In May 2002, NBC’s Friends was coming off its eighth season, which chronicled Rachel’s pregnancy. Whether it was the resurgence of the Rachel/Ross storyline or the nation’s yearning for laughter following the 9/11 attacks, it was one of Friends’ most successful seasons, drawing its largest audience in four years. While Friends was embraced by viewers in a big way, the popular comedy seemed causa perduta where the Emmys were concerned. For its first seven seasons, Friends only had earned three Emmys (for supporting actress Lisa Kudrow, guest actor Bruce Willis and directing). In 2001 it missed a nom in the best comedy series category, after two consecutive mentions and four overall, and recorded its fewest nominations in any season with five. But the following year, voters gave the show a second look with 11 nominations, as well as wins for best comedy series and best actress in a comedy series for Jennifer Aniston.
While some snubs have been frustrating — such as House’s Hugh Laurie and The Office’s Steve Carell never winning an Emmy for their signature roles — the Television Academy has been much more open than others about revisiting actors and shows that had slipped through the cracks. The Sopranos, 24 and Breaking Bad didn’t win a best drama series Emmy until their fifth seasons. Everybody Loves Raymond didn’t get its best comedy series Emmy until season seven. The show won a second Emmy for its ninth and final run, which is something The Sopranos also accomplished with the conclusion of its final sixth season.
All of this is encouraging precedent for CBS’ blockbuster The Big Bang Theory, which, in its seventh season, is still looking for its first best comedy series Emmy. It came close last year when it ended the season with a string of strong episodes and two major critics’ best series awards before losing at the Emmys to Modern Family.
CBS’ The Good Wife is likely to get a second breath of life after dropping out of the drama race the past two years. While it’s not easy for a serialized drama to find another gear late in its run, The Good Wife found it this season, earning its first Golden Globe best drama series nom as well as renewed Writers Guild Awards recognition—all before Josh Charles’ shocking exit.
Things are less reassuring for AMC veteran Mad Men, which also is seeking an Emmy comeback after being shut out for a trophy the past two years following four consecutive best drama series wins. TV Academy voters rarely revisit a series after a dominating Emmy start. Frasier won five consecutive best comedy series Emmys for its first five seasons, 30 Rock did it for the first three, and The West Wing, like Mad Men, won for the first four. None of them logged another best series win ever again.
Mad Men star Jon Hamm and Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler are among a number of actors on long-running series who deserve another look. They never have won an Emmy for roles that have become pop culture staples. Sarah Jessica Parker of Sex and the City scored an Emmy in her very last shot, something Neil Patrick Harris of recently departed How I Met Your Mother and Michael C. Hall of Dexter will try to accomplish this year.
It will be an uphill battle for Hall and Hamm after HBO’s True Detective opted to compete as a drama, along with its leading men Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. The plucky HBO newcomer is shaking up the drama race, throwing a wrench into the narrative about second and final chances that had focused on Breaking Bad’s attempt to end its run with back-to-back best series wins and long-running shows, such as Mad Men and The Good Wife, staging a comeback. Instead, it will be a battle of the young turks, led by True Detective and House of Cards, and the veterans, led by Breaking Bad and Mad Men.