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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Cherry Jones Front-Runner for 2012 Presidential Election: Emmys 2009

I’d folded this into the Andre-Braugher-Is-Fabulous-And-Will-Be-On-House post, but the more I think about it, the more annoyed I get. I think I’ve figured out my problem with the Emmys–it’s that they have neither rhyme nor reason. (Perhaps that is why they used John Hodgman as an announcer, which was genius.) If we could always say, “Well, the Academy skews old, so of course they’ll take the wonderful Little Dorrit over the equally wonderful but very different Generation Kill,” we could make sense of their world. Or if it were, “Well, they’ll always take a star in another medium over someone who mostly does TV, hence Glenn Close, Toni Collette, and Cherry Jones,” we could impose some order. But when you see Kristin Chenoweth honored–HOORAY–90 seconds before Jon Cryer is also victorious–er, what?–it’s dizzying.

Much, much, much worse, however, were the omissions from the In Memorium segment. I’m sure I’m overlooking important people, too, but I can’t help but be a little miffed that they couldn’t be bothered to include Andy Hallett and Kim Manners. Particulary given that Manners was an Emmy nominee. Four different times.

Equally classy was the use of Bear McCreary’s astounding Battlestar Galactica score over the clip package on how wonderful television dramas were this year. Very few people love the BSG score more than I do, but it stings more than a little bit that this music was good enough for their broadcast but not good enough to win an Emmy. Or, you know, be nominated. I mean, it’s not like the score was written by manatees or anything, so I guess I can see why it wouldn’t be good enough to be considered for an award. 

And yet…Chenoweth. Michael Emerson was a deserving winner. Bryan Cranston’s delight will never get old (although I’m starting to feel uncomfortable for Hugh Laurie). Perhaps the most fun all night (with the exception of Hodgman) was the original song winners noting dryly that the producers probably expected a little more Justin Timberlake for their money, which makes me want them to win every year. Why can’t the Emmys make any sense?

RIP Kim Manners

Mulder and Scully clutching hands after being unearthed from the tendrils of a giant killer fungus. Mulder finding new ways to stumble around his soaked apartment as he loops through a terrible version of Groundhog Day. Giant hearts made of ice falling from the sky. Michael McKean and David Duchovny playing each other (and dancing!). Mulder hallucinating that his parents handed his sister over. A wedding ring that looks like a castle and an erased letter. The revelation that Scully has cancer (and oh, that one hurts today). Mulder trapped under chicken wire, the Black Oil dripping onto his face. The origins of the Lone Gunmen. Inbred brothers dragging their armless, legless mother out from under a bed. Roaches, roaches, roaches. Corpses encased in clay. Lucy Householder drowning in the back of a police car to save a kidnapped girl (Jewel Staite!). Giovanni Ribisi and Jack Black watching car wrecks. A Satanic substitute teacher making a small town eat itself alive. And a circus community at the mercy of the Fiji Mermaid.

If you’re an X-Files fan, some of your favorite moments were directed by Kim Manners, who also directed episodes of Supernatural, The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr, 21 Jump Street, and Simon and Simon, among others (you can see him directing Gillian Anderson in eating a cricket above). Manners, who died in Los Angeles Sunday of lung cancer, blew open the X-Files world with “Humbug”, expanded the visual look of the show, and guided the actors to some of the best performances of the series. Pull out your favorite X-Files (or Supernatural, or Sledge Hammer!, or even Baywatch) episode, which Manners may well have directed, in tribute, and when you’re done with that one, watch “Jose Chung’s ‘From Outer Space'” and enjoy the character named in his honor, the hard-swearing Detective Manners. Just as Jose Chung says about Detective Manners, film crews up and down the West Coast were familiar with Director Manners’ colorful vernacular, too, and they loved him for it. He will be missed.

Squee! It’s…

We’ve had a hard time getting squee-y around here over the past few days, but it’s nice that it’s a much-loved science-fiction drama connection that brings us back to squeeage. Squee–it’s Melinda McGraw on CSI: Extra Spicy (Miami) tonight! McGraw has appeared in everything from The West Wing to Mad Men to Bones and Saving Grace and Desperate Housewives. We want to give her a big hug, however, for being Dana Scully’s sister on The X-Files. We wanted to believe, too, Melissa. Sorry about that bullet and all.

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.

FRINGE: So, Pacey is Scully…

I’ve been burned by J.J. Abrams before. The pilot of Alias was a hoot, but the series fell into the realm of the ludicrous by the end of the first season. The pilot of Lost was so much fun I spent my flight the next day imagining who would help me stitch up our fellow passengers and who we would eat, but the show has been a roller coaster ride since (thank goodness last season was an up). I’m not sure what this means for Fringe–since the pilot was a little slow and derivative, will it be in the toilet by the end of the year, or will it have room, free of hype and expectations, to breathe?

