The Emmys can be a very frustrating thing. They’re meant to be the tops for the television industry, the award all actors in TV want and be for the best of the best. Yet every year, the grousing is huge over the fantastic shows and performances that are ignored. This year actually showed some surprising improvement as the acclaimed The Americans was finally recognized for Best Drama and its leads getting noms as well. Tatiana Maslany also earned another Best Actress Drama nod for Orphan Black and Mr. Robot scored as well. It’s a far cry from the 1990s when you’d see Frazier dominating literally every year but it still has some low stuff. It’s more than annoying to think of the great actors (Steve Carrell, Amy Poehler, Hugh Laurie, Angela Lansbury) who scored multiple nominations but never won the award.
On the other hand, just getting the nomination was something. It’s downright shocking how many fantastic series and actors have never earned an Emmy nomination. The organization is notorious for having a bias against science fiction and fantasy (except Game of Thrones) and not into low-rated stuff as well. Thus, not too surprising so many great sci-fi shows are ignored. Yet there are shows you’d think perfect for Emmy voters yet were ignored time and again despite massive critical acclaim. There have been tons of choices but here are the biggest of the bunch, the 15 most outrageous snubs in Emmy history and how, for all their hype, these awards can be seen as more politics than truly honoring television’s best.
15. Desi Arnaz
I Love Lucy basically wrote the rules that every sitcom since has followed. For six seasons and 181 episodes, the show featured Lucille Ball in her justly Emmy-winning turn as the gal wanting stardom who causes messes everywhere she goes. Vivian Vance and William Frawley also got nods as best friends the Mertzes. However, Desi Arnaz was somehow overlooked for his iconic role as Ricky. From his great musical numbers to how he could be hysterical blowing his top over Lucy’s antics, Arnaz was a comedy master and the chemistry with him and Ball made the show a success. It did drive a wedge between them behind the scenes and while the show remains iconic in the history of television, it’s a shame Ricky couldn’t get love from Emmy voters.
How is it possible for a show to spend nine seasons as one of the highest-rated comedies on TV, have its cast be nominated (and winning) several times for acting awards and yet never be nominated for Best Comedy Series? The answer comes with ABC’s hit as the tale of a blue-collar family handling their rough lives was a hit with viewers but that didn’t extend to the Emmy committee. John Goodman was nominated six times over its run (no wins), Barr herself four times (she won once) and Laurie Metcalf won three Emmys for her work. Despite that, the show could never find itself in the Best Series field, a surprise given its popularity and how it could offer truly powerful episodes on abuse, teen sex and more. Maybe it was just too blue-collar for the Hollywood members to grant awards too and while the cast was deserving, the show itself deserved a nod in its own right.
It probably was never going to happen. The entire point of NBC’s series was to smash apart the conventions of the TV comedy, to embrace the clichés and tropes and send them up with a style that leaned heavily on the fourth wall. That was just too offbeat for more traditional Emmy voters to get into so it’s not totally surprising the show never got any nods. However, it still means the Emmys ignored one of the best laugh-out-loud series on TV in its time. The cast (Joel McHale, Gillian Jacobs, Alison Brie, Danny Pudi, Yvette Nicole Brown, Donald Glover, Chevy Chase) all turned in Emmy-worthy performances and the show fit far better as Best Comedy than, say, Modern Family or Big Bang Theory. True, the fourth season was a mess but it rebounded in its fifth, surviving Chase’s exit and still hitting you with great laugh lines. It was probably too offbeat to see as an Emmy darling but still ranks among the best comedies to never get the nod from the committee.
12. Homicide: Life on the Street
Before procedural dramas took hold on television, Homicide was rocking viewers with its gripping look at what goes into a murder investigation. With cutting edge writing, a fantastic cast (including future Oscar winner Melissa Leo and Richard Belzer creating his now iconic role of John Munch) and a gritty look not seen on broadcast TV at the time, the show was a critical smash running for six seasons. The Emmys did recognize it with Barry Levinson winning for directing and Andre Braugher taking home a much-deserved Best Actor award for his sensational turn as cop Frank Pembleton. However, the show most agreed was the best drama on television in its time never got an actual Best Drama Series nomination. This despite how it won an award for “best casting” and several writing awards yet somehow the Emmys couldn’t cite it among the actual series nominations. Now that’s a bigger crime than anything the series actually featured.
