Lesser-knowns win by playing media game

While appearances by well-known movie performers on series generate a great deal of attention, lower-profile actors in recent years have grabbed their fair share of the nominations and awards in the Emmy guest-performer categories.

ABC’s “The Practice” has produced the last four winners in the drama series guest-actor category — John Larroquette (1998), Edward Herrmann (1999), James Whitmore (2000) and Michael Emerson (2001) — none of whom are big-time film stars. On the comedy side, TV veteran Jean Smart has won two years in a row for the recurring role of Lorna Lenley on NBC’s “Frasier.”

Certainly, the judging process seems democratic enough.

“With guest performers, you have a two-step nominating procedure,” explains John Leverence, veep of awards for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.

First, for each of the four guest-performer categories — drama actor and actress, comedy actor and actress — there are typically about 60 submissions, with the entries made by either the actor or their show’s production company.

“They go on the performer ballot, with a synopsis of episodes they were in,” Leverence adds. “We then take the top 15, and we put those before a judging panel.”

After the five nominees in each category are selected, each are then judged in at-home viewing by members of ATAS’ performers branch to determine the winners.

Still, according to Conrad Bachmann, one of two governors of ATAS’ performers peer group, rarely does a thesp win on performance alone. Much of the guest-performer judging process still comes down to name recognition, sending out tapes, buying ads and good PR.

“Unless you have a studio or a production company backing you, it’s still a tough fight,” he says. “You take the average guy, unless it’s a big name, they’re not going to spend any money on you.”

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