Parallel Universes: Repeat Emmy Winners among Supporting Acting Nominees

Over the past couple of days, we’ve been exploring the question of how Emmy voters’ love affairs with a handful of shows or actors might create a sort of Emmy carousel, with the same few favorites winning over and over while others are forever kept off the ride. While there have been a lot of repeat winners over the past two decades, nine different women have won the Emmy for Lead Actress in a Comedy in the last nine years. Does this signal a new dawn of diversity for the Emmys?

We’re especially curious about how these patterns work for supporting categories. Not only are ensemble shows where all of the actors submit in supporting categories common (think Modern Family, for example, where everyone from Ed O’Neill to Nolan Gould submitted in the supporting category last year), but shows that center around a lead character, such as House or The Closer or The Office, are often successful because of the strength of their supporting casts. There are so many supporting roles and so many excellent performances in them that we often have great difficulty narrowing down these categories to just a few nominees. With so many possible nominees, repeat winners might be an even bigger problem in supporting categories. So–are they?

Supporting Actor in a Drama: 5% repeat winners, 5% multiple winners

I would have sworn on my grandmother’s grave that William Shatner had won multiple times, but nope–only Ray Walston for Picket Fences all the way back in 1995 and 1996. We have tons of complaints about who doesn’t get nominated, but the wealth certainly gets spread in this category, at least in terms of wins. And last year’s winner, Aaron Paul, can’t repeat this year because of Breaking Bad‘s broadcast schedule. So much variety might point to the popularity and quality of ensemble shows, with many deserving performances from which to choose. But since the Academy shows here that they can be eclectic, why aren’t they in other categories?

Supporting Actress in a Drama: 10% repeats, 15% multiple winners

In fairness, this is probably less balanced than it seems, as Allison Janney might have dominated for years if she hadn’t started entering in the lead category after winning here twice. Still, it’s much more balanced than the lead category, where 65% were multiple winners. I blame Blythe Danner, who won in 2005 and 2006, for blocking CCH Pounder, Chandra Wilson, and Sandra Oh, but mostly I blame her for foisting Gwyneth Paltrow on the world.

So far, it seems like things are looking up–there are many more winners in the supporting categories as compared to the lead categories, where more than three times out of five we’re getting repeats. Rather than greater numbers of terrific performances leading to greater numbers of actors left in the cold, the ensemble shows are producing a greater variety of winners. This might be plain old common sense, since there should be many more supporting performances to choose from than there are lead performances. That doesn’t mean the Academy would have to use common sense, though, so hooray for them. It’s all good from Diego to the Bay, right? Right?

Supporting Actor in a Comedy: 25% repeats, 65% multiple winners

Really? Really. Puzzling. This category is regularly at least as difficult to narrow down as the supporting actor in a drama category–let’s examine the possibilities this year. Aziz Ansari. Ty Burrell. Chris Colfer. Ted Danson. Charlie Day. Garrett Dillahunt. Peter Facinelli. Jesse Tyler Ferguson. Zach Galifianakis. Donald Glover. Ian Gomez. Neil Patrick Harris. Ed Helms. John Benjamin Hickey. Josh Hopkins. Ken Jeong. Nick Kroll. Stephen Mangan. Rob McElhenney. Nick Offerman. Ed O’Neill. Oliver Platt. Danny Pudi. Stephen Rannazzisi. Paul Scheer. Adam Scott. Atticus Shaffer. Eric Stonestreet. Brian Van Holt. Rainn Wilson. I know I watch too much TV, but that’s 30 excellent actors in excellent performances of excellent roles just this year–just off the top of my head. That doesn’t count previous winners who just aren’t to my taste (Jon Cryer and Jeremy Piven, for example), or probably good performances on shows I just don’t like (the Big Bang guys or the great Weeds ensemble), or good actors I just don’t think are getting good enough material (former nominees Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer, or Cory Monteith), or the fourth person from the same show who is great but doesn’t rank quite as highly as his brethren (Chevy Chase or Mark Duplass), or actors and performances I like that I’ve just never thought of in terms of Emmy quality (the guys from Chuck and Psych, for example). Add those in, and you’re up to around 50 actors off the top of my head who could have a justifiable claim on a nomination this year…and yet a handful of winners take home the hardware over and over (and over).

