'Lost,' '24,' 'Law & Order' get final chance for glory

It’s perhaps the sweetest way for a long-running, Emmy-winning series to bid goodbye: nabbing the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ winged statuette for your final season.

No easy task, that: In the last 25 years, only “Everybody Loves Raymond” and “The Sopranos” copped the top Emmy (outstanding comedy series and drama series, respectively) for their final years. It’s a feat that has eluded plenty of celebrated shows: “Hill Street Blues,” “ER,” “Seinfeld,” “NYPD Blue” and “Frasier,” to name only a handful.

This year, three high-profile, groundbreaking shows who have seen previous Emmy glory — “Lost,” “24” and possibly “Law & Order,” unless it’s saved by another network — will be looking for swan song recognition. Do they have a chance?

” ‘Lost’ could have a problem, simply because its early days are perceived, rightly or wrongly, as being its strongest period,” says TV historian Tim Brooks. “It just got extremely convoluted and very narrow in its appeal.”

“Lost” won the drama Emmy after its inaugural 2004-05 season, but only made its way back to the nominees’ list the last two years, when it lost to “Mad Men,” the zeitgeist show of the moment.

“There’s a strong coalescing around certain shows,” says Brooks, “so that the buzz shows tend to get awards, and they tend to repeat awards, too, crowding out other stuff.”

TV critic Alan Sepinwall of the website HitFix doesn’t think nostalgia or wistfulness for a beloved show plays much of a role in final season kudos.

“Once a show gets in, it’s very hard to get it out,” says Sepinwall, “but also, once a show gets out, it’s very hard to get it back in. With ‘Lost,’ the Emmy voters honored them and then immediately acted embarrassed that they had done it. If I was a ‘Lost’ fan who cared about Emmys, I would not be getting my hopes up about that.”

The passionate but divisive reaction to the May 23 “Lost” series finale makes the show an even more interesting case.

“Law & Order,” which dazzled initially with its cops/lawyers storytelling split, may simply have stayed around too long to regain momentum. (It won its drama Emmy in 1997.) Even “ER,” which earned critical acclaim for its finale, came up short for big nominations in its 15th and final season.

Another problem is a perception of dissipated newness. Nominated for top drama its first five years on the air and winning for the much-heralded fifth season, “24” hasn’t gotten a nomination in the series category since and has seen its eighth go-round earn less-than-stellar reviews.

“The show changed our paradigms when it started,” says Brooks, referring to its novel use of real time, which invigorated the longstanding action format. “It was perceived as different and adventurous, but today it’s seen as doing the same thing. It lost its steam as well.”

The irony is that starting strong, as important as that is in today’s crowded broadcast and cable marketplace, can turn out to be a detriment when trying to go out with a bang.

“To stay in that circle of perceived coolness and hotness, you have to keep topping yourself,” says Brooks. “And that’s hard to do.”

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