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by Cary O'Dell

Though the hosts, the set and the worst-dressed change from year to year, often TV’s annual Emmy presentation (like the one that aired last Sunday night) comes across like just another rerun.

That’s because, often, the same people win in the same categories year after year. Both Allison Janney (of “Mom”) and Tony Hale (of “Veep”) claimed repeat wins the other night.

emmy awardsAnd before “Veep” wrestled the award away from it, “Modern Family” had claimed five “Outstanding Sitcom” statues in a row. And before Jeffrey Tambor came on strong with his role in “Transparent,” Jim Parsons (who may have recused himself this year) took home four in a row for his role on “Big Bang Theory.” Meanwhile, Julia Louis-Dreyfus just nabbed her fourth in a row for “Veep.” Back in the day, Candice Bergen grabbed five for her work on “Murphy Brown”; Tyne Daly in “Cagney & Lacey” seemed to have a lock on the Best Actress category for a time, taking the award home four times; and, in the 1980s, “Hill Street Blues” took home the award for Best Drama five years in row. (“Hill Street’s” record has since been matched by “L.A. Law,” “The West Wing,” and “Mad Men.”)

With this high number of repeat winners every year, it’s not surprising that often, the morning after the telecast, viewers are often left with a feeling of “What was the point?”

Of course, awards and any sort of “Best” superlatives ever handed out for any sort of creative effort is, inherently, suspect and fraught with debate and even controversy. Ultimately, there’s no scientific way to determine if one performance is better than another. A variety of factors always figure in as to why one person takes home the gold and the other doesn’t. (The again, I also think, in regard to the Oscars, Emmys,, that we spend way too much time Monday Morning Quarterbacking everything—finding or creating reasons why someone will win or not win and too seldom thinking, Hey, maybe they won because, you know, they gave a good performance?)

Still, the annual Emmys are in a unique and sometimes difficult position. Baring the occasional successful sequel, the Oscars never have to reward the same person for the same role more than once. Ditto the Tonys and the Grammys where, there too, the yearly presentations have a strict (and logical) “one-and-done” policy no matter how successful a movie is or how long a stage show runs.

In contrast, a hit TV series can run for years and years, with the same cast, often playing (and perhaps playing quite well) the same role and thus enabling the same performers to win in the same categories year after year.

So what do we do with this “problem”? And, moreover, is it a “problem” at all?

Considering the aforementioned subjective nature of these awards, perhaps it would behoove the Emmys to adopt some sort of “one-per-customer” rule. Perhaps a “gentlemen’s agreement” could be put in place that says after one win (or two or maybe three, tops) you are no longer in the running ever again, if only to make room for some new blood.

Actually, often times it falls to the performer themselves to decide when they’ve been honored enough and then choose to not submit their name/work for Emmy consideration; note the absence of Jim Parsons from the noms this year. This recusing is what John Larroquette eventually did after four consecutive years of Emmy love for his role on “Night Court” and what Candice Bergen ultimately did after her fifth win for “Murphy Brown.”

Other times, sheer fatigue and lack of newness eventually removes performers from active consideration. A case in point: the first season of “The Golden Girls” in 1984, not surprisingly, all three of its leading ladies—Betty White, Bea Arthur and Rue McClanahan—were nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series. White won that year first year. All three were nominated again the following year with McClanahan winning that time. The year after that, all three were nominated again with Arthur taking home the award. All three “Golden Girls” would be nominated the year after that but lost to Candice Bergen who was just beginning her streak as “Murphy Brown.” That year (1988-89) also marked the final time all three “Golden Girls” would be nominated. But “The Golden Girls” stayed on the air until 1992. So what happened? Did White, McClanahan and Arthur suddenly become less talented or have less expertise in their roles?


No, but some new faces came to the tube and to that category including Kirstie Alley, Helen Hunt and Roseanne. And, so, voters apparently thought it was time to share the wealth and make room for the next generation. The “Girls,” it seems, had had their day(s) in the sun and it was now time for them to move on and let the newbies take over.

Despite the phenomenon of repeat winners, it can be argued, that if a performer is doing good work, season after season, regardless of how many times they’ve won in the past, they still deserve to be recognized again even if it makes the awards seem as if they are in a rut. After all, the best is still the best, even if we’ve seen it before.

Due to the repeat nature and long-term eligibility unique to the Emmys, in many ways, the TV industry awards are less like the Oscars than they are, say, like the World Series, the Super Bowl or tennis’s US Open where the same teams and/or players have the chance to take the top prize year after year. Though she defaulted this year, Serena Williams grabbed her sixth US Open title last year. On the men’s side, in the early and mid-2000s, Roger Federer won five US Open titles in a row. Yet, despite their plethora of repeat victories, no one has yet demanded that Williams and/or Federer recuse themselves from this annual tournament, or any other one for that matter. In fact, asking them or any athlete or talented sports team to not play and compete to the best of their abilities is actually rather insulting, flying in the face of what athletics and competition is supposed to be all about.

But, of course, the Emmys are about art, not athletics. And art is not made to be measured via such qualifiers as speed or distance or serves returned. Furthermore, hopefully, no performer is performing with the idea of getting awards in mind but for the joy of performing and in bringing something to their audience. Which then, of course, calls into question not only the issue of “winners” and repeat winners but the idea of awards in general.

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