×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Clearing up the category conundrum

How supporters become leads

In 1995 and 1996, Julianna Margulies was nominated for drama actress for playing nurse Carol Hathaway on “ER.” In 1997, she was nominated as a lead.

From 1995-99, “Friends” co-star Matthew Perry was considered for comedy supporting actor. In 2000, he was submitted in the lead actor category. In 2001, he was entered again as a supporting actor. This year, he’s back in consideration as a lead.

Last year, Martin Sheen was nominated for lead actor in a drama for playing President Bartlet on “The West Wing.” So was cast mate Rob Lowe, who plays Bartlet’s subordinate, deputy communications director Sam Seaborn.

Confusing? Sure. But under Emmy nomination guidelines, it all makes sense.

Every television season, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences solicits hundreds of entries from eligible actors and actresses in lead and supporting categories. Each lead performer submits an episode that he or she feels best represents their talent. Those entering into supporting categories submit two episodes.

Agents, managers, publicists, studios, production companies or networks may submit entries for performers, and they sometimes do.

But according to ATAS rules, “the individual who is listed as the ‘eligible entrant’ is considered by the (Academy) to be the person who makes the entry.”

This helps explain the confusion regarding Perry’s brief entry into the lead comedy category in 2000, despite agreement among the rest of the “Friends” cast that, when it comes to awards, no “Friend” would be greater than the rest.

It turns out that Perry’s publicist mistakenly submitted him as a lead. When Perry found out about it, he immediately withdrew himself from consideration. This year, however, he has entered into consideration for the lead category, as has the rest of the show’s cast.

Most other series’ thesps don’t have such solidarity. There’s often a pecking order set up within a production, and people know their place in it. But that order can change when an actor grows or diminishes in stature during the course of a series.

Michael J. Fox, for instance, was Emmy nominated for the first time in 1985 as a supporting actor for his role as Alex P. Keaton on comedy “Family Ties.” The following three years, he was nominated as a lead, winning each time. “ER’s” Margulies, who won for supporting actress in 1995, made a similar category transcendence, gaining nominations for lead actress four times, 1997-2000.

“It tends to be a function of the storyline in a particular year,” says John Leverence, ATAS’ VP of awards.

Emmy guidelines explicitly state that category selection is the decision of the performer, so if a show’s producers have a say in determining who gets placed where, the decision-making is strictly behind the scenes.

Leverence and representatives of several shows emphasize, however, that the final call lies elsewhere.

“A lot of those big decisions tend to be made from the series’ get-go,” Leverence says. “But when someone’s on the cusp of lead and support, what’s important is the choice of the performer and the ratification of the awards committee.”

That’s right: If there’s a question or controversy about placement, ATAS’ awards committee makes the final decision.

The TV Academy also places no limits on how many performers can be entered for each show in a particular category. Again, storylines have an effect: Multiple storylines over a season can give birth to multiple leads.

In any case, almost every performer wants to be recognized for his or her work, so who is ATAS to stand in the way? If the production is so strong that it can elicit enough nomination-worthy performances in a year to load up a category, as five supporting actors on “Hill Street Blues” did in 1982, that’s just the way it goes.

More TV

  • Donald Trump

    HBO Fires Back at Trump's 'Game of Thrones'-Inspired 'No Collusion' Tweet

    HBO is firing back at President Donald Trump after he sent another “Game of Thrones”-inspired tweet in response to the release of a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the Russia investigation. “Though we can understand the enthusiasm for ‘Game of Thrones’ now that the final season has arrived, we still prefer [...]

  • Joel Edgerton Headshot

    Joel Edgerton Joins Barry Jenkins' 'Underground Railroad' Amazon Series (EXCLUSIVE)

    Joel Edgerton has signed on for a role in the Barry Jenkins’ Amazon series “The Underground Railroad,” Variety has learned exclusively. Edgerton will play the part of Ridgeway, a slavecatcher. He joins previously announced cast members Thuso Mbedu, Chase W. Dillon, and Aaron Pierre. The role will mark Edgerton’s first regular TV role in some time. [...]

  • LAST MAN STANDING: 150'th Episode: L-R:

    'Last Man Standing' Renewed at Fox

    “Last Man Standing” has been renewed at Fox, Variety has learned. This is the second season of the family multicamera comedy that will air on Fox, but the eighth season overall. (Its first six years were on ABC before the Alphabet canceled the series. Fox picked it up a year later.) “‘Last Man Standing’ roared [...]

  • Lauren Corrao

    Freeform Taps Lauren Corrao to Replace Karey Burke as Original Programming Head

    Lauren Corrao has been named executive vice president of original programming and development for Freeform. Corrao takes over the role from Karey Burke, who was named the head of ABC Entertainment in November following the departure of Channing Dungey. Corrao will report directly to Freeform president Tom Ascheim. In her new position, Corrao will oversee [...]

  • Allison Mack Sex Cult

    HBO in Production on NXIVM Sex Cult Documentary Series

    HBO Documentary Films is currently in production on a documentary series exploring the NXIVM sex cult case, which implicated former “Smallville” actress Allison Mack among others. The series, which is to be directed by “The Square” and “Control Room” helmers Jehane Noujaim and Karim Amer, will follow a range of people who joined the NXIVM [...]

  • Barry Killing Eve Pose

    'Barry,' 'Killing Eve,' 'Pose' Among 2019 Peabody Winners (EXCLUSIVE)

    “The Americans,” “Barry,” “The End of the F***ing World,” “The Good Place,” “Hannah Gadsby: Nanette,” “Killing Eve,” “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” “Pose” and “Random Acts of Flyness” have been named the entertainment winners at this year’s Peabody Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. Additionally, “Sesame Street” has been named the winner of the Institutional Award [...]

  • Les Miserables BBC

    BBC's 'Les Miserables' Recreates the Dark World of Victor Hugo's Novel

    Director Tom Shankland didn’t want his “Les Miserables” to be anything like the stage-musical version of Victor Hugo’s sweeping historical novel, nor like the 2012 Tom Hooper feature-film musical.  For the BBC limited series — a drama starring Olivia Colman, Lily Collins, David Oyelowo and Dominic West, which aired the first of its six episodes in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content