'Lights,' 'Lost' actors receive attention late in show's run

Kyle Chandler had been up late directing and acting in the penultimate episode of the upcoming fifth season of “Friday Night Lights” and had maybe knocked off about four hours of sleep when his wife and kids came bounding into his bedroom to tell him he’d been nominated for an Emmy.

“The first thing out of my mouth was: ‘I’m trying to sleep,’ ” Chandler recalls, adding his grogginess quickly evaporated due to the excitement in the room.

Thanks to the critical praised heaped upon “Friday Night Lights,” Chandler’s nomination in the lead actor drama category felt deserved. But Emmy recognition for him and fellow category nominee Matthew Fox from “Lost” was also nothing short of a longshot.

Emmy voters rarely recognize actors who haven’t been nominated in the first three years of a show’s run. In fact, it has only happened seven times over the past 30 years in the two lead-actor categories.

Fox’s nom comes after the sixth and final season of “Lost,” a season that featured a redemptive end for his character, Jack Shephard.

“He had a really sort of tragic, heroic and beautiful wrapping up of six years of a complex and difficult struggle, and maybe that has something to do with it,” Fox says, speculating on his late-game Emmy nomination. “The guy was not easy to root for. He was sometimes very difficult and messed up. Bringing him around at the end I know was cathartic for some people.”

That kind of catharsis can sometimes put an actor over the top with Emmy voters, says Los Angeles Times television critic Mary McNamara, adding that actors are often at the mercy of their story arcs.

“As ‘Lost’ played out, things became more complicated and you had some really fine acting emerging from other characters that outshone Jack Shephard,” McNamara says. “But in the final season, they returned to the core characters, and Jack came shining through in the end.”

Chandler’s “Friday Night Lights” football coach has had his share of heroic moments over the course of the show’s first four seasons. Chandler believes his Emmy nomination — and that of co-star Connie Britton — reflects voters’ desire to reward the show’s consistent high quality.

“It’s recognition for the cast and the crew, all the people who work so hard to make the show what it is,” Chandler says.

None of the seven prior latecomer nominees — Sherman Hemsley (“The Jeffersons”), Michael J. Fox (“Family Ties”), Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry (“Friends”), Kevin James (“King of Queens”), Jerry Orbach (“Law & Order”) and Christopher Meloni (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) — won in the year they were nominated, though Fox took the comedy lead actor Emmy three years running for “Family Ties” after his first nomination.

Such follow-up will be impossible to duplicate for Fox and Chandler. “Lost” has ended, and Chandler concedes that barring a “last-minute reprieve from the state, someone’s going to throw the switch” and cancel “Friday Night Lights.” The show’s fifth-season finale, he adds, plays like a series finale.

“I’d like to think we’re going out at the top of our game,” Chandler says.

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