David Hyde Pierce won four times for his role as Niles Crane on Frasier, and Michael Richards, Brad Garret, and Jeremy Piven won three Emmys each. During those same years, actors who didn’t win included Jeffrey Tambor, Phil Hartman, Peter Boyle, John Mahoney, Bryan Cranston, Will Arnett, Rainn Wilson, and Neil Patrick Harris. Shoot, I can’t stand Seinfeld and I still feel sorry for Jason Alexander. And that’s just among the actual nominations, which also tend to circle around the same people over and over. With so many worthy performances to choose from, why is this category so stuck on the same winners over and over?

Supporting Actress in a Comedy: 25% repeats, 65% multiple winners

The same as their funny brethren. Double winners include Bebe Neuwirth, Kristen Johnson, and Megan Mullaly, while Laurie Metcalf and Doris Roberts won three apiece. While there has been more variety recently, nominees who never won in those repeat years include Faith Ford, Estelle Getty, Rhea Perlman, Janeane Garofalo, Jennifer Aniston (who finally won in lead), Kim Catrell, Wendie Malick, Cheryl Hines, Vanessa Williams, Amy Poehler, Elizabeth Perkins, and Jessica Walter. (And, again, that’s just among the nominees, most of whom were nominated multiple times.)

So…what the what? The idea that Emmy voters just get stuck on the same few winners, whether that’s because of buzz, comfort, or plain old love, makes sense, as the supporting comedy numbers are similar to those in all four lead categories. But then why are the supporting drama categories so different? The theory that the wealth will be better spread in supporting categories makes sense, too–the numbers for the drama categories suggest that when there are lots and lots of great possibilities, Emmy voters are capable of enjoying a large variety of performances. But then why are the comedy supporting categories so much different than the dramatic categories? Friend O’ Bacon Bgirl suggests that people who make TV have little time to watch TV and tend to vote based on buzz and social networks. Even though voting panels change annually, there’s probably not a huge shift in the overall population of Academy members from whom those panels are drawn from year to year, so that explanation makes a lot of sense for the categories that are stagnant–people vote for their friends or what they hear is good year after year without seeing other notable performances. But if that’s the case, why doesn’t it hold true for the supporting dramatic categories? We’d love to hear your explanations.

Sunday: Is this a problem? I mean, it’s not like According to Jim ever won for Outstanding Comedy. Maybe Academy voters just recognize the best quality, and quality doesn’t go away from year to year. But if stagnation is an issue, or if there are lots of high-quality programs and performances that could be equally honored, are there solutions to break away from repeat winners and spread the wealth?

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M Is for the Murders That She Ordered: TV’s Best and Worst Moms

Susannah is off being feted for Mother’s Day; I, on the other hand, am cheerfully/crabbily boycotting. This, then, seems the perfect Bacon nod to Mother’s Day: celebrating those TV moms who did it right and side-eyeing those who could have used a refresher. Or a visit from Social Services.

Let’s look at some heroes first:

10. Jules Cobb (Courteney Cox), Cougar Town: Heaven knows she’s a tad on the clingy side–we expect a whole episode to be built around Trav finding a NannyCam implanted in roommate Kevin. But when push comes to shove it turns out Jules knows when to back off (even if she doesn’t want to) and when to step in. What makes her a compelling candidate for the good list, however, is all the mothering she does of the Cul-de-Sac Crew that makes up her little constructed family. No one in the neighborhood is going without wine, advice, or hugs while Jules is on the job. (Well–maybe Tom.)


