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?


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.

NBC Revamps Its Wednesday Nights

NBC is filling up Wednesday nights with crime dramas, making it the first network to rejigger its fall schedule. The new Wednesday night block will premiere Nov. 5 with Knight Rider (staying put), Life (moving out of the Friday dungeon), and Law & Order (retuning to its old roost sooner than anticipated). The underperforming Lipstick Jungle (seriously, what isn’t underperforming on NBC’s schedule this season?) will move to Fridays at 10 p.m. Eastern.

“These moves will play to the shows’ mutual strengths and will help us to reinforce our lineup,” said NBC co-chairs Ben Silverman and Marc Graboff in a statement. “A Wednesday night with wall-to-wall satisfying mysteries and great dramas–paced by the return of the original Law & Order to its home on Wednesdays–will provide creative continuity that night. Fridays will feature escapist drama with Lipstick Jungle joining Crusoe.”

The Wednesday night jump suggests the network still has some faith in the critically acclaimed Life, which has lost a significant portion of its (already meager) viewership on Friday nights. Unfortunately, the move will put the struggling series up against the mystifyingly popular (and vastly inferior) crime drama Criminal Minds, which may not be doing Life any favors after all. At least on Friday nights no one expects you to perform well.

Bacon Bits: DR. HORRIBLE, LOST and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

Torchwood Producer to Helm LAW & ORDER: LONDON

Torchwood writer-producer Chris Chibnall has been tapped as showrunner for the U.K. version of Law & Order being produced for ITV. Chibnall, who will serve as executive producer of the new show, has also written for Doctor Who and Life on Mars, and was the co-creator of Born and Bred.

Law & Order: London will be produced in conjunction with Wolf Films and NBC Universal, and follows in the footsteps of French and Russian versions of the franchise’s Criminal Intent and SVU brands. Though based on scripts from the original U.S. series, the show will be retooled to reflect the ins and outs of the British legal system. ITV has ordered 13 episodes and it’s expected the series will eventually makes its way across the pond on one of NBC’s cable networks, such as USA or Bravo.

JERICHO, LAW & ORDER Return Dates Set


Jericho fans finally have a date to look forward to: February 12. Seven new episodes of the revived CBS show will air Tuesdays at 10 p.m., with a special winter edition of Big Brother serving as lead-in. Also returning to CBS is The New Adventures of Old Christine which, along with new comedy The Captain (starring Jeffrey Tambor), will fill in for The Big Bang Theory and Rules of Engagement on Monday nights.

Over on NBC, Law & Order Original Flavor returns with a two-hour season premiere on Wednesday, January 2. The long-running crime procedural was sidelined this fall, much to the chagrin of creator Dick Wolf, but will return with a few new castmembers. Joining the show are Jeremy Sisto as Detective Cyrus Lupo and Linus Roache as Chief Assistant District Attorney Michael Cutter. Cutter be will reporting to newly-promoted District Attorney Jack McCoy (Sam Waterston) who has replaced Arthur Branch (presidential candidate Fred Thompson).

One week later on January 9, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which was bumped to the USA network (where it has been performing well) will also return to NBC, making Wednesday nights a L&O double-whammy.