The thing about the Television Academy of Arts & Sciences is that, once they get it in their head that someone is worthy of an Emmy nomination, they often continue to write in that name whether the show or actor is still worthy of the nomination. This year, for instance, Margo Martindale won for Best Guest Actress on The Americans. I love The Americans. Margo Martindale — who won for Justified — is phenomenal, but she was on The American for maybe 10 minutes, tops. Frank Langella, who basically took over her The Americans role and performed just as well, wasn’t even nominated.
It becomes an automatic for some shows and performance, so that if a show or performer does really well early on, they can glide for a few years based on the strength of the earlier work. The voters simply stop paying attention, and punt one nominee into the next out of force of habit.
Here’s 12 examples of just that.
Michael C. Hall — Michael C. Hall was nominated once for Six Feet Under, so voters just assumed he was worthy on Dexter. He was for a few seasons, but they nominated him five times in a row on the drama series, including near the end of Dexter’s run, when even he might admit he was phoning it in.
Kiefer Sutherland — 24 ran for 9 seasons. It wasn’t very good after the third season. Sutherland was nominated for lead actor 7 times, including those years in which he’d long since become a yelling Jack Bauer caricature. GIVE ME BACK MY EMMY.
Edie Falco — Emmy voter: “I loved Falco on The Sopranos! She’s playing a drug-addicted nurse on this show? She must be terrific! I’ll write her in, for sure!” Repeat six times.
Mariska Hargitay — Great actress, no doubt. But how many of those 8 nominations for Law & Order: SVU do you credit to the mystique of surviving the car crash that killed her mother, Jayne Mansfield? I mean, how hard is it to deliver the same pat police procedural phrases week after week?
Matt LeBlanc — Matt LeBlanc was only nominated three times for his work on Friends, but he’s been nominated four times for Episodes, where he plays himself. I’ve seen Episodes. He doesn’t play himself all that well!
Friends — LIkewise, Friends was nominated six times for outstanding comedy series, including a few in those later middling later years when they’d ratcheted up the idiosyncrasies of the characters, so that all Joey did was eat sandwiches and Monica was basically OCD.
Modern Family — Modern Family was an outstanding freshman series, and a pretty good sophomore show. It’s been coasting since, but it’s still put up six Outstanding Comedy nominations in a row, including this year (the same thing can also be said for the ensemble cast, five or six of which are also nominated every year).
The Office — The Office has four great seasons. It was nominated six times, including three of the four last seasons, after it had become a shadow of its former self. Yes, that even includes the James Spader season, which we’d all just as soon forget.
Dexter — Dexter was nominated for Outstanding Drama five times, including that miserable Lumen Pierce season with Julia Stiles.
West Wing — West Wing absolutely deserved being nominated its first four seasons, under Aaron Sorkin, and you might even make a case for its nomination in its final season. But it was also nominated in the mediocre at best fifth and sixth seasons, under John Wells.
Jon Cryer — Cryer earned six nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor on Two and a Half Men, for a show that didn’t deserve any nominations. I like to think the Emmy voters just nominated him out of respect for his ability to work with Charlie Sheen.
The Daily Show and Late Show with David Letterman are my two favorite late-night shows of all time, but even I can recognize that The Daily Show didn’t deserve every single one of its 10 consecutive Emmy wins, and surely Late Night with Conan O’Brien deserved at least one win during the years in which Letterman’s Late Show won five of six (broken up only by the Tracey Ulmann show).