9. Isobel Crawley (Penelope Wilton), Downton Abbey: We love our PBS costume dramas, with Downton Abbey the latest obsession. Isobel Crawley’s progressive ways make her not only an encouraging, inspiring mother to reluctant heir Matthew, but, in the ways she’s searching out to let him be lord of the manor while keeping a toe in the career she’s so intensely proud of, the mother to a new age. Plus, she’s got the cojones to toe-to-toe with Dame Maggie Smith’s fearsome Dowager Countess of Grantham without even flinching.

8. Virgina Chance (Martha Plimpton), Raising Hope: Virgina might seem an odd choice, given that she gave birth at 16 and then raised a son for whom a Wal-Mart level job was a huge step up, but the pilot demonstrated that Virginia’s someone you want on your side. Between walloping the serial killer who would become the mother of her grandchild on the melon with a household appliance and tenderly singing said granddaughter to sleep, Virginia’s got all the mothering bases covered in her own way.

7. Jackie Tyler (Camille Coduri), Doctor Who: Jackie’s another tough initial sell–it certainly takes the Doctor a while to warm up to her. As her layers are peeled back, however, we find a fiercely protective Jackie who fought on after being widowed to raise a girl so brave and resourceful she can hold her own with a Time Lord. On top of that, Jackie’s observant enough to worry about how Rose’s journeys are changing her. “Let me tell you something about those who get left behind,” she tells someone perceived as a threat to her daughter and the Doctor, “because it’s hard, and that’s what you become: hard. But if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that I will never let her down, and I’ll protect them both until the end of my life. So whatever you want, I’m warning you, back off.” We’ll take Jackie’s tough love any day of the week.

6. Marge Simpson (Julie Kavner), The Simpsons: She’s brought down tyrants through the hearth arts (scotching Mr. Burns’ gubernatorial campaign with one well-placed entree). She’s shielded Lisa from the Simpsons Gene. For the love of Pete, she’s homeschooled Bart Simpson. Marge has given up a lot to put her kids first, but she might be rewarded one day by being the mother of a president. And Bart Simpson.

5. Patty Chase (Bess Armstrong), My So-Called Life: The anchor of a show that was too good for this world, Patty could bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and nurture Angela through all the heartaches great and small that come from just trying to grow up in this world. And in her spare time, she could do the same for Rayanne and Rickie. We wish Angela had been our friend in high school, mostly so we could hang out at her house and have Patty mother us.


4. Tami Taylor (Connie Britton), Friday Night Lights: If mothers are judged solely on how their kids turn out…well, they shouldn’t be. But if they were, Tami’d better hope Gracie Belle turns out well, because Julie Taylor is working our last nerve. But the Julie saga is actually a perfect example of why Tami’s a great mom–by turns sympathetic and demanding, she gives her kids all the support they need to succeed and then insists that they work hard to be all they can be. Then she does that for an entire town of kids. Add to that her example as a wife and professional (well, most of the time), and she’s top-notch.

3. Claire Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad), The Cosby Show: Claire’s the head badass in charge, and everyone in her house knows is. She’s head disciplinarian, head cattle prodder, head listening ear…she might be the #2 dance leader in the house, but you get the idea. To be fair, the dream life the Huxtable kids live has a lot to do with their socioeconomic status, but Claire is an equal partner in providing that, too. And she does it all with class, sass, and, yes, being a badass. If I could choose one of the moms to be instead of one of the moms to have, it might be Claire.

2. Sarah Connor (Lena Headey), Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles: Tortured, torturing. Shooting, being shot. Taking on the military-industrial complex to save her son, who will lead the glorious revolution against our robot overlords. Sarah’s not just mothering John Connor, people–she’s giving up her hopes and dreams, and maybe her own life, to save us all.

