EMMYS: Shocking Wins From Past Telecasts

Ray Richmond is an AwardsLine contributor

Upsets happen at the Emmys with some regularity, and they’ve been a part of things for at least 60 of the 63 years that they have been handing these things out. Let’s take a look:

1952
Red Skelton shockingly beats Lucille Ball and I Love Lucy for best comedy series and best comedian.

1967
The Monkees takes best comedy series over Get Smart, Bewitched, The Andy Griffith Show, and Hogan’s Heroes.

1989
Richard Mulligan wins lead comedy actor for Empty Nest over such all-stars as Michael J. Fox (Family Ties), Ted Danson (Cheers), John Goodman (Roseanne), and Fred Savage (The Wonder Years).

1993-94
David E. Kelley’s Picket Fences wins the drama series trophy in consecutive years, a pair of surprises in a field that included NYPD Blue, Northern Exposure, and Law & Order.

1999
Kelley strikes again. The Practice beats HBO’s The Sopranos for top drama.

2004-05
James Spader takes lead drama actor (first for The Practice, then for its spinoff Boston Legal) over James Gandolfini, Hugh Laurie, and Kiefer Sutherland.

2007
One of the biggest upset years ever. Ricky Gervais wins for lead comedy actor for HBO’s Extras, upending Alec Baldwin and Tony Shalhoub. Spader also wins a third time for drama actor. And perhaps most shocking of all, Katherine Heigl of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy grabs the supporting drama actress honor over Sopranos gals Lorraine Bracco and Aida Turturro as well as fellow Grey’s castmates Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson.

2011
Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory upsets Steve Carell, who was seen as the shoo-in for lead comedy actor for his final season on The Office. Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights steals the lead drama actor ball away from Jon Hamm for Mad Men.

  1. In fairness to the 1967 and 2004 wins – the Monkees actually holds up quite well on repeat viewings, and Spader was fantastic on that last season of the Practice.

    1. Yes The Monkees holds up, but compared to something Get Smart or Bewitched? No way. I’m sorry, no way.

      1. Or Hogan’s Heroes? C’mon, making Nazis funny isn’t easy.

        Seriously, though, The Monkees probably won for originality, and deservedly so. And for all the changes going on in our society at the time at least the show acknowledged them rather than completely ignoring the culture shift. Plus it’s a way for the TV industry to seem “cool” and “with it.”

        1. The Monkees probably won for originality, and deservedly so.

          Yes, especially since it had the advantage of being the newest show in the category. The Andy Griffith Show was nearing its end and the remaining shows had already been around for 2 or 3 seasons.

      2. Yes way, by a long shot. “The Monkees” (the series, not the band) was way ahead of its time: it broke the fourth wall, contained sly, under-the-radar social commentary on the generation and social-class gaps, and used the medium in a way no one since has really been able to reproduce at the same level. I love the band, too, but I would never call their music ‘groundbreaking’ … I would call it ‘catchy’.

        Even better is their feature film, “Head”, which, despite being critically lambasted and ignored by the public, holds up better in 2012 than most Oliver Stone films do. No, I don’t like most of Oliver Stone’s films, and, yes, I went out of my way to take a cheap shot at his work.

        I also love the Monkees: the series, the band, the actors, the songwriters, the show writers, Jack Nicholson, the whole shebang. It’s one of the greatest pop culture phenomenons of all time, and I personally wish everyone who was ever involved the best, even Donny Kirshner.

        Rest in peace, Davy.

        1. “It’s one of the greatest pop culture phenomenons of all time,”

          You just negated any valid points you may have had with this preposterous notion.

  2. Kelly’s “Picket Fences” is still his best work and along with “St. Elsewhere”, one of the best hour-long network series.

  3. Wasn’t the Katherine Heigl win after Knocked Up came out? An Emmy going to somebody because they crossed over into a successful film isn’t really a surprise.

    1. You’re absolutely right. The same thing happened last year with Melissa McCarthy. She won over Martha Plimpton and Amy Poehler who had superb submissions.

