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?

Repeat Offenders: Consequences of Emmy Love Affairs

Ah, spring–when a TV watcher’s heart turns to Emmy consideration. Ballots come out on Monday, and since there’s nothing the Baconeers love so much as a good list (you may have noticed), said ballots whet our appetite. As much as we are sometimes frustrated with the Emmys–and oh, how frustrated we get–last year’s had some surprisingly great moments. Remember the murderous comfort food cookoff judge from the greatest Pushing Daisies episode ever? Eric Stonestreet has an Emmy now. How neat is that?  While we might gripe about who was excluded from nominations–wherefore art thou, Community and Friday Night Lights?–Modern Family and Mad Men were deserving winners. Huh. Maybe that adorable Jimmy Fallon-Glee opening just put everything in a more flattering light.

Bryan Cranston gives me pause, though. I love Cranston–I thought he was robbed of an Emmy for his Hal on Malcolm in the Middle, and his performance on Breaking Bad is a genuine tour de force. It’s certainly hard, then, to argue that he shouldn’t have won. At the same time, this was Cranston’s third win in a row, while nominees like Hugh Laurie–who, believe it or not, has never won for House–continue to languish unrewarded. While I’m not ready to ask Cranston to remove himself from contention this year (Breaking Bad‘s broadcast schedule takes care of that), it got me to wondering about how often the Emmys get “stuck” on one winner, and what repercussions that might have beyond the winner.

We looked back at the last 20 years, examining in particular three things: first, the percentage of repeat winners (winning in consecutive years for the same role or show), such as the Cranston example above. Second, we looked at the percentage of multiple winners (winning in non-consecutive years for the same role/show)–two lauded performances trading off wins across several years might block notable others from winning just as much as one repeat victor might. Third, we looked at who the other nominees were during years with repeat or multiple winners. Who is potentially being blocked from an Emmy when the Academy becomes obsessed with a single winner? If, for example, Frasier‘s multiple wins came at the expense of The Nanny, maybe that’s not a problem–maybe it’s justice.

Drama Series: 40% repeat winners; a whopping 75% multiple winners

While Mad Men has won the last three trophies, the most notable repeat winner in this category in the past 20 years was The West Wing. The show usually cited as a close second-place–or robbed, depending on your perspective–was The Sopranos…which won the Best Drama Emmy twice, so maybe things turned out just fine. In the past 13 years, however, only 6 series have won (The Practice, The West Wing, The Sopranos, Lost, 24, and Mad Men). Notable nominees during that time who never won? Six Feet Under, Deadwood, House, Grey’s Anatomy, Boston Legal, Damages, Breaking Bad, and Dexter. While I like some of those shows very much, and while I would have preferred to see some of them win in their nominated year(s) (hi, Deadwood), the repeat winners do look pretty strong.

Maybe the problem is in the nomination process: notable shows that couldn’t break the repeat stranglehold because they were never nominated include Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, Veronica Mars, and Friday Night Lights, among others. If repeat winners had to skip a year or took themselves out of contention, would genre spoilers sneak into contention?

Comedy Series: 30% repeats and 60% multiple winners

Two non-consecutive wins each for Murphy Brown and Everybody Loves Raymond (Except Me), but four consecutive wins for 30 Rock and five for Frasier (Modern Family‘s win certainly raises the question of whether Christopher Lloyd has the submission process dialed in). Frankly, I personally have more trouble with some poorly chosen one-time winners than these repeaters (Ally McBeal? Really?), but notable nominees who lost to repeaters include Scrubs and The Larry Sanders Show. On the other hand, I can’t feel that bad about Two and a Half Men.

Still, perhaps the problem is–again–in the nominating process, since Frasier and 30 Rock tended to beat the same competition over and over: Pushing Daisies, Gilmore Girls, and, perhaps most notably, The Simpsons were boxed out entirely during these repeat winner years.

Are repeat winners a problem, or just rewards for a job well done? Should the Academy attempt to spread the wealth more? What series do you think were most unfairly denied the gold by repeat winners?

Friday: But you were talking about Bryan Cranston and Hugh Laurie. Does the tendency toward repeat winners hurt individual actors more than series?

