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Emmy Nods to Veteran Actors Prove Importance of Longevity (Column)

Despite some well-documented snubs, Television Academy members did a great job with this year’s Emmy nominations when it came to recognizing new series, such as FX’s “Pose” and Netflix’s “Russian Doll,” as well as rising talent including Anthony Carrigan (HBO’s “Barry”), Joey King (Hulu’s “The Act”) and Billy Porter (“Pose”).

That spotlight on fresh series and stars is likely a byproduct of the org’s efforts to expand its ranks, which now number nearly 25,000 voting members. And it’s about time, as the Primetime Emmy race becomes (thankfully) less predictable.

But here’s where this year’s nominations particularly shine: There’s also still room for legends to get notice, especially in the lead actor categories. And in some cases, they are seeing accolades for the first time in decades — or ever.

The four nominations for Pop TV’s “Schitt’s Creek,” after years of critical acclaim, were a stunning validation for the Television Academy’s quest to reward TV’s best. Among those noms was lead comedy actor for Eugene Levy, marking his first Emmy nomination in 36 years. (Co-star Catherine O’Hara, also nominated this year for “Schitt’s Creek,” was previously recognized in 2010, for “Temple Grandin.”)

To put that in perspective, the last time Levy was nominated was during the first Reagan administration; there were just three broadcast networks; and cable TV wasn’t even eligible to compete at the Emmys. In 1983, both Levy and O’Hara were among the “SCTV Network” scribes who were nominated for variety writing — and Levy was a part of the staff for the winning episode.
In 1983, “SCTV” was the only show nominated in the category — that’s how beloved it was at the time. Five different episodes competed against each other in the variety writing category that year, with “Sweeps Week” winning. (“SCTV” also won — and was nominated in four out of the five variety writing slots — in 1982).

Those were the last Emmys that either Levy or O’Hara won, but now they both have a chance to end that drought. “From the beginning, we knew this show was special, but we pinched ourselves at the opportunity of working with two comedic legends,” Pop TV president Brad Schwartz tells me. Asked specifically about Levy’s return to Emmy glory after nearly four decades, he adds: “Seeing Eugene on camera brings back every emotion you’ve ever felt watching him throughout his celebrated career. Whether it’s ‘SCTV,’ or ‘Vacation,’ or ‘Splash,’ or ‘American Pie,’ or ‘Best in Show,’ or ‘Schitt’s Creek,’ he’s truly iconic and simply one of the best ever.”

Levy’s not the only icon in the lead comedy actor category this year. Also consider Michael Douglas, nominated for Netflix’s “The Kominsky Method.” Douglas won the Emmy for lead limited series/TV movie actor in 2013 for “Behind the Candelabra,” and was nominated in 2002 as a guest comedy actor for “Will & Grace.” But before that, his previous Emmy nominations were in 1974, 1975 and 1976 as a supporting drama actor for “The Streets of San Francisco.”

The true MVP in the lead comedy actor category, however, is easily Ted Danson. Nominated for a second year in a row for NBC’s “The Good Place,” Danson has held 17 nominations over the years, in comedy (“The Good Place” and “Cheers”), drama (“Damages”) and limited series or special (“Something About Amelia”). He’s also the all-time nomination leader in the lead comedy actor category, at 13 (including two wins, in 1990 and 1993, for “Cheers”).

It’s a stacked category, however, as they’ll be up against frequent Emmy nominees Anthony Anderson (ABC’s “Black-ish”), who’s been among the finalists for five consecutive years; Showtime’s “Black Monday” star Don Cheadle, whose first Emmy nod came in 1999 for the telepic “A Lesson Before Dying”; and last year’s winner, “Barry” star Bill Hader, who’s also nominated this year for writing and directing.

Other veteran actors earning their first Emmy nominations this year include Hugh Grant (lead limited series/TV movie actor for Amazon Prime Video’s “A Very English Scandal”), Michael McKean (guest drama actor for AMC’s “Better Call Saul”) and Stephen Root (comedy supporting actor, for “Barry”).

TV Academy CEO Frank Scherma tells me he hopes the scope of iconic actors paired with newer talent will attract a wide swath to the Emmy telecast. “I think it’s fabulous so many legends of comedy — legendary actors — have risen to the top with a new generation of actors as well, so that we’re looking at both,” he says. “I love the combination at this year’s Emmys. It looks to the future, but remembers the past.”

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