Even though Emmy winners “ER,” “Law & Order,” “The West Wing” and “The Practice” have garnered terrific ratings, drawing a big audience isn’t always a factor in determining drama series champs.
Critical favorites that failed to attract a loyal audience have been known to be rewarded. In some rare cases, the Emmy has been given to shows that have already been yanked off the air.
In 1988, NBC canceled well-reviewed drama “A Year in the Life.” That August, the show’s star, Richard Kiley, won for actor in a drama. In 1991, Patricia Wettig and Timothy Busfield won for lead actress and outstanding supporting actor for their roles on “thirtysomething” even though the show had already aired its last episode. Two years later, Chad Lowe and Mary Alice won Emmys for their supporting roles on “Life Goes On” and “I’ll Fly Away,” respectively, months after those two programs had retired from primetime.
Other stars have been nominated for their work on short-lived shows. Sharon Gless and Ed Asner were nominated in 1992 for “The Trials of Rosie O’Neill,” which CBS axed before Emmy time; Cicely Tyson was nominated in 1995 for her role on NBC’s “Sweet Justice,” even though the skein had wrapped months earlier.
In one very rare case, an Emmy win actually helped to resuscitate a show that had already been given the ax. In 1983, Tyne Daley won for lead actress in a drama for her role on “Cagney & Lacey” months after the show was pulled off the air. The win was influential in CBS’ decision to bring the show back the following spring.
The decision clearly paid off. “Cagney & Lacey” went on to win five Emmys in 1985, including one for drama series. But the “Cagney & Lacey” example is atypical. While winning an Emmy can help a show that’s on the bubble, it rarely brings a show out of mothballs.
“It’s probably a little bittersweet for a producer when a show they produced wins an Emmy. But at least they get to keep their Emmy and it will help them when they’re trying to land their next gig,” says Tim Brooks, exec VP at Lifetime Television and co-author of “The Complete Directory to Primetime, Network and Cable TV Shows: 1946-Present.”
While producers may covet an Emmy win, once a show is canceled, they generally don’t have the budget to devote to an Emmy campaign.
“We would love for ‘Karen Sisco’ to be nominated, but we don’t have the financial resources to support it,” says Neil Schubert, senior VP of publicity, advertising and promotion for NBC Universal Television, which, along with Jersey TV, produced “Karen Sisco. “Had the show not been canceled, we would have planned an extensive Emmy campaign, but ultimately, there is no end goal for us. It’s a little bit too late.”
“Boomtown,” which was produced by NBC Studios and DreamWorks TV, also won’t be benefiting from a push in the trades. “Dollars are so limited for campaigns. You’ve got to focus on what’s on the air,” says one veteran television executive who has overseen numerous Emmy campaigns. “It’s nice to see good work rewarded, but from a financial perspective, it’s not worth it.”
Perhaps because it already has a track record of earning Emmy nominations for shows that have been canceled (including comedies such as “The Job,” “Freaks and Geeks” and “Undeclared”), DreamWorks TV co-heads Justin Falvey and Darryl Frank are optimistic that voters won’t count out NBC’s “Boomtown” and ABC’s “Line of Fire” simply because viewers failed to tune in.
“People in the TV Academy are smart enough to recognize that some of the best television, for whatever reason, doesn’t always work with audiences and that networks aren’t as patient as they once were in giving shows the time they need to attract viewers,” says Frank.
Ironically, if “Boomtown,” “Karen Sisco” or “Line of Fire” had been on the air longer, they might be able to parlay an Emmy nom or a win into DVD sales. With no direct financial incentive to winning an Emmy for a show that’s already off the air, budgets for these campaigns are slim to nonexistent.
But Emmy glory isn’t entirely about financial gain. “The most important thing is recognition from your peers,” says DreamWorks’ Falvey. “From a studio perspective, an Emmy win gives you cachet and the network is always thrilled to have their numbers spiked — even if it’s for a show they canceled.”