1. Lorelai Gilmore (Lauren Graham), Gilmore Girls: She may every once in a while be a little overindulgent, but Lorelai’s determination to give her daughter the childhood she herself never had sets off a cascade that starts with a teen mom raising her daughter in a potting shed and ends with Stars Hollow’s Most Beloved Girl Ever graduating from Yale. Along the way, we see one of the warmest, most supportive mother-daughter relationships ever shown on TV. We might want to be both Lorelai and the daughter she raised.

And to those moms you might not want to emulate:

10. (Tie) Lucille Bluth and Lindsay Bluth Funke (Jessica Walter and Portia de Rossi), Arrested Development: One makes her youngest son so codependent that when trying to escape her he mistakes the warning “Loose seal!” for her name and loses a hand. She then uses his prosthetic replacement in…happy times and leaves it in the dishwasher for him to find. The other merrily ignores her daughter until she wants to date said daughter’s high school boyfriend. The apple doesn’t fall far from the funny, funny tree.


9. Mom (Tress MacNeille), Futurama: On the surface, a sweet, bustled woman who just wants you to be happy because she loves you so much. Underneath the corset, a corporate overlord who just wants to suck the life (and all of your money) out of the entire galaxy. Don’t disappoint Mom–she might slap you. Or send her army of killer robots to express her displeasure.

8. Lianne Mars (Connie Bohrer), Veronica Mars: Imagine a mother who gives up every vestige of her old life, including being able to see or care for her teenage daughter, in order to protect that daughter from nefarious folk. A candidate for the best moms list, right? Sure, until she returns, drains her daughter’s college savings going to fake rehab, and then steals a very hard-earned paycheck on her way out the door a second time. Veronica became a better person with Lianne out of the picture anyway.

7. Colleen Donaghy (Elaine Stritch), 30 Rock: Highly critical. Ridiculously demanding. Acid-tongued. Unaffectionate (“Tell him his mother loves him. But not in a queer way”). The anti-matchmaker. And almost sure to bring all of these delightful qualities to the next generation (“I see you brought the bag…that my bastard grandchild will come in”). Like some of our moms on the best list, Colleen did the best with what she had, but now that she has more she’s happy to use it to keep twisting the knife.

6. Ellis Grey (Kate Burton), Grey’s Anatomy: It seems like we should have felt sorry for Ellis Grey, given that her career as one of the foremost cardiothoracic surgeons in the world was cut short by early-onset Alzheimer’s. And maybe we would have, if she hadn’t treated her husband with contempt, cheated on him and then pushed him out of their daughter’s life. Or expressed nothing but disappointment in Meredith, while spitting on her dreams at every opportunity. Oh, and then there was the time Ellis slashed her wrists in front of her daughter, just to manipulate a lover. Meredith drives us up a tree, but she comes by her crazy honestly.


5. Nancy Botwin (Mary-Louise Parker), Weeds: We’d like to watch this show more regularly, but we can’t get over the intense discomfort we feel when Nancy puts her children in grave danger not only because she’s running a weed business, but because she’s just so bad at it. We can understand being scared about losing her lifestyle along with her husband, but in what world did exposing her children to criminals and druggies become a better choice than downsizing and getting a crappy desk job?

4. Mags Bennett (Margo Martindale), Justified: Well, she’s all about family, you have to give her that. A rural version of the Godfather, Mags is willing to use anyone to further her Kentucky kingdom, and that includes selling out her sons, pitting her sons against one another, manipulating her sons, putting her sons in danger, asking her sons to commit heinous crimes…and if they don’t obey to her satisfaction? She smashes their fingers with a ball peen hammer. Sure, she feels deeply sad when things go badly for said sons, but you’ve also gotta suspect she’s got one of those poisoned mason jars set aside for everyone in the family, just in case the need should arise.

3. Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), Damages: Patty would like you to know that she loves her son very much, albeit in her own heartless, extremely demanding way. That’s why she lies to him about his paternity, disowns him, has all of his belongings removed from her home, attempts to bribe his pregnant girlfriend, and has said girlfriend arrested for statutory rape. At least she was pretty understanding when, in return, he tried to run over his mom with her own car.

