'Millionaire' and its net on outside looking in
America’s most watched television program won’t be winning any Prime Time Emmys come September, but that’s not necessarily anything new.
Nor is it new to the net who broadcasts it.
Emmy voters have never been totally aligned with viewers’ tastes, but it’s ABC in particular that has most often been on the outside looking in when it comes to its highest-rated series failing to pick up major statuettes.
So while a footnote may go down next to the Alphabet’s “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” this year — it competed for a Daytime Emmy because their was no suitable category for it on the primetime kudocast — it does extend an amazing streak for the net: ABC has now had the season’s No. 1 non-news series on nine occasions, yet none of these shows has won a major drama or comedy award.
These series, which range from “Marcus Welby, M.D.” and “Happy Days” in the 1970s to “Roseanne” and “Home Improvement” in the ’90s, all seem to have been bitten by one of Emmy’s most deadly bugs: its tendency to shun popular, mainstream shows (especially those with blue-collar leads) for the hip, quirky and sophisticated.
That may explain why vet laffer “The Drew Carey Show,” for all its begging and pleading with the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences after another top-20 finish in the ratings, was once again bypassed in the best comedy category while sexy newcomers like “Will & Grace” and “Sex and the City” each grabbed a bundle of nominations.
But while ABC has had the least luck with its top-rated shows, it by no means is alone. Other Nielsen winners to be Emmy losers include NBC’s “Wagon Train” and “Bonanza,” and CBS’ “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “The Andy Griffith Show” and “Dallas.”
And big-name stars who appeared on some of the highest-rated shows of their time — including Jackie Gleason of “The Honeymooners,” Andy Griffith of his eponymous show and Tim Allen of “Home Improvement” — never made it to the winner’s circle.
In recent years, NBC has fared best with its top-rated shows, as hip, sophisticated, urbane hits such as “Cheers,” “Seinfeld,” “Frasier” and “ER” have all won the top prize. Still, given that the Peacock has had both the No. 1-rated drama and comedy for each of the last six years, it’s perhaps surprising that it’s won the drama and comedy Emmys in the same year only once — in 1996, when “ER” and “Frasier” were victorious.
Nielsen’s top-ranked drama and comedy have captured the big Emmys in the same year only once — in 1953 with “I Love Lucy” and “Dragnet” (the category at the time was for mystery, action or adventure series). If this trend continues, the “Friends”-“ER” parlay would be considered a long shot Sept. 10.
This year, the three most watched sitcoms were nominated for best comedy (“Friends,” “Frasier” and “Everybody Loves Raymond”) while two of the top three dramas made the cut (“ER” and “The Practice”), but “Touched by an Angel” did not.
As for this season’s rookies, Emmy did honor the top-rated new comedy and drama with acting noms, but both of these shows — top-20 hits “Judging Amy” and “Malcolm in the Middle” — will have to wait at least one more year before receiving any major series recognition.
NBC’s “The West Wing,” on the other hand, barely cracked the top 30 in its first season but captured 18 nominations, including best drama.
Emmy history is also replete with low-rated series that have shined on TV’s big night. Sometimes the victory helped the ratings, but oftentimes it did not.
Not always a boost
Two series — “Mission: Impossible” in the ’60s and “Hill Street Blues” in the ’80s — won multiple Emmys as best drama but the honor didn’t help either break into the top 30. And a third, “Cagney & Lacey,” was only a marginal hit when it won best drama in 1985 (ranking No. 28) and actually slipped out of the top 30 a year later, when it won again.
But for some lower-rated shows, an Emmy victory can be a turning point.
Both “Cheers” and ABC’s “The Practice” struggled to find an audience in their early years but were saved by Emmy triumphs in 1983 and 1998, respectively.