The show gets off to an eyebrow-raising start, not because of the airline passengers (here we go again) whose faces are melting off, but because it is so very reminiscent of its superior progenitor, The X-Files. They even use a handprint in the credits and break out the super-powered flashlights. This time around, the troubled FBI agent who believes in the possibilities of the impossible is a woman (newcomer Anna Torv, who, depending on the lighting, looks either like Cate Blanchett or Laura Prepon). The science-genius skeptic is a man in this version, and a gambling addict to boot (Joshua Jackson). The superscientist (and the skeptic’s father) who provides the key insights to their cases was driven mad by his forays into fringe science, meaning Mulder and Scul…er, Dunham and Bishop have to babysit the over-the-edge combination of Frohike, Byers, and Langley. Their version of Assistant Director Skinner might actually be the Cigarette Smoking Man (Lance Reddick of Lost and The Wire). Their version of The Syndicate is a super-corporation run by a woman with a robotic arm. And they revealed their Krycek awfully early in the game.

Also, there is a cow.

The best part (aside from the cow) is John Noble‘s (The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King) nutty professor. While the pilot had nice production values and an Abrams-esque twist, it lacked humor aside from Noble’s attempts to interact with the world outside his mental institution. While Jackson was woeful in this episode, perhaps suggesting he is miscast, he did have some truly atrocious dialogue to sell. If the writing for his character settles in, the relationship between Dunham!Mulder and Bishop!Scully might rise to be nearly as interesting as the senior Bishop’s tenuous hold on reality. They shot frighteningly high right from the top, though–it took even the notoriously reckless Mulder four full seasons to undergo experimental craziness to access untapped regions of his brain. Dunham went for it in the pilot. Where can you go from there?

Still, we have such a soft spot for The X-Files (and for Abrams, who weaves a fun yarn and looks like he could shop in the juniors section) that we’re willing to see where this ride takes us, at least for a while. If the cow turns out to be Dunham’s long-lost sister, however, we’re gone.

DOCTOR WHO “Midnight”: Curious Doctor Chose to Linger

I love a good submarine episode–a story where people are bottled up in a small space. The great early X-Files episode “Ice” and The West Wing‘s “17 People” are similar to this week’s Doctor Who entry, “Midnight”, in that trapped people are forced by an external entity to eat their own paranoia and turn on one another. Good times!

Writer Russell T Davies makes clear parallels to a society willing to give up freedom for security by having the terrified Crusader passengers turn on the people least like them. More interesting, however, is the way he bottles the Doctor up and turns his own pattern for modern-day Doctor Who on its ear, inverting everything we’ve seen for the past four years. For starters, the Doctor and his companion actually make it to where they intended to go–and it’s a holiday. He’s not lonely, for a change–he knows Donna will be there, waiting for a dinner that will require a bib. All of that happiness alone should tell us that everything is inside out on planet Midnight.

There are bigger inversions coming, however. So much of Doctor Who, at least in the Davies era, is about people around the Doctor finding the ability to sacrifice for something greater than themselves. It’s a considerable shock, then, when this entire bunch goes feral, and does it immediately after the Doctor has delivered the kind of pro-human speech that usually inspires people to greatness. Humans aren’t adorable and strong, here–they’re cruel and xenophobic and thick and selfish. Even DeeDee, the best of the bunch, explains the way to throw people out of the craft, and the nameless hostess who sacrifices herself to save the Doctor in the end was the first to suggest murder as a possible solution.

And the truly scary part is that she may have been right all along. The Doctor’s typical insistence that there might be something of Sky left to save very nearly leads to his demise. Astounding performances from Lesley Sharp and David Tennant mimicking each other’s speech demonstrate this by not being perfect mirror images: we see terror and resistance in Tennant’s, indicating there’s something left of the Doctor fighting against the cold and the dark, but Sharp’s curious, animalistic, and, finally, assured take seems to indicate that Sky has left the building long before the Doctor is willing to give up on her. River Song claimed in “Forest of the Dead” that all the skies of all the worlds might go dark if the Doctor accepted that everyone dies, but if he had accepted Sky’s death and allowed her body to be tossed, would he ever have had his voice stolen? He might be just plain wrong, from the very beginning to the very end, a terrifying circumstance we don’t often see.

Every characteristic of the Doctor is turned on itself here. Davies and others in the Who camp note that the Doctor isn’t a superhero–he defeats enemies with his cleverness, not his ability to bend steel. When he describes his own cleverness here, however, it only serves to make his fellow passengers more willing to destroy him. His blithe, never-questioned pseudonym is instantly ripped to shreds, its falseness used to convict him. This most hyperverbal and hyperkinetic of Doctors has his voice and his will stolen. Curiosity gets the Doctor in trouble all the time, but it usually digs him out of that trouble, too; here, he cajoles the driver into exposing them to danger just to see something no one has seen before and creates suspicion by admitting he’s fascinated by what’s going on. He’s even drawn back into poking at Sky when he won’t let anyone else near her, both because his ego has been pricked and because he’s yet to work out what’s going on with her. All of this staring up from the abyss instead of down into it is deeply unsettling, making the bottled up, prosthetic-free, psychological horror of “Midnight” one of the new series’ best outings. If you can keep from getting the bone-deep shivers when Sky starts speaking before the Doctor does, or when the Doctor is copying the orders of his own demise, you’re made of tougher stuff than I am. Kudos all around for Sharp, Tennant, new-to-Who director Alice Troughton (who also directed “The Doctor’s Daughter“, so…nice comeback), and the lighting and sound departments who pulled off this tricky beast.