2. Betty Draper Francis (January Jones), Mad Men: Look, I can understand how soul-killing it might have been to try to live the traditional roles that were imposed on women in the 50s and 60s. It’s not all the smoking and drinking and dieting she does while pregnant, or even the frequently administered spankings that make her such a bad mother, because, hey, it was a different time and who didn’t let their kids play with dry cleaning bags back then? It’s the fact that she allows her bitterness about her strangled life to manifest as resentment of her children. Most of the other moms on this list at least manage to pretend to show some affection towards their kids every once in a while. Not Betty. When she’s not ignoring hers completely or telling them to go away and watch TV, she’s shutting them in closets, telling them to go bang their heads against a wall, or force-feeding them sweet potatoes in front of her new in-laws. But perhaps the worst thing she’s ever done was petulantly fire Carla, the maid who was the closest thing to a loving caregiver those poor kids ever had.



1. Livia Soprano (Nancy Marchand), The Sopranos: She’ll probably end up on every bad mom list you’ll see, and she’ll even probably come in at #1 on most. That’s what happens when you compare your children to dogs, fake a stroke to manipulate the entire family, ruin your daughter-in-law’s relationship with her own family, make it clear you think your son will tire of his wife…yeah, Livia’s a peach. Until another TV mom tries to persuade family members to kill her own son, Livia’s likely to be the undisputed queen of the damned. Where’s the Hallmark card that says, “I’m Glad We Got Over Your Putting a Hit Out on Me–Happy Mother’s Day?” In Livia’s cold, dead hands, that’s where.

The Pusher and The User: WEEDS and NURSE JACKIE Premiere on Showtime Tonight

It’s Ladies’ Night on Showtime, with the return of Weeds and the premiere of Nurse Jackie. Weeds is sharp, brutally funny, and well-acted, and…we have a hard time watching it. Mary-Louise Parker is terrific in her role as widow-turned-marijuana dealer Nancy Botwin, but Nancy’s choices put her children in such horrific, dangerous situations that we have a hard time not wanting to call Social Services on a television character. Still, the lecture Nancy’s brother (the terrific Justin Kirk) once gave Nancy’s youngest son on…growing up…with a banana peel…is still one of the funniest things that television has produced recently, so if you can stomach the bad parenting, tune in.

Nurse Jackie, on the other hand, finds Edie Falco snorting Oxycontin to keep herself sharp enough to keep her patients out of danger. This pilot is by turns acerbic, heartbreaking, snide, touching, and clever, and it opens by quoting TS Eliot, so I fell a little in love a little too quickly. Falco is so good (and this is coming from someone who could not handle The Sopranos and therefore never really understood the acclaim for its leads) I almost want to hand her the Oxy myself. She’s joined by a solid supporting cast that includes Peter Facinelli (Damages, Six Feet Under, Fastlane), Anna Deavere Smith (The West Wing, The Practice), and Merritt Wever (Matt and Danny’s PA on Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip). I’m terrified thinking that Nancy Botwin’s kids are going to end up in the emergency room, to the point where I’m not sure I can watch her show, but I’d feel a lot better knowing they were going to end up under Nurse Jackie’s tough, tender care.

Weeds season premiere tonight at 10pm Eastern and Pacific, followed immediately by the series premiere of Nurse Jackie, both on Showtime.

Strike Relief for MAD MEN, WEEDS

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Lionsgate has joined the list of studios to successfully negotiate an interim agreement with the WGA that allows the company to resume development of its film and television productions. This is good news for fans of Weeds and Mad Men, both of which are part of the Lionsgate stable. So while the writers strike may end up pushing back the return dates of a lot our favorite shows, we can sleep comfortably knowing that Don Draper and Nancy Botwin will back to their old tricks on schedule.