×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Guest star eligibility worthy of debate

Actors with long arcs may be at advantage

A quick glance across the primetime Emmy guest star nods quickly reveals most of the nominees look an awful lot like series regulars.

None of the women nominated stepped in for just a single episode, which has raised some hackles. While acceptable under Emmy rules, the question is being raised as to how fair it is to compare an actor coming in for just a limited guest shot vs. one who is a credit short of a recurring character.

Cloris Leachman may only pop out of the bedroom occasionally, but as the wacky grandma she’s still a part of the core family on “Raising Hope.” And Joan Cusack in “Shameless” often ended up in as many episodes as those deemed supporting actors.

Loretta Devine has appeared on “Grey’s Anatomy” since the show first launched, but checked in for a significant story arc on her character’s early stages of Alzheimer’s this season that earned her a nom.

Last year, John Lithgow took home the guest actor Emmy even though he appeared in almost every episode of “Dexter” as the Trinity Killer. Julia Stiles hopes to repeat that streak with her ongoing turn last season as Dexter’s partner in crime.

The rules regarding guest star criteria have constantly changed over the years. In the past, the TV Academy has limited the number of appearances an actor can make on the series in order to be considered a guest. According to the org’s senior VP John Leverence, at one time the appearances were capped at three. Then, recognizing story arcs, the number was upped to six.

Later, the rule was changed so the standards for being viewed as a guest actor hinged on the actor’s contract spelling out his credit on the show.

“The quantitative ground is always shifting on us, but the qualitative ground remains the same,” Leverence says. “How many episodes are appropriate seemed to change as drama changed. As we got more into ensemble casts, we entered into a new area of who are the leads, and who are the supports and, in turn, who are the guest stars.”

Margo Martindale, who guest starred on “Justified” for just one season, opted to submit in the supporting actress category this year. She snagged a nomination.

Leverence, however, maintains there is a difference between a guest actor and a series regular even if they recur on the show rather than just walk in for a single job.

“There’s an orbit around the mother planet of series and the regulars,” says Leverence. “The guest stars, no matter how many episodes they are in, are positioned differently than the core lead and support group.”

At this time, there are no plans to change conditions under which an actor may submit to this category.

“In a nutshell, board policy is to defer to the legal experts,” says Sheri Ebner, director of the Emmy Awards. “If the contract says they are a guest actor, then they are a guest actor.”

But as history proves, policy can always shift.

“The board might do a blend, where the title is one part and then a cap on the number of episodes another,” Leverence says. “There’s nothing on the agenda, but rules are constantly changing and evolving.”

Ebner says in the end, it doesn’t really matter how many episodes in which the actor appeared, but the power of the submitted performance.

It only took one appearance on “Law & Order: SVU” for Ann-Margret’s guest star Emmy win last season.

“It all comes down to that one episode, so that makes things equal, ” Ebner says.

ROAD TO THE EMMYS: THE GUEST STAR
Guest star eligibility worthy of debate | Drama guest stars vie for Emmy | Guests shine in comedies

Popular on Variety

More TV

  • Phoebe Waller Bridge Emmys

    TV Review: The 71st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards

    The 71st annual Primetime Emmy Awards had some truly surprising moments, twists that not even the most experienced prognosticators saw coming, moving tributes and calls to action. It’s just too bad that not a single one of them came courtesy of Fox’s production.  The Emmys are, all things considered, a dependably tame awards ceremony. They [...]

  • David Benioff, D. B. Weiss, Carolyn

    'Game of Thrones,' HBO Top Total Emmy Wins

    With the final numbers in, HBO topped 2019 in total Emmy wins. Of HBO’s record-breaking 137 nominations, the premium cabler ultimately took home 34 awards. Netflix was second with 27 wins total out of 117 nominations. Going into Sunday, HBO had already won 25 Emmys across the two nights of the Creative Arts awards show [...]

  • Game of Thrones Emmys

    Yes, 'Game of Thrones' Deserved to Win Outstanding Drama Emmy (Column)

    Your mileage may vary, as they say, but let’s stipulate that the final season of “Game of Thrones” was a huge disappointment to many viewers, who loudly expressed their displeasure on the internet about what a damn mess it was. And yes, many shows in the Emmys’ outstanding drama category this year were better television. [...]

  • Emmys Snubs and Surprises 2019

    Emmys 2019: The Biggest Snubs and Surprises

    Although the HBO series”Game of Thrones” and “Veep” both came to an end this year and therefore were seeing their final chances to be celebrated at the Emmys, the voting members of the Television Academy did not just tick off all the boxes for those two behemoths and call it a night. In fact, far [...]

  • Orange is the New Black Season

    Emmys: 'Orange Is the New Black,' 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend' Left Off Farewell Segment

    Fox decided to set aside some time at this year’s Emmys to say farewell to some of the biggest shows that aired their final seasons in recent months. The brief segment highlighted landmark shows like “The Big Bang Theory,” but also left out some fan favorites. The segment only lasted around 90 seconds after “Empire” [...]

  • Jharrel Jerome accepts the award for

    'When They See Us' Star Jharrel Jerome: 'Our Strongest Stories Are the Stories of Pain'

    “When They See Us” star and newly-minted Emmy winner Jharrel Jerome was posed a tough question backstage after his win. A reporter asked Jerome why it seems that people of color seem to only win major awards for stories that detail their trials and tribulations. “Unfortunately I think our strongest stories are the stories of [...]

  • Phoebe Waller-Bridge - Outstanding Comedy Series

    'Fleabag' Nearly Sweeps 2019 Comedy Emmys With Surprise Best Series Win

    Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s critically-acclaimed auteur comedy “Fleabag” had only one chance to clean up at the Emmys, and while it didn’t fully sweep comedy categories, it came damn near close. The Amazon Prime Video half-hour took the coveted comedy series category, as well as lead comedy actress (for Waller-Bridge), comedy writing (also for Waller-Bridge) and comedy [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content