Freshman class holds up

But new voting system might end trend of first-timers' success

Jennifer Aniston should find the upcoming Emmy race especially friendly. Ditto for other first-time nominees Eric McCormack, Debra Messing and Sean Hayes of “Will & Grace,” and Jane Kaczmarek of “Malcolm in the Middle.”

The reason: The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ freshman class has always had an excellent chance at being recognized with an Emmy, despite being new to the game.

First-time triumphs

Over the past two decades, all of the following skeins won a top series prize at the end of their first seasons: “Hill Street Blues,” “Cheers,” “The Cosby Show,” “The Golden Girls,” “L.A. Law,” “The Wonder Years,” “thirtysomething,” “Picket Fences,” “Frasier” and “The Practice.” Most of those shows remained Emmy faves, picking up subsequent trophies.

Other series had to wait until their second seasons to take a top prize (“NYPD Blue,” “ER”) or, worse, their sixth nom (“Law & Order”).

Among thesps, Andre Braugher looked like he couldn’t get arrested at the Emmys during the late 1990s when he was lavished with awards from the Television Critics Assn. But then, when he finally threw in his badge on “Homicide: Life on the Street” in 1998, Braugher struck gold on his third Emmy dig.

On balance, however, the Emmy has extended an especially warm welcome to its freshman class.

Consider last year’s big award tests. There were 16 frosh thesps among the 40 nominees in the lead and supporting races for comedy and drama series.

Three rookies won eight of those match-ups — all on the drama series side: lead actress Edie Falco (“The Sopranos”), supporting actor Michael Badalucco (“The Practice”) and supporting actress Holland Taylor (“The Practice”).

One year before that, such Emmy first-timers as Camryn Manheim (best supporting actress, “The Practice”) and John Leguizamo (best variety performance, “Freak”) scored. Leguizamo beat such heavyweights as Chris Rock, Dennis Miller, Tracey Ullman and George Carlin.

Up the H’wood ladder

“That’s cool,” Leguizamo says of his win. “I really felt the power of winning. People, reporters, friends, foreigners, treated me different. One Emmy is worth two Golden Globes in the bush.”

When Badalucco triumphed, Daily Variety reported that he looked “shocked by his win” and was “unable to cram in the names of every one of his colleagues. He thanked them all with a blanket ‘I’ll write you a letter!’ ”

“I was totally overcome with exhilaration,” Badalucco says now, recalling the moment. “When they call your name, you don’t expect it.” He credits voters with “not buying into the hype” surrounding his competish, which included Noah Wyle (“ER”), Benjamin Bratt and Steven Hill (“Law & Order”) and “Practice” co-star Steve Harris.

“You gotta believe you won because you were the best and not because of some popularity contest,” Leguizamo adds. “I want to believe there is a meritocracy.”

Leguizamo and Badalucco won after voters, sitting on judging panels, watched videotapes of their work while being policed by monitors.

Are judging panels the reason that first-time nominees tend to do so well at the Emmys? Badalucco thinks that they’ve done a fair job.

No bias

“When people were in those hotel rooms looking at our work, they voted for what moved them or compelled them or made them think,” he says. “It wasn’t about hype or flash.”

This year, after much debate, the Emmy voting system is different. The judging panels are gone in the top 27 categories while voters ink their ballots at home after they receive the videotapes in the mail. Is Badalucco, a returning nominee, worried?

“It’s a new century,” he says. “Let’s try something new and see how it checks out. The important thing is that people look at our work before voting. If they don’t do that, it should be reflected in the results.”

Most interesting will be discovering how frosh nominees fare under the new voting system. That could prove to be its ultimate test.

Tom O’Neil is the author of “Variety’s The Emmys” (Perigee Books).

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Wanda Sykes, Mike Epps to Star

    Wanda Sykes, Mike Epps to Star in Multi-Camera Comedy Series for Netflix

    Wanda Sykes and Mike Epps are headed to Netflix. The streamer has ordered a multi-camera comedy series starring the two comedians titled “The Upshaws.” The series centers on a working-class Africian American family in Indiana struggling to make it work and make it right without the blueprints to do it. Sykes will executive produce and [...]

  • Vader Streams Shuts Down

    Vader Streams Shut Down by Hollywood Studios

    A coalition of Hollywood studios and streaming companies announced on Tuesday that they have shut down Vader Streams, which was once a popular source of pirated TV content. The service went offline in early May under mysterious circumstances, leading to speculation that the operator had either absconded or been forced out of business. The Alliance [...]

  • Søren-Sveistrup

    Netflix Teams With 'The Killing' Creator for Crime Thriller 'The Chestnut Man'

    HAUGESUND, Norway  — Further expanding its Scandinavian footprint, Netflix has announced its second Danish original series, “The Chestnut Man,” a police thriller based on “The Killing” creator Søren Sveistrup’s popular novel. The streaming giant will team with Sveistrup’s SAM Productions, minority owned by Studiocanal, part of Vivendi Canal Plus Group, to deliver this noir-influenced literary [...]

  • Writers vs Agents Packaging War WGA

    ICM Blasts Writers Guild Over Withdrawal of State Lawsuit

    ICM Partners has slammed the leaders of the Writers Guild of America over its decision to withdraw from its state court lawsuit in favor of refiling the action in federal court. The agency, which was sued in April by the guild and eight WGA members over charging allegedly illegal packaging fees, issued a statement Tuesday [...]

  • succession

    'Succession' Renewed for Season 3 at HBO

    “Succession” has scored an early Season 3 renewal at HBO. The news comes as the critically-acclaimed drama series is just two episodes into its second season. Season 1 of the series was recently nominated for five Emmy Awards, including for best drama series. “We are elated that ‘Succession’ and its exploration of wealth, power and [...]

  • Kaley CuocoHilarity for Charity Sixth Annual

    Kaley Cuoco HBO Max Series 'The Flight Attendant' Sets Creative Team

    The creative team set to bring Kaley Cuoco’s dark comedy series “The Flight Attendant” to HBO Max has taken shape. The series, which tells the terrifying story of a flight attendant (Cuoco) who wakes up in the wrong hotel, in the wrong bed, with a dead man and no idea what happened, has tapped Susanna [...]

  • Mayim Bialik

    Mayim Bialik Signs Warner Bros. TV Production, Talent Holding Deal

    “The Big Bang Theory” star Mayim Bialik is expanding her relationship with the production studio behind the long-running CBS comedy. Bialik and her newly launched Sad Clown Productions banner have signed an exclusive multi-year production deal with the studio, coupled with a talent holding provision for her acting services. Bialik is bringing on former Chuck [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content