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s triple squee spotting on Lie to Me tonight. You may remember the rapture I experienced when Randolph Mantooth showed up on Criminal Minds a few weeks ago. Now his Emergency! partner in crime, Kevin Tighe, pops up as well. Roy DeSoto : Johnny Gage as Jon Baker : Francis Poncherello and Frank Hardy : Joe Hardy. You may also remember Tighe as the athletic governor Josh didn’t want entering the primary after President Bartlet’s MS was announced on The West Wing and as Locke’s no-good, kidney-stealing dad on Lost. He’s also appeared on everything from Leverage and the Laws and Orders, ER and Chicago Hope, to Freaks and Geeks. He’s joined by D.B. Woodside, aka Pretty Principal Robin Wood from Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He’s filled other positions of authority as a president on 24, as well as appearing in Numb3rs, Grey’s Anatomy, and Once and Again (and, heaven help him, Viva Laughlin). Both Woodside and Tighe were in the gone-too-soon Murder One, as well.

Finally, Jason Beghe is also in tonight’s episode. If you’re an old-school X-Files fan like I am, you might be looking at Beghe’s name and thinking, “That seems familiar. Did he date Gillian Anderson once upon a time?” But then you will remember that it was actually David Duchovny. Well, not that Beghe dated Duchovny, but that he kind of shoved Duchovny into acting. So we kind of have Jason Beghe (who has also appeared in fare such as Life, Veronica Mars, American DreamsMelrose Place, and Picket Fences, among many others) to thank for The X-Files. Of course, that means he’s also kind of to thank for Californication–you be the judge. You can catch Tighe, Woodside, and Beghe on Lie to Me on Fox tonight at 8pm Eastern and Pacific. Since ABC has bumped Scrubs and Better Off Ted to next week to accommodate the presidential news conference, you can even catch them with no guilt involved (unless missing the presidential news conference makes you feel guilty, too).

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.

Bacon Bits: THE CLOSER Spin-off, the BSG movie and More

• Spin-offs are in the air: Showtime is spinning off The L Word‘s Alice (Leisha Hailey) and TNT is plotting a spin-off of The Closer, although it’s unknown whether that one will focus on an existing character or a new one.

Arrested Development creator Mitch Hurwitz is developing a new comedy for CBS about a family that “loves too much.” I’m already excited, although I can’t quite imagine how it’ll fit into CBS’ current comedy lineup.

• The Cylon-centric Battlestar Galactica movie starts shooting Monday, with familiar faces Edward James Olmos (Admiral Adama), Michael Trucco (Sam Anders), Aaron Douglas (Chief Tyrol) and Dean Stockwell (Cavil), Tricia Helfer (Six), Grace Park (Boomer/Athena), Rick Worthy (Simon), Matthew Bennett (Doral) and Callum Keith Rennie (Leoben).

• Anthony Edwards will be resurrecting Dr. Mark Green in a flashback for the Nov. 13 episode of E.R.

• Fox has announced they’re working on a Buffy the Vampire Slayer massively multiplayer online game. Don’t tease a gamer girl now, ya’ll.

• Greg Berlanti continues his reign as hardest-working man in television–now he’s developing a sci-fi pilot for ABC with Rene Echevarria (The 4400, Dark Angel).

• More 30 Rock stunting casting: Gossip Girls Leighton Meester and Blake Lively are in talks to play Liz Lemon’s high school buddies in a flashback sequence.

Diary of a Completist

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Wandering through the living room and observing me grumbling at the TiVo while making sure a Season Pass was set for tomorrow’s season premiere of Torchwood (“Grumblegrumble why doesn’t someone just stab Owen in the face grumblegrumble if you’re such a super sekrit organization, why do you race around in a giant flashing SUV with your name stamped into the hood grumblegrumble”), my brother brought the entire proceedings to a halt with a single insightful moment: “If the show drives you that crazy, why are you watching it?”

Fair question.

Maybe I’m girding my loins to watch Torchwood (with that crew, you kind of need to go into things with your loins protected) because events in its parent show persuade me the main character will be fun again. Maybe its because writer (and recently named Law and Order: Piccadilly Circus showrunner) Chris Chibnall admitted that they miscalibrated how much they let the characters’ mistakes pile up, suggesting they won’t make the same miscalculation twice. Maybe it’s because James Marsters of Angel and Buffy fame is not only showing up to kiss Captain Jack–he’s showing up after having raided Adam Ant’s wardrobe. That is admittedly pretty persuasive.

The most accurate reason, however, is probably that I’m a completist. Once I’ve been sucked–suckered?–into a TV world, I have to know everything about it. I’ll read comic books or tie-in novels. I’ll scour the Interwebs for anything and everything written about that show, regardless of whether it’s a serious academic treatise on Buffy Summers as transgressive feminist icon or Melllvar’s fan-written screenplay. I’ll badger Netflix for DVDs of deservedly obscure entries in the writers’ or actors’ filmographies.

