At awards time, there’s the familiar refrain, “Just being nominated is honor enough, winning is icing on the cake.” When it comes to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Prime Time Emmys, the same series tend to have their cake year in, year out.
Although last year’s Emmys saw comedy “Will & Grace” and drama “The West Wing” take home the best show hardware in their respective categories in their first year nominated, the two NBC programs were up against rivals that were each in at least their second trip to the races.
The laffer field also featured HBO’s “Sex and the City” and CBS’ “Everybody Loves Raymond,” both marking its their second straight date in the show category. NBC’s “Frasier” marked its seventh nom (having won five times 1994-98), and “Friends,” also on NBC, racked up its third nomination.
In the drama field, frosh “The West Wing” beat out perennials — NBC’s “ER” (the 1996 winner’s sixth nom), ABC’s “The Practice” (the third for the two-time victor of 1998 and ’99) and the Peacock’s “Law & Order,” which marked its ninth entry into the race, having won once (1997). HBO’s critically beloved “The Sopranos” was left still gunning for a win after its second straight nom.
Checking back to only the 1996 awards, every show nominee marked at least two appearances, with many, as seen above, becoming serial competitors.
Phil Rosenthal, TV critic of the Chicago Sun Times, believes the nominee-list stickiness is due in part to a perpetual cycle: Noms beget fame, which delivers even more noms.
“It’s generally because — it’s a dirty secret in Hollywood — if you talk to people in the industry, few of them have time to watch the shows. When most of the primetime shows are on, they’re still at work,” he says. “They don’t see television the way most people see television. Shows can coast for a long time on buzz. Saying it’s an Emmy nominee helps it coast a lot longer.”
And as far as “The West Wing” helping to usher in a new era, Rosenthal chalks up the show’s win to broadcast TV players resisting a growing cable presence represented by “The Sopranos.”
“Frankly, I think that was West Coast guys looking out for West Coast guys. ‘The Sopranos’ are still considered as outsiders,” he says, adding that voters also could have sided with “The West Wing” for its quality while working under tighter creative constraints vs. the loose cable reins on “Sopranos.”
Ultimately, Rosenthal says, the awards are of more consequence to the industry than the average viewer.
“Emmys are one of those things that people are aware of, and they do their voting every night of the week.”
According to Meryl Marshall-Daniels, ATAS chairman-CEO, there is only one explanation for why programs garner multiple Emmy noms.
“The reason why shows repeat themselves as nominees is that quality shows are hard to come by, and when they are created they have a tendency to last.”