    1. If he doesn’t win (a shame), it is a sure thing the winner will say something about Giancarlo in his speech.

  4. I’ll add: Every year Jason Alexander lost in the supporting comedy category. Usually to David Hyde Pierce. I still cannot grasp how Alexander did not win one statue. One!

    I also thought “ER” would have won more than just one best drama.

    I think Jennifer Aniston won one year. That was a mistake.

  5. Umm I’m sorry but Kyle Chandler FINALLY winning for Friday Night Lights was anything but an upset!

  6. I love this little walk down memory lane, great article guys. It seems all can somewhat can be explained away, or at least I can recall the thinking at the time, but I truly can not recall what the deal was with the Monkees winning. Further commentary on that one anyone? Seems to me even if the others split the vote there was still something going on that year that was missing. With all due respect, I recall that series being thrown together the the guys high running all over the Sunset-G lot? Heck, maybe everyone was just high that year OR the Monkees needs another look LOL….. gosh I recall The Practice and Picket Fences – shocking then – shocking. Nice to be shocked.

  7. Say what you will about the Monkees, but their show was amazingly prescient. Look at an episode now and you’ll see the birth of music videos, non-linear storytelling, jump-cut editing, the list goes on… that series was decades ahead of its time.

    1. Interesting. I’m serious I’m going to look at that show again. You’re right about the jump-cut editing . Interesting.

      1. Um…..you guys ever hear of a couple of British movies called “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Help?” Ever heard of a director named Richard Lester?

        As is the case with all good things that end up on American television, the Brits invented it first.

        1. Not really, except for a few reality shows (American Idol, Dancing With The Stars) and maybe some past remakes (Sanford & Son), that’s not really true. Mind you, there’s not a lot of good things on American televeision in general, but Seinfeld, the Sopranos, Curb Your Enthusiasm, the Wire, they are pretty American-centric shows. Obviously something like the Monkees is different because they were supposed to be a British Invasion-type pop group.

          1. You miss my point. I’m not talking properties. I’m talking FORMAT and STYLE. In the mid-sixties, the Brits brought the mini-series, the continuing storyline and the quirky comedy to an American TV landscape when it was mired in single-story episodes and “I Love Lucy” and “Make Room For Daddy” clones. But you probably weren’t around when any of these things were introduced, so you are not aware of what a huge contribution British TV has made to American TV.

  8. Could it be that the reason Emmy voters make different choices than Emmy reporters is that Emmy voters actually work in TV and know more than Emmy reporters do?

  9. This is why awards for art are pretty much meaningless, especially when considering these awards are campaigned for.

  10. The Emmys are much ado about nothing. These self-appointed TV gods can’t even bring themselves to consider all of the shows on cable, like ‘Burn Notice’ and ‘Alphas’, but seem obsessed with ‘Mad Men’. Makes no sense.

  11. Ricky gerv is a deserved winner.
    Who else would be so popular for
    insulting the Infirm and those bborn into poverty
    ……So come on people lets all have a good laugh
    Talk about the thick of this world.

  12. Thank you for including the shocker of 2011 — Steve Carell not winning an Emmy. So unfair; so unjust — it just took the oxygen out of the room. I hope Steve is crying all the way to the bank.

  13. the emmys are a joke. a limited popularity contest. why else did candice bergen win every year, to the point of feeling embarrassed and withdrawing her name.

    1. The 3 wins for James Spader and 3 for Bryan Cranston kind of created the situation where Laurie never won (although, to be fair, one of Spader’s wins was Pre-HOUSE). Still, the character of House will go down as one of the most iconic in TV history and the actor who portrayed him will have gone winless. Too bad.

      Who wants to bet that somebody Laurie will do a nothing cameo on some show and get a “make-up” Emmy?

  14. Jim Parsons winning was not a shock. The real shock is “The Big Bang Theory” never wins, “Roseanne” never won and was barely ever nominated and “The Middle” never gets nominated.

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