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Sci-Fi & Fantasy at Emmy Awards: Who’s Won, Who’s Been Fracked

From ‘Buffy’ to ‘Battlestar,’ how science fiction, fantasy and other genre-fan favorites have fared


Genre television has long been the unwanted bastard stepchild of the Primetime Emmy Awards. Not action, mystery or thriller, mind you. (There were a few years in the Eighties when the Outstanding Drama Series category was almost nothing but cop shows.) No, we're talking about science fiction and fantasy, which conventional wisdom would have you believe are less-than-respectable genres in which aliens, vampires, robots and/or dragons supplant more "serious" issues that get explored in mainstream dramas.

But of course, any geek worth their weight in still-boxed action figures knows that that simply isn't true anymore, and probably never was. From The Twilight Zone to Battlestar Galactica, TV creators have been using fantasy and speculative worlds as an arena to tackle big, meaty, human stories.

And while many viewers and