Historically, the TV awards show has had some strange blind spots
In 1951, when Red Skelton accepted an Emmy for best comedian, he blinked with surprise and said, “I think this should have gone to Lucille Ball.”
No one would have questioned Skelton's qualifications for the award, but there is also little doubt that many viewers and critics had been captivated by the rookie season of I Love Lucy, which would go on to become one of the most beloved shows in the history of American television.
So there was no surprise in 1952 when the Academy gave Lucille Ball her award and an Emmy to the show as the outstanding situation comedy.
I Love Lucy provides an example of how hard it is to handicap the Emmy Awards. In a medium that thrives on predictability and long-running popular series, the odds always seem to favor the most popular, critically acclaimed shows.
But like I Love Lucy, a number of hot new shows have had to wait until their sophomore seasons before winning the award for outstanding drama or comedy series.
EMMY'S BIG WINNERS
- Frasier (37)
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show (29)
- Cheers (28)
- Hill Street Blues (26)
- The Simpsons (26)
- The Carol Burnett Show (25)
- The West Wing (24)
- All in the Family (22)
- ER (21)
- NYPD Blue (20)
- Even though rookie cop drama NYPD Blue got a record 26 nominations in 1994, it lost out to Picket Fences for the top drama honor. The next year, NYPD Blue won the award by beating another hot rookie drama, ER, which had 23 nominations. ER, of course, got its revenge in 1996, when it walked away with the outstanding-drama-series award.
Other hot shows that were snubbed in their first year but won outstanding-series awards in their second include Seinfeld, Northern Exposure, Murphy Brown and Ally McBeal. The Sopranos, that HBO sensation, got 16 nominations after its first season in 1999 and was the talk of the industry but didn't win the outstanding-drama-series award until 2004.
So that means we should forget about new shows' copping the top honors, right? Well, not exactly. Several series shows—notably Cheers, The Cosby Show, L.A. Law, Frazier and Hill Street Blues—won top honors in their first seasons. For Cheers and Hill Street Blues, the awards turned both of those series—each of which had very low first-year ratings—into hits that formed the nucleus of what would become the first of NBC's Must See Thursday lineups, a night NBC owned for the next two decades. NBC's entertainment chief, the legendary Brandon Tartikoff, publicly credited the Emmy Awards and the drumbeat of TV critics for saving those series.
EMMY CAN BE FICKLEHere is another side to the Emmy statue: You would have thought that Jackie Gleason would have won an Emmy Award for The Honeymooners or his later variety show, but he was snubbed. Gleason never won any Emmys, but his co-star, Art Carney, won five.
As a matter of fact, The Honeymooners, which some TV historians put right up there with I Love Lucy, was never the Emmy choice for outstanding comedy series, either.
And while Lucille Ball won a number of Emmys, her on and off-screen husband Desi Arnaz never won one for his acting, a fate that has befallen some of television's most notable actors and shows. Andy Griffith never won, but his sidekick on The Andy Griffith Show, Don Knotts, was nominated for five Emmys and won every time—a record. The Andy Griffith Show, beloved as it is today, wasn't loved by Emmy.
Sometimes Emmy didn't visit because the stars goofed, not the voters, says Tom O'Neil, whose Web site, goldderby.com contains a wealth of information about the Emmys and other awards shows. He contends that George Clooney and John Goodman never won because they chose the wrong episodes. “Sarah Jessica Parker lost out for many years because she made dumb choices,” he says. “Last year, she finally got it right” and was named Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series.
CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR But here's a list of stars who, never went home with a statuette:
Jack Paar Gracie Allen Arthur Godfrey Buddy Ebsen Paul Reiser Tony Danza Jason Alexander George Clooney Calista Flockhart John Goodman Cybill Shepherd Martin Landau The most consistent loser has been Angela Lansbury. Despite 16 nominations, she has yet to take home an Emmy.
FAVORITES DON'T COUNT
Some of TV's most popular series never won top honors in their genres. Among them:
The Beverly Hillbillies Father Knows Best The Odd Couple Bewitched Bonanza The Twilight Zone Perry Mason Marcus Welby, M.D. St. Elsewhere Twin Peaks Kojak Dallas Roseanne Star Trek The Susan Lucci equivalent for TV series is Dynasty. Similar to that soap star, who was nominated 19 times for outstanding actress on All My Children before finally taking home the prize, the campy ABC prime time soap, which ran from 1981 to 1989, was nominated for 24 Emmys over the years without winning a single one—a record.
THE EMMY AS SAVIORFor shows struggling to find an audience, an Emmy can provide a welcome lifeline. Cagney & Lacey was cancelled after its second season, but CBS revived the show a few months later when Tyne Daly won an Emmy in 1983 for her performance. That allowed the show to go on to win the top drama award in both 1984 and 1985, years when Daly won two more Emmys.
But the impact of the Emmy can be overstated. All in the Family, Cheers and Hill Street Blues were blessed by having network bosses who believed in them, and they were lucky enough to begin in an era when broadcast networks were usually more patient with new shows.
Ultimately, an Emmy can carry a show only so far, as Arrested Development discovered this year. Fox's hopes for the show rose after it won outstanding comedy series in 2004. But it has just struggled through another season of high praise and low ratings; Fox generously renewed it for fall 2005, which surprised some observers—because most of the time, networks honor Nielsen, not Emmy.