Posthumous win would add to actor's comedic legacy

There is little question the late John Ritter was respected by fellow thesps and beloved by millions of viewers.

But is he deserving of an Emmy nod for “8 Simple Rules” after appearing in only three episodes last season? No doubt about it, says Katey Sagal, who played Ritter’s TV wife on the ABC laffer.

“To me it was absolutely the correct thing to have him nominated,” she says.

It’s a nod that appears to speak mostly to Ritter’s standing in the TV industry.

“It was 90% sentimental,” says Chuck Barney, a critic with the Contra Costa Times. “John Ritter was a class act. He contributed a lot to TV, and he was a good guy.”

“It’s likely that very few voters had been looking at that show up until (his death),” says Ellen Gray, a veteran critic with the Philadelphia Daily News. “For them to discover that he’s very good in it, when they didn’t notice at all the year before, seems odd.”

Ritter, who was one of 40 thesps on the nominations ballot for lead actor in a comedy, is up against Larry David of “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” Kelsey Grammer of “Frasier,” Matt LeBlanc of “Friends” and Tony Shalhoub of “Monk.”

Posthumous nominations are rare, and wins are even more unusual but certainly not unheard of. Ingrid Bergman was honored shortly after her death in 1982 for her perf as the title character in the miniseries “A Woman Called Golda.” Other posthumous winners include Raul Julia in 1995 for HBO pic “The Burning Season,” David Burns in 1971 for Hallmark Hall of Fame film “The Price” and Marion Lorne in 1968 and Alice Pearce in ’66 for ABC sitcom “Bewitched.”

Some TV critics would have preferred to see Ritter given a special career achievement Emmy rather than have him compete in a regular category; that would have opened a slot for another thesp who worked a full season.

Gray’s short list includes Jason Bateman (“Arrested Development”) and Bernie Mac (“The Bernie Mac Show”); Barney would like to have seen Zach Braff (NBC’s “Scrubs”) among the final five.

But according to John Leverence, VP awards at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Emmys don’t have a career honor.

“In terms of some kind of personal recognition for a career, typically that would be our Hall of Fame,” he says. “Within the Emmy structure, there

really isn’t an opportunity to give that kind of award.”

The Acad did pay special tribute to Ritter during last year’s telecast, with Henry Winkler offering some heartfelt thoughts about his friend.

“I’d like everyone to remember John not for his pratfalls, not for his goofy takes, but to remember him for his remarkable versatility,” he said onstage. “I know he would like that.”

Ritter’s nomination is one of two for “8 Simple Rules.” Skein also was noticed in the cinematography category for its special one-hour farewell episode, taped after the actor’s death.

While the nod with Ritter’s name on it — lead actor in a comedy series — would seem the most personal, it’s really more than that, Sagal says.

“By honoring John, it honors everything that was around him in terms of the way the show proceeded,” she says. “Certainly his nomination is based on his last three performances on that show, but I think it also speaks to the way the writers and producers handled the transition. It was tough, and I just think they did a beautiful job.”

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