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?

THE UNUSUALS “One Man Band”: For Want of a Waterfall of Milk

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The UnusualsM*A*S*H-laden DNA gets even more obvious this week, as they rip off the Sheldon Keller-penned classic “For Want of a Boot”. The 4077th nuttiness goes something like this: Hawkeye badly needs a new pair of boots. The boot provider will trade the footwear for a finagled dentist appointment; the dentist will squeeze in the boot provider for a pass to Tokyo; Henry will only give the Tokyo pass if someone will get Margaret to leave him alone; Houlihan will only lay off if Hawkeye will get a cake for Frank’s birthday; Radar will only cough up a cake for a date with a nurse; the nurse will only step out for a hair dryer; and Klinger, who has a hair dryer…well, if you watched M*A*S*H, you know what Klinger was wearing those high heels to get. Guess who doesn’t get any boots.

Fast forward 35 years to The Unusuals‘ 2nd Squad, where Shraeger is getting pressure from society friends to spring a kid who made the mistake of engaging in public and drunken urination…on a cop’s shoes. The dampened cop doesn’t want to drop the charges…but he will if Shraeger can get him out of a Friday shift. His commanding officer is willing to do Shraeger a favor…as long as she can get her new partner to cough up a trophy Walsh “stole” back in the day (the dispute behind the trophy lies in how long someone must keep a gallon of milk down his gullet before it counts as having been legitimately drunk in one sitting). Walsh extracts a variety of favors before relinquishing the trophy. Unlike Hawkeye, Shraeger gets her objective–only to find she’s just sprung an iron-clad suspect in an unrelated hit and run case–and that the person pulling the strings was her father.

I’m enjoying several things about The Unusuals–Banks and Delahoy’s murder store plot managed to be both amusing and sad–but this recycling of plots done better in the original sources, such as the pilot’s borrowing of the copy machine/lie detector gag from Homicide: Life on the Streets, is worrisome. All shows–procedurals, sci fi, soaps, you name it–are recycling plots at this late date in human storytelling history, but these are such memorable plots that they draw attention backwards instead of forwards. On the other hand, the devil is in the details–ripping off a M*A*S*H storytelling device never stopped Aaron Sorkin from giving good letter in Sports Night‘s “Dear Louise” or The West Wing‘s “The Stackhouse Filibuster”. Given the ratings, I’m not sure The Unusuals will get a chance to show how well they can make those details their own.

Squee! It’s…

Squee! It’s Audrey Wasilewski tonight on Bones! In addition to having seen Wasilewski on fare as wide-ranging as Big Love, Mad Men, Eli Stone, Pushing Daisies (make a wish!), Gilmore Girls, Wonderfalls, Friends, and The Bernie Mac Show (wow), you’ve almost certainly heard her, as she’s an accomplished voice actor who’s done work on animation and video games alike. Come on–she was even Rosie O’Donnell in Queer Duck. Not to mention that she was Janice Trumbull, the White House staffer unlucky enough to love Star Trek in Josh Lyman’s general vicinity in That West Wing Episode Where Aaron Sorkin Really Ticked Us Off (you don’t even want to know about the Title IX ep. Seriously). Catch the adorable Audrey Wasilewski on FOX tonight at 8 Eastern/Pacific, 7 Central and Mountain.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA “A Disquiet Follows My Soul”: No One Elected Leo McGarry

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Well–Hot Dog’s got it going on. Who woulda thunk it?

One little fact like that isn’t a lot to cling to in a particularly confusing episode. Some of that confusion is the bad kind–the last shot we saw in last week’s episode was Tigh figuring out that his dead wife was the Fifth of the Final Five Cylons, yet we open this week seeing him holding hands with a Six as they gaze at the sonogram of their alleged Cylon-Cylon baby. Is he using his newfound Cylon projection skills to project Ellen onto Six? Or does he only obsess with Ellen when the plot requires it?

More serious, perhaps, and more fun is the confusion over the shift in power from Adama and Roslin, who are responding to despondency and mutiny in the fleet with jogging and boot-knocking, to Tom Zarek and Gaeta. Oh, Gaeta–he was always the brain of the Galactica, while Dee was the heart. With the heart ripped out last week, the brain isn’t doing so well, and a mutinous alliance is born. While we’re supposed to have faith in Adama and Roslin–they’ve gotten the Fleet this far–their curious combination of caring more about feeling good while trying to impose military will on the people without the consent of their elected representatives is creepy at best. Roslin threatens to put her resignation on Adama’s desk? How about handing it in to the Quorum, which was elected to govern? Adama says he won’t hand over the presidency to Tom Zarek? Since when was it his to hand over? It brings to mind Toby Ziegler’s furious reaction upon finding out President Bartlet had MS on The West Wing, wondering who was in charge and pointing out that the staffers who took power when the President had been shot weren’t elected by the people. It’s the same uncomfortable mix here–we know we should trust Adama and Roslin, and maybe their overall plan (such as it is–besides the sex, I mean) might even be the one we prefer. It’s certainly less racist. But the way they’re going about it is troubling, and even if we’re not sure Zarek and Gaeta would be right in the end, they’re not wrong about the threat of imposed military power. It’s upsetting and confusing–who’s right? Who’s wrong?–but in the best possible way. I do worry about Gaeta, though–much as Dee finally had so much stripped away from her that she couldn’t find a scrap of hope to hold onto, it’s painful to see the character who refused to see an election stolen driven so far that he’s willing to lead a coup. The Adamaites are doing the right thing in all the wrong ways, while the Zarekites go down the wrong road but for potentially right reasons. It’s hard to imagine this ending well (which is half the fun, of course), and that makes disquiet follow my soul.

BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS Return Tonight

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Dear NBC/Universal,

See, this is why The Peacock is a fourth-place network and why you will be purchased by the Sheinhardt Wig Company someday. Two of the most acclaimed shows in what passes for your stable these days (since you own the Sci Fi Network, too), Friday Night Lights and Battlestar Galactica, return with new seasons tonight. You also have new episodes of successful shows on another of your cable arms, the USA Network. So what do you do to profit from all of this corporate synergy? You make it impossible for viewers to sample all of your products in a timely fashion by scheduling things in such a way that all of your shiny new toys overlap.

People who live on the East or West Coasts have it best, since they can watch Friday Night Lights at 9 and then switch over to catch the first showing of Battlestar at 10. Of course, this means they can’t catch new episodes of Monk or Psych until midnight and 1am, respectively. And since people on the coasts are apparently all young and hip and beautiful, don’t you think they’ll be out at fancy nightclubs by then? You may have a fair question as to whether people who go to fancy nightclubs watch Monk, I’ll give you that. However, with everyone who ever loved The West Wing wanting to tune in to see Bradley Whitford get his bicycle stolen, you get some additional complications. But some of don’t live in New York or Los Angeles, and as a result apparently don’t exist. For us, the initial showings of Friday Night Lights and Battlestar Galactica are at exactly the same time. We could watch Battlestar at 10, but that overlaps with the new Psych. So we could watch Psych‘s initial showing and see Battlestar Galactica at 7 Saturday morning. Monk? Guess we’ll catch that Saturday night, nearly 24 hours late for a Brad Whitford sighting.

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Contrary to the Panthers’ pictured glee, that does not make us feel triumphant. I’m not sure if television has a new car smell, but some of the charm of TV is the way it is a shared experience, and if a chunk of viewers has to wait to watch until the new episode smell wears off, that removes them from the discussion and dulls the experience for them. I guess the schedule means we’ll eventually get to see everything, and we appreciate repeat showings that let us do that, we really do. And we appreciate additional platforms that let us catch episodes if we do miss them on TV, we really do. And I really appreciate the TiVo that helps keep track of all this and keeps things moving. But I WANT TO GIVE YOU MY MONEY, and you make it hard for me to hand it to you. Friend O’ Bacon Brayden joins the chorus of DirectTV viewers claiming the new FNL epsiodes are wonderful, and I’m dying to see the end of the Battlestar saga, so I’m willing to work pretty hard to hand you my money. But it seems very strange that you want to make consumers work to hand you their money. the fact that you don’t seem to want to take my money might explain why you’re in a position where you can’t afford to put scripted fare on NBC in either the first or third hour of programming and have handed the keys over to Howie Mandel and Jay Leno.

So enjoy your wigs–I guess I’ll be frying up some bacon for the Bacon at 6:45 tomorrow morning, because I’ll bet Battlestar is going to be great. Good luck tuning in, everyone!

Squee! It’s…

It’s a veritable smorgasbord of squee tonight on Chuck. Just having Carl Lumbly show up as Casey’s turncoat mentor would have made us happy, as we adore Lumbly for everything from Alias to Battlestar Galactica to Cagney and Lacey and EZ Streets (those were the days) to Justice League (he’s The Martian Manhunter’s voice, for heaven’s sake!). We admit we might love him most for arguing with Josh Lyman about slave reparations on a very special West Wing episode (ask Susannah why it’s so special).

But does Chuck stop there? Nooooo. Just as the BuyMore provides after-Thanksgiving bargains, Chuck piles on the awesome–Mommy and Daddy Awesome, that is, who are played by Morgan Fairchild and Bruce Boxleitner. Captain Awesome was spawned by Flamingo Road‘s femme fatal and Babylon 5‘s Captain Sheridan! Or Falcon Crest‘s femme fatal and Scarecrow (where’s Mrs. King?)! Or, or Chandler Bing’s erotic novelist mother and TRON! This truly is awesomeness at work, tonight on NBC.

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.

BONES and 90210: Are Two Episodes Better Than One?

On Tuesday night, I was scuttling around packing canned meat and candles into a backpack and racing for a fenced wilderness fortress. Not because yet more hurricanes are headed for the coast, but because the seventh sign of the apocalypse had appeared.

