AMC’s “Mad Men” has two chances to make Emmy history this September. If it wins a fifth award for drama, the series would set an all-time record in the category. It would also become one of the precious few dramas to win an Emmy for its final season.
Bagging a farewell victory may seem like a cinch; AMC’s other crown jewel, “Breaking Bad,” managed it just last year. The final season of HBO’s “The Sopranos” accomplished it in 2007 (with “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner on staff, no less).
But before those touchstones of TV’s current Golden Era? You have to go back to 1977, when the PBS import “Upstairs, Downstairs” won the top prize for its swan song. Prior to that, no long-running drama had pulled it off.
“Mad Men” isn’t the only series seeking a big Emmy send-off this year — NBC’s “Parks and Recreation” is up for comedy series, while CBS’ “Late Show With David Letterman” and Comedy Central’s “The Colbert Report” vie in variety talk — but it’s arguably the flashiest. As AMC’s awards campaign implores, “Consider the End of an Era.”
Critics were upbeat about the “Mad Men” finale and the season overall, and the show earned 11 nominations this year, tied for second among all drama series. That includes bids for stars Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks, in addition to two in the writing category (for the finale, “Person to Person,” and the Peggy-in-roller-skates episode, “Lost Horizon”).
On the other hand, those 11 noms rep the second lowest tally the show has ever received (topping only last season). “Mad Men” won for drama series in its first four seasons, but hasn’t won a single Emmy in any category for the last three. It’s certainly not lacking for competition this year. HBO’s still-surging “Game of Thrones” earned more nominations (24) than ever before. Winter is coming, indeed.
Then there’s the possibility voters may feel they’ve been there, done that when it comes to honoring “Mad Men.” When “Breaking Bad” and “The Sopranos” won the top prize for their final seasons, they went into those Emmy ceremonies with just one previous victory each. “The Sopranos” had been repeatedly whacked by “The West Wing,” while “Bad” continually played second fiddle to “Mad.”
There simply isn’t the same feeling that “Mad Men” is “due” for recognition, except perhaps when it comes to its cast. No “Mad Men” thesp has ever won an Emmy, a strange phenomenon that seems especially egregious when it comes to leading man Hamm’s virtuoso performance as Don Draper.
Hamm is tied with Raymond Burr, Peter Falk and Dennis Franz for most ever noms in the drama lead actor category at eight apiece, and yet he’s the only one of the quartet to never win. (Burr actually earned two Emmys, Falk three and Franz four.)
Being the sentimental favorite worked for Kyle Chandler when he won for the series finale of “Friday Night Lights” in 2011. Ironically, Chandler beat out Hamm in the year of acclaimed “Mad Men” episode “The Suitcase,” which many pundits had pegged as Hamm’s Emmy-winning submission. Now Hamm has his own emotional series finale to put forth (and Chandler is back in contention for Netflix’s “Bloodline”).
If Hamm misses out again, maybe one of his co-stars benefits instead. Given the formidable competition Moss faces in lead actress, Hendricks could be the one to watch in a slightly less-cutthroat supporting field. She’s winless after five previous noms, and her secretary-turned-executive, Joan, grew into one of the show’s most beloved characters.
Speaking of beloved-but-snubbed, Amy Poehler, star of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” has been nominated for comedy lead actress six years in a row without a win. It would be a true shocker for “Parks” to break through with a series victory in its final season — the only established comedy to end its run with its first series Emmy is “Barney Miller,” and that show had six previous outstanding series noms; “Parks” only has one — but Poehler finds herself in a coincidentally similar position to Sarah Jessica Parker, who also had to endure five losses before triumphing for the final season of HBO’s “Sex and the City.”
Like Parker, Poehler has submitted her critically acclaimed series finale. And like Parker, Poehler’s film career is blowing up at just the right time. Her vocal performance in Pixar’s summer smash “Inside Out” can only help remind the industry of her vibrant talent.
Or Poehler goes down in Emmy history just behind Jane Kaczmarek, whose seven noms and zero wins for “Malcolm in the Middle” make her the most nominated lead actress in a comedy contender to never snag a statuette.
As for Letterman and Colbert, both can take satisfaction in the fact that their Emmy track records are already more comparable to Johnny Carson (whose final season of “The Tonight Show” won the variety series Emmy in 1992), than Jay Leno (whose “Tonight” stopped getting nominated altogether after 2005, even though he didn’t bow out — for the first time — until 2009).
Letterman has been absent from the variety series competition in recent years, while Colbert’s show has won two years running. With Colbert set to take over “Late Show” in the fall, there would be something sweetly symbolic if Letterman came out on top in their final season Emmy showdown — like a reverse passing of the torch.
And if the senior host does win, we’ll be guaranteed a new champion next year.