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.

Guest star eligibility worthy of debate | Drama guest stars vie for Emmy | Guests shine in comedies

More TV

  • Westworld Season 3 Trailer

    Aaron Paul, Showrunners Unveil 'Westworld' Season 3 Trailer (Watch)

    Season 3 of “Westworld” is going to new worlds altogether. Unveiled during the show’s Comic-Con panel, the trailer teases Thandie Newton’s character entering a new world of hosts set during World War II. Meanwhile, in the human world, Dolores and her fellow hosts who escaped “Westworld” in season 2 are being hunted down by humans. [...]

  • Variety Cord Cutting Placeholder Cable

    Dish Faces Multiple Outages as Carriage Contracts Come Due

    Satellite-broadcaster Dish is known in the media industry as a hard bargainer when carriage contracts come up for renewal. HBO hasn’t been available on the service since November. Now, other TV networks face a similar prospect. Unless Dish and certain content suppliers reach new terms by Monday evening, subscribers who use several cable networks currently [...]

  • Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard of

    'Star Trek: Picard' to Feature Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, Brent Spiner, Jeri Ryan

    “Star Trek: Picard” is bringing back some familiar faces. During the show’s San Diego Comic-Con panel on Saturday, it was revealed that Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Marina Sirtis, and Jeri Ryan would reprising their roles from “Next Generation” and “Voyager” in Ryan’s case. Jonathan Del Arco will also appear, likely reprising his role as the [...]

  • The Simpsons Homer Live

    'The Simpsons' Will Finally Release Season 19 on DVD, Helping Out Purist Collectors

    “The Simpsons” DVD collectors who also happen to be obsessive-compulsive can rest a little easier: You’ll finally be able to fill in that missing Season 19. Executive producer Al Jean revealed on Saturday that 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment will finally release the 19th season of “The Simpsons” on DVD this December 3, two years [...]

  • Pictured: No'l Wells as Ensign Tendi;

    'Star Trek: Lower Decks' Sets Main Cast

    The upcoming animated series “Star Trek: Lower Decks” has announced its main voice cast. Tawny Newsome, Noël Wells, and Eugene Cordero will all star in the series. As Variety exclusively reported, Jack Quaid has also been cast as Ensign Brad Boimler. The Starfleet characters that comprise the ship’s bridge crew include Captain Carol Freeman, voiced by [...]

  • Jack Quaid

    'Star Trek: Lower Decks' Casts Jack Quaid (EXCLUSIVE)

    Jack Quaid has joined the voice cast of the upcoming animated series “Star Trek: Lower Decks” at CBS All Access, Variety has learned exclusively. As previously announced, the series will focus on the support crew serving on one of Starfleet’s least important ships. Quaid will voice the character of Ensign Brad Boimler. Described as a [...]

  • Batwoman Arrow

    'Batwoman' Executive Producers Address Ruby Rose's Absence at Comic-Con

    What’s a “Batwoman” panel without Batwoman? The CW showed the pilot for its upcoming DC series at Comic-Con to much fan excitement, however, the absence of leading star Ruby Rose was conspicuous. Rose, who plays the titular lesbian superhero, was scheduled to headline the panel but announced just a couple days before the panel via [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content