One last chance for respect

In final seasons, series wonder if Emmy will pay a visit

They’ve spent season after season entertaining audiences, garnering critical acclaim — and being shut out of the Emmy spotlight.

The long-running series coming to a close this year are a varied bunch — from the genre-busting “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” to HBO’s gritty-to-the-max prison drama “Oz” to feel-gooders “Touched by an Angel” and “Providence.” And then there’s youth fave “Dawson’s Creek,” which helped define the WB network but never got a single Emmy invite in its six season history.

So will Emmy voters be feeling at least a little sentimental this year and reward any of these generally overlooked TV gems? From a historical perspective the chances look bleak.

Last season saw the end of two shows that had received strong Emmy support in the past: “Ally McBeal” and “The X-Files.” Both received only one technical nomination for their final season. Ditto ABC’s “Once & Again,” which once saw Sela Ward take home the drama actress trophy.

Possibly more directly comparable to this year’s graduating class is “Felicity.” Despite a Golden Globe win for lead Keri Russell, the popular WB skein had only received two minor noms in its history and was, predictably, an Emmy no-show in its final run.

“It seems a lot of times with Emmys you win them right out of the box or you don’t win them at all,” notes USA Today TV columnist Bill Keveney.

At the very least, it helps to get the nominations early on, and then pull off the complicated feats of sustaining quality and viewership. That’s what helped skeins such as “Everybody Loves Raymond,” “Friends” and “Law & Order” to significant wins later in their runs.

“It’s different from movies. Movies are one-shot deals when it comes to awards. Series are there for a long time and most successful quality shows tend to run longer than they maintain their high level of quality. Shows will stay on the air because they attract sizable audiences even if creatively they’re not as strong,” says Keveney.

The series saying goodbye this year are not only up against younger, hotter shows, like “Six Feet Under” and “Boomtown,” but also against their own younger, hotter past.

With a total of 13 nominations for its past six seasons (primarily in categories such as hairstyling and makeup) “Buffy” is the most recognized of the bunch.

Skein’s most significant nomination came in 2000 when series creator Joss Whedon got a mention for writing the episode “Hush.” Critics viewed the nom as a good sign Emmy was finally paying attention to the Sunnydale slayer.

As Whedon recalls, “That nomination was probably the worst thing that could ever happen to me. Everybody said, ‘Oh the writing nomination! “X-Files” got that and after that it was best actress, best show. Here it comes, here comes the avalanche.’ ”

“Buffy’s” following season was critically praised and even included what seemed like a surefire Emmy-bait episode in which Buffy dealt with the death of her mother. It became the only season the show did not receive a single mention.

“There I was participating in an advertising campaign, which basically felt like trolling for a compliment that you don’t get. It didn’t really go my way and it made me realize the very act of getting nominated made me lose perspective for a while,” says Whedon.

With perspective back in place, Whedon isn’t expecting a nom this year and plans to put money for an Emmy campaign to better use.

“My wife said, ‘Honey, next time can we spend tens of thousands of dollars on a charity and not win the Emmy for free?’ “

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