In the end, “Midnight” makes the case that both the show reboot and Donna have been making all along: the Doctor needs someone with him. He needs, as the quoted Christina Rossetti wrote, a friend

To cheer one on the tedious way,
To fetch one if one goes astray,
To lift one if one totters down,
To strengthen whilst one stands.

This makes the last lines of the episode, after Donna and the Doctor have been reunited, all the more haunting, as Donna’s “molto bene” (apparently Time Lord code for “all’s well that ends short of a holocaust”) evokes a protest from the Doctor that brings back fun memories of begging Rose not to try her hand at a Scottish accent or of telling Donna not to try on her posh at a garden party, but with every drop of light and playfulness drained from it. It’s dark and cold on Midnight, indeed.

(In other news, I wonder where that Lost Moon of Poosh is? And did I just hear him say “the Medusa Cascade”? The clues may not be subtle this year, but they’re fun.)

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s John Hawkes on a rerun of Without a Trace tonight! Hawkes is one of those delightful stories of a great character actor who you know you’ve seen before (in this case, in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X Files, ER, The Practice, 24, Monk, Profit…) getting a couple of big breaks at the same time. There was never enough Sol and Trixie on Deadwood, and I could have watched 10 more hours of Me and You and Everyone We Know, but I guess we’ll have to settle for a Hawkes fix from Without a Trace.

BREAKING BAD: Not Really Better Living Through Chemistry

breakingbad.jpg

AMC’s Breaking Bad joins a growing number of cable shows (The Wire, The Sopranos, Rescue Me, The Riches, and Weeds, just to name a few) that seem to challenge the reality of the American dream. Tony Soprano might have the lovely wife and the spacious house, but the price for that is occasionally having to kill friends and family. Cops, teachers, and politicians alike try to do the right thing on The Wire, only to be crushed under by the inexorable weight of powers and institutions bigger than they are. Maybe cable is taking the television place that William Goldman claims independent film holds: network shows give us the world the way we want it to be, while cable shows gives us the world as it really is.

The American Dream has skipped over Breaking Bad‘s Walter White (Bryan Cranston), too. He seems to be living a life of desperation so quiet that his day-to-day existence alone throws the Dream into question. The show asks a pretty pointed question–when a hard-working family man who could never get ahead in the first place is diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, why shouldn’t he start using his chemistry skills to cook the best meth in town and leave his family with the nest egg the meritocracy never granted him?

The show gives some pretty pointed answers to that question: start cooking the best meth in town, and you might find yourself being chased by your meth lab in your underwear while trying not to be killed by rival drug dealers. That’s…rough, and the show can be tough to watch. I’m not going to pull any punches here: someone’s getting dissolved by hydrofluoric acid on this show. And pieces of that someone are going to end up on the floor. And…wow. At the same time, human flotsam and jetsam provides both some of the funniest moments in this surprisingly witty show (Walter must dispose of a second rival because, as his addict partner reminds him, “the coin flip is sacred”) and some of the most moving (Walter’s recollection of the chemical components of the body is capped with the question of how the soul fits into that equation).

Vince Gilligan (you might remember him from such wonderful X-files episodes as “Paper Hearts” and “Small Potatoes”) brings all the threads of darkness, wistfulness, and biting humor from his previous work into full relief here. The real treasure, though, is Bryan Cranston, who is brilliant in bringing all of the shades of Walter’s increasing frustration, desperation, and mortification to the screen. AMC is showing a “marathon” of the first three episodes tonight (starting at 8pm EST), so I don’t want to spoil anything for those of you new to the show, but Cranston created more shock and awe more with a single tear in the most recent episode than any other show has created this year. Check out the marathon tonight for some high-quality drama–but eat your dinner beforehand.

Squee! It’s…

It’s been hard to be happy about TV happenings since the strike began, so naturally it took a blast from the past like Nicholas Lea showing up on Men in Trees tonight to jumpstart the tube love. I’m not so much for Men in Trees, but how can I turn down an appearance from the duplicitous Alex Krycek? Ah, early X-Files, before the show drowned under the weight of its own mythology. You might also remember Nicholas/Nick Lea from a stint on CSI: Original Flavor, Kyle XY, or the Canadian crime thriller Once a Thief; I’ll just be over here pulling out DVDs to relive the glory days of Mulder and Scully.