I was enjoying the new 90210.

And this is coming from someone who absoultely could not stomach the original (and has trouble in general with soap operas about the traumas of the rich and pampered–I could only make it as far as the mint green suit in this week’s Gossip Girl before I gave up in despair). But the dialogue was bouncy and the situations kitschy (drugs in a hollowed-out book! Dum dum duuuuuuum!) and the nods to the original hilariously cheesy. And watching Tristan Wilds, I could squint and almost believe that the saddest kids on The Wire made it out of the slums. It extended past my bedtime, leading me to put off watching the second half until the next day, but I was happily interested in finishing and therefore pretty surprised that the show was almost universally panned the next day.

When I saw the second half–which is really a second episode tacked to the first to create a super-sized premiere–I understood the critical roast. The zest brought by Rob Thomas and Mark Piznarski (the team behind the brilliant Veronica Mars pilot) left the zip code with them, leaving both characters and plot lines thinner than the actresses.

Curiously, the same thing happened during Wednesday’s season premiere of Bones. Setting a lot of the action in the UK livened up a pedestrian mystery (with Torchwood‘s much-killed Suzie, Indira Varma, and Doctor Who‘s lesser medical student, Oliver Morgenstern, in the person of Ben Righton to entertain the BBC junkies among us), and the long-awaited arrival of Angela’s husband provided some intrigue back at the Jeffersonian. The novelty wore off across two hours, however, with the shift to a new mystery feeling very much like a…second episode tacked to the first to create a super-sized premiere.

In both cases, we thought we were getting a treat–extra ice cream for being good kids. But in both cases, slowing down the pacing quickly deflated the excitement. If we’d seen only the first episode of 90210, would the CW have gotten a week of cheese-filled buzz instead of bad reviews? Would Bones fans be talking about whether Brennan’s new flirtation would come between her and Booth rather than the fast and inexplicable breakup between Hodgins and Angela if we’d seen only the first half? On the other hand, we fondly remember the one-two punch of seeing both parts of The West Wing‘s “In the Shadow of Two Gunmen” on the same night. Maybe all that means is that neither 90210 nor Bones (as much as we like it) is as good as The West Wing. But is there anything more to be gleaned here as to when to go for the two-hour premiere and when not to? Because we’d like to think we deserve extra ice cream sometimes.

“Why Would You Spend So Much Time Thinking About TV?”

This question has come up more than once. In fairness, it sometimes comes from people who can’t imagine spending so many words writing about anything (and heaven knows I run on sometimes), let alone TV. And the question comes as often as not from people who watch a lot of TV themselves but can’t imagine digging into the glowy stuff instead of just enjoying the high. It’s a fair question. Does popular culture–filmed and broadcast popular culture, no less–matter enough to be worth the time and effort it takes to think?

Perhaps the answer came tonight during MSNBC’s coverage of Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. Talking about his experience standing in Invesco Field and hearing the speech live, NBC’s Brian Williams said,

I’m thinking of two guys. I’m thinking of Tim Russert, our brother, for obvious reason. Because of the spectacle of it, because he’d love watching this, and because Mike Murphy might have been right tonight that this is going to be in large part perhaps a generational campaign. I’m also thinking of Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter, the legendary writer and creator of The West Wing on NBC, but also the screenwriter behind the film The American President. The line from this speech, ‘that’s a debate I’d like to have,’ is a one-off, direct lift from President Andrew Shepherd. This is part of the new cadence, and the new tone and the new language of American politics. It was personal that way. It was conversational. There were parallel constructions in this speech that come right out of the Sorkin playbook. And it’s kind of the pen and the style of Barack Obama.

Andrea Mitchell later said,

You guys also focused on the echo of Aaron Sorkin from that great movie with Michael Douglas and Annette Bening, and this [the convention speech] was the American president laying down the challenge to the older, established, very tough, popular in New Hampshire, in fact, the senator from New Hampshire [sic] Republican opponent.

A prominent American journalist just claimed that the guy who wrote Sports Night, The West Wing, and the much-maligned Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip created the new language of American politics. Another one just anointed a candidate the president based on that writer’s style and words. The TV Bacon crew’s obsession (unplugging the phone on Wednesday nights type of obsession) with The West Wing far predates TV Bacon itself, and that obsession was rooted in many ways in wishing American political life and discourse were more like what we were seeing on TV. We were seduced by the poetry and elegance of that new cadence, but also by the possibility that real ideas could be clothed in a cadence so glorious and invigorating that it was meaningful in and of itself. And MSNBC journalists essentially said tonight that the magic mirror of popular culture has tranformed into just a mirror, a real one. Maybe they’re overstating it (they’re perhaps pundits instead of journalists, which means overstating things is kind of their job). But if they’re even a little bit right, thinking about TV is worth the time and effort because the good stuff, the really, truly special stuff, creates new paradigms, new visions, new language. And those things create new worlds.