And thus: Torchwood. Forty-some-odd years of Doctor Who paraphenalia to sort through apparently isn’t enough–now I have to add Torchwood goings-on to the list, just in case they reference Doctor Who in some fashion. And sure enough–there’s a hand in a jar. More importantly, there’s Martha! They’ve marbled in just enough Whonalia to make me worry I’ll miss something important about the show I love if I skip the show I…tolerate. It works. And it’s unlikely to stop–it’s why I’m trying to get around work firewalls to check out Joss Whedon’s Sugar Shock. It’s why I had to persevere in listening to The Wire‘s Michael K. Williams on NPR, even though it took almost four hours thanks to thoughtless people who kept interrupting me and asking me to do, you know, work at work. It’s why I merrily hummed my way through old LPs (vinyl, people!) of Gilbert and Sullivan for a week after the West Wing gang welcomed Ainsley to the fold.

It’s an illness, but I suspect I’m not the only one suffering from it. So we need to form a support group, hope Torchwood really is better this season, or squat on facestabbersagainstowen.com. Votes?

PaleyFest08 to Feature BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER

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The upcoming William S. Paley Television Festival in Los Angeles has announced several new panels, including one focusing on cult fave Buffy the Vampire Slayer. No definite word yet on exactly who will be appearing on the panel, but odds are good that creator Joss Whedon will be there, along with at least a few former castmembers. Other series to be featured at the annual TV lovefest include Mad Men, Dirty Sexy Money, Chuck, and Dancing with the Stars.

The Paley Center for Media previously announced that the fest, scheduled to take place March 14-27, would include panels dedicated to Gossip Girl, Pushing Daisies, and Judd Apatow. The rest of the lineup will be announced Feb. 4, with tickets going on sale to museum members on Feb. 7 and to the general public Feb. 10.

Life, the Universe and Buffy the Vampire Slayer

Some people will tell you that television doesn’t matter. That it’s all self-serving crap, the lowest common denominator of mindless entertainment, and we should just say good riddance to those whiny TV writers and move on to more important matters.

I am here to tell you that these people are wrong.

Television does matter. Maybe it’s not brokering peace in the Middle East or feeding the hungry or solving the appalling shortage of Hannah Montana tickets in the world (come to think of it, television’s kind of responsible for the Hannah Montana Crisis), but it is, in its own way, making the world a better place (Hannah Montana aside). It’s made my insignificant little world better, anyway.

buffyphoto1.jpgThree years ago today, my mother passed away after a long battle with breast cancer. The time leading up to her death was a terrible one for me, filled with worry, fear, grief, and not a little guilt. And during those difficult days, the one thing that gave me comfort and strength—more than my friends or my family or a religion I’d never been able to subscribe to—was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Sounds a little silly, perhaps, but there it is.

You see, my mother’s illness happened to coincide with my discovery of Buffy in reruns on FX. And during the long, lonely days spent at my mother’s bedside, the one scrap of joy I could cling to was the promise of that next episode of Buffy waiting for me on the VCR. (This was during what I think of as the Dark Ages of Television, before I’d been indoctrinated into the ranks of TiVo disciples). On these days I’d come home from the hospital emotionally drained and mentally exhausted, no fit company for myself or my family. So I’d crawl into bed, turn on the TV, and lose myself in the story of the slayer who fell in love with a vampire. It may sound like a small thing, the comfort I derived from that hour in front of the TV, but believe me it was not.

It was just a TV show, but it made me laugh at a time when I thought I’d never find anything to laugh about again. It brought tears to my eyes—tears of both sadness and joy—at a time when I thought I had already cried myself numb. It showed me that people have an amazing capacity for strength, at a time when I felt weak and helpless. It reminded me that love is all around us, at a time when I felt bereft and alone. And it proved to me that there is magic in this world, at a time when everything before me seemed bleak and barren.

The universe is a big scary place for us mortals and sometimes life can be painful, or difficult, or mundane, or lonely. And in these times some of us turn to the stories on television for a little bit of much-needed solace, or hope, or excitement, or company. Television is important because it allows us to enter the lives of these fictional friends—familiar characters who enter our homes every week to make us laugh, cry, or fall in love—and, even if it’s just for a little while, our own problems don’t seem so insurmountable.

Such is the incredible power of story-telling.

Stories are integral to our very existence as humans. They illustrate our commonalities, point out our flaws, celebrate our triumphs, and bring us together. It is our need to tell stories that defines us and sets us apart from the other species on this planet, the very same need that drives us to create art, music, literature, film and, yes, television.

Every one of the stories we watch on television comes from the mind of a writer: an ordinary person with extraordinary imagination. Those writers deserve to be paid every cent they’re asking AMPTP for, but, more importantly, they deserve our respect.