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?

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).

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.

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.