however, like this was a slot made for Chuck, a show whose backstory isn’t too inaccessable to viewers who have been drinking beer all day (hi, Heroes), that’s loaded with likable characters and good jokes, that has action and soft-focus lenses pointed at a hot blonde for the male component of the football audience, and that could use an audience boost. The 3-D gimmick also seems like the kind of thing that would have tied in better to the Super Bowl hoopla than into a Monday night. I guess I was supposed to get some 3-D glasses somewhere, although I haven’t been able to find a pair (and I was looking–do you need 3-D glasses to find them?). I guess I’ll  just watch and be dizzy (maybe that will just be the effect of guest star Dominic Monaghan, who amuses me). Is anybody running this network?

In better news: Chuck is back! (So are Heroes and Medium, but we don’t care so much about that.)

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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LIFE Makes AFI’s Top Ten of 2008

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NBC’s Life received its first ever awards attention Sunday when the American Film Institute announced its top 10 TV programs of the year. The other television honorees (which include series, telepics and minis) are Breaking Bad, In Treatment, John Adams, Lost, Mad Men, The Office, Recount, The Shield, and The Wire.

Conspicuously missing from the list is award-darling 30 Rock, as well as other frequent nominees Entourage, Weeds, Damages, Dexter, and House. AFI awards are selected by a 13-person jury composed of “scholars, film artists, critics and AFI trustees.” Creative teams for the selections will be honored at a luncheon on Jan. 9 in Beverly Hills.

NBC Comedy Christmas: If You’re Going to Decorate the Drunks, Please Have a Fire Extinguisher Standing By

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Who would have guessed that the entry in NBC’s comedy lineup that has put shards of glass in an old man’s eye and married a berry-addled guy off to a raccoon and used crotch-focused heat-vision cameras to catch cheaters would be the one that actually gets Christmas?

What did we learn on The Office this week? Angela is sleeping with Dwight (which the viewers knew) and you can’t check a drunk into rehab against her will. Given that I was in fact questioning the teachings of the Mormon Church (and every other major world religion) not after having a drink but while missing this Thursday lineup to see a surprisingly limp Christmas performance by the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, Princess Unicorn’s horn piercing the sky restored my faith in funny but did little to restore my faith in Christmas. What did we learn on 30 Rock? Lonely white ladies and traumatized executives will ruin Christmas every time (although they can try to make up for it by singing a boozy rendition of “The Christmas Song”). A Tracy Jordan reference to Basquiat will crack me up every time, but Jack deciding not to murder his mother isn’t exactly “The Gift of the Magi”. Both shows were funny, and 30 Rock even had as sentimental an ending as they ever will, but the cynicism I so appreciate the rest of the year clashes slightly with the season.

It was My Name Is Earl that really got into the Christmas spirit, even if they lit exactly as many drunks on fire as The Office did. They’ve had brilliant Christmas episodes (mostly focusing on reuniting feuding families before), but “Orphan Earl”‘s message that being generous to people who have hurt you is liberating cuts right to the heart of the season. The morality police often draw a bright line between “naughty” and “nice” TV by excoriating anything that addresses sex or incorporates swearing but giving a pass to empty sitcom garbage that tarnishes souls and makes people stupider just by shooting low. My Name Is Earl, which had a sex-for-money transaction as part of a scam last night, blows up that kind of simple-minded categorizing by keeping the Christmas spirit alive all year long (or at least from September through May).