Few Emmy nominees are as long in the tooth as the comedies in the animation programming category, where “The Simpsons,” “South Park” and “Futurama” not only have more than 40 seasons of shows among them but have owned the category in every year but two this century.

The most obvious explanation of their dominance is they continue to be good … even those that overcame the ultimate hurdle.

“I don’t think our secret weapon in the Emmys is getting ourselves canceled every couple of years so we can always come in as the fresh underdog,” says David X. Cohen, co-creator and exec producer on “Futurama,” which originated on Fox and was resurrected on Comedy Central.

Even after having produced enough episodes to creatively exhaust dozens of other shows, animation has several advantages over live-action when it comes to keeping the material fresh. It is no more difficult to send Homer Simpson to the moon for a single joke or have “Family Guy’s” Peter Griffin parody “Singin’ in the Rain” than it is to have characters sit at a table and talk.

Also, characters need not age, allowing Bart Simpson to still be 10 years old after 22 seasons.

“If people like it, then it doesn’t have to change, whereas with a sitcom, things are changing and biology is working against you,” says Cohen.

Being so long-lived has created some unusual dynamics in the Emmy race, including a little bit of fanboy fervor from the competition.

“We watch their shows,” says Seth Green, co-creator of “Robot Chicken,” nominated this year for its third “Star Wars” parody special. “We’re actually really, really into them, and they’re part of why we’re into animation.

” ‘South Park’ feels like it gets better and sharper every year, ‘Simpsons’ is still funny, ‘Futurama’ is still funny. There’s a reason those shows don’t get cancelled and keep winning awards.”

Even with such consistency, it remains a difficult category to predict. “It’s truly a program award, so you’re looking at direction, you’re looking at the storyboards,” says Rich Appel, who has worked as a writer and producer on most of Fox’s primetime animated series and is exec producer on “The Cleveland Show,” nominated for the first time this year.

However voters decide, Appel says quality should be rewarded regardless of how long a show has been on the air.

“I have no principled belief that old shows have to make way for new shows,” he says. “If a show can maintain the heights that it reaches at its best, it’s going to be nominated year after year.”

Laughed behind | Old toon comedies remain Emmy-fresh
The nominees