11. Courtney Cox
Over the course of ten hit seasons, Friends was one of the biggest comedies on TV, a ratings powerhouse and boosting all six of its leads to major stars. It scored multiple nominations for Best Comedy (winning in 2002), Bruce Willis and Christina Applegate winning for guest turns, all three male leads nominated and Lisa Kudrow and Jennifer Aniston both taking home trophies for their work on the series. Yet, for some bizarre reason, Courteney Cox was never once nominated for the show’s run. It was a baffling turn as her Monica could offer good laughs and some nice work and it just didn’t seem right that she would be the only member of the ensemble never recognized for the show. It followed Cox as she was likewise snubbed for her work on the comedy Cougar Town, despite great acclaim. Friends may have been a hit but the Emmys didn’t spread that love to Cox.
10. Michael Landon
It’s rare that an actor can get not one but three hit series under his belt. Landon managed that feat, first with his star-making role as Little Joe Cartwright on Bonanza, one of the biggest Western hits ever, lasting 14 seasons. He followed that up as the father on Little House on the Prairie, another hit for nine seasons. Finally came Highway to Heaven, Landon playing an angel for five hit seasons. While some criticize his personal life, Landon was a good man in person and amazingly popular, his death in 1991 to cancer at only 54 rocking Hollywood. Which makes it more surprising that he failed to get an Emmy nomination for any of those series, despite their massive success. It just remains so strange for an actor whose on-air career spanned four decades to not get a single nod from the Academy that claimed to enjoy him so much and that longevity doesn’t always equal awards recognition.
Given how the Emmys had granted awards to The X-Files, one would hope they could do the same for this terrific series. Sadly, it wasn’t to be as despite its amazing story-telling and fantastic plotlines, the series failed to get any major nominations, including Best Drama. Anna Torv was deserving of a nod for her work in season 3 as both Olivia and her doppelganger from another universe. Of course, the biggest snub is John Noble who should have been nominated for every single season (and won for season 4) for his work as the well-meaning but disturbed Walter, wringing humor and pathos in equal measure and ending up on most lists of the best TV performances of each year. The show went out on a good high and that one of the best sci-fi series of recent years could be ignored shows how this bias against genre TV is a major issue for Emmy voters.
8. Sons of Anarchy
FX has had some issues getting love from Emmy voters (witness how it took four seasons for The Americans to get nominations) and this sadly worked against this amazing show. Basically Shakespeare set against a California biking clan, the series could be brutal and shocking in character deaths but also affecting in its talk of family. Katey Sagal clearly deserved a nomination for her turn as the mother whose actions could cause as much heartbreak as aid and Charlie Hunnam’s work as Jax was a sight to behold. Its brutal nature may have worked against it, voters not sure of rewarding a show that promoted so much sex and violence (this was before Game of Thrones came along) and the show’s darkness a bit rough to accept. Still, a shame the series’ fantastic ride couldn’t be rewarded by Emmy voters but then, the Sons would wear this as a badge of honor.
7. Gilmore Girls
For seven seasons, the WB/CW series delighted audiences with its charming tale of a mother and daughter who were more best friends living in a quirky town. Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel were fantastic in the lead roles, firing off the rapid dialogue with great wit but also nailing the dramatic pieces of later seasons. Kelly Bishop was just as terrific as Graham’s overbearing mother while Melissa McCarthy rose to stardom as chef Sookie. Despite all the acclaim, the series was constantly ignored by the Emmys, including the top-notch season 6 and only garnered one nomination (and win) for Best Makeup. Graham would also be ignored for her six seasons of Parenthood but the Gilmore snub remains much bigger. Hopefully, the upcoming Netflix revival of the series gives the Emmy committee a chance to rectify this huge mistake.
6. Andy Griffith
This may truly be surprising. The Andy Griffith Show was one of the top-rated programs of its time, launching Ron Howard’s career and would earn Don Knotts three Emmy awards for his role as Barney Fife. Yet, astoundingly, Griffith himself was never once nominated for Best Comedy Actor, a huge snub. Griffith would later get another hit in Matlock but once more, never nominated for an Emmy during that show’s nine-season run. He didn’t even get a nomination for any of the his numerous guest starring roles in other TV series and only one nomination for the 1981 TV movie Murder in Texas. It thus remains utterly fantastic that a man considered a TV icon could never get the Emmys to love him like audiences did.
5. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
To be fair, you can see how some of the more staid members of the Emmy committee might balk at that title alone. But then, they would have ignored the genius of Joss Whedon’s series which used the supernatural and some comedy to expertly show the challenges of growing up. It tackled issues of addiction, bullying, coming out with your sexuality and more with more grace and care than most “serious” dramas and the fact it happened with demons and magic abounding just made it more fun. Sarah Michelle Gellar could surprise with serious acting chops alongside her cast mates (especially Anthony Stewart Head) and the series’ writing was almost always clever. “The Body” is as stunning and moving an episode of television you can ever watch and should have earned a nomination all by itself. While regarded as one of the greatest cult series ever, the failure of the Emmys to recognize this show is an utter crime.
4. Star Trek: The Next Generation
Granted, it took until season 3 for this show to really get good but when it was great, it was amazing. Wonderfully showcasing social events in a sci-fi setting, the series could offer compelling talk on race, religion, class warfare and more and make it all understandable for even non sci-fi fans. If nothing else, “The Inner Light” (the greatest TNG episode ever) should have gotten Patrick Stewart a nod for his fantastic performance as Picard living an entire life in 30 minutes. You can also argue Brent Spinner deserved a nod for his work as the android Data becoming more human. The show hit a true creative height in season 5 and among the more popular of its time yet a Best Drama nod never came its way. It’s a shame as this was the series that reintroduced Star Trek for a new generation and helped Stewart be a household name so harsh to see the Emmys ignore it.
3. The Shield
It’s been said that if you win an Emmy for a series, you’re pretty much in the running again year after year. However, Michael Chiklis is proof that doesn’t really work. In 2002, he scored a huge upset by winning Best Actor Drama for the first season of FX’s gripping police drama, a dark and powerful piece that many cite as paving the way for broadcast cable to provide fantastic shows on par with HBO. Chiklis’ role as corrupt cop Vick Mackey paved the way for antiheroes like Walter White and Don Draper, and showed a series that pushed boundaries could be a hit. Yet, Chiklis only received one further nomination for the show’s run and Glenn Close and CCH Pounder failed to win Emmys themselves for their great turns. Walton Goggins, who was sensational as Vick’s right-hand man, was never nominated at all. Most galling was that the show was never nominated for Best Drama in its seven-year run. That includes the final season, which is the rare case of the last year being the best for a series. It just seems bizarre that the show that helped rework modern television never got a nod for best series and took a while for the Emmys to realize how much impact that sort of programming had.
2. Battlestar Galactica
Even the massive critical acclaim and Peabody Award couldn’t convince the Emmys to ignore their sci-fi bias to get a nod for this show. A revival of the 1970’s campy series, the show was a great entry for the post-9/11 world, pushing the destruction of the human race and tackling harsh issues. From torture of captives to openly championing terrorist acts, the series was stunning to watch, more compelling than most regular dramas and the cast selling it all. Yet it never received anything more than the “special effects” nominations from the Emmys. Some may claim it was just too dark but the way it used the sci-fi backdrop for real-world matters was sheer genius backed by a stunning bevy of actors making it all work. Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos alone deserved nods and the show should have earned nods for its fantastic writing and direction. True, its finale is often slammed as a disappointment but that doesn’t negate the five seasons of fantastic work before it that deserved attention from Emmy voters.
1. The Wire
HBO and the Emmys have a great relationship, with numerous HBO shows getting nods with Game of Thrones and Veep and showcases how major the network is for voters. However, the greatest sign of how this doesn’t always work out is the treatment of The Wire. For five seasons, this gripping drama explored the way American society falls apart in a major city (Baltimore) with police investigations showing corruption on every level. The cast was top notch (Dominic West, Lance Reddick, Idris Elba, Wendell Pierce and many more), the writing fantastic and each season tackled a great topic (unions, schools, the media) and showed a world without black or white, pure grey. Every year, the show topped the lists of “The Best Show on TV,” earning a Peabody Award among its many other accolades.
And yet, incredibly, not one major Emmy nomination came its way. Nothing for the cast, often ignored on the writing and not one Best Drama Series nod. It still baffles that the show generally considered one of the finest to ever air on television could be utterly ignored by the Emmys. Most believe it was just too dense and powerful for voters to accept but still astounding that the series some consider the best HBO has ever put on the air could get so much love from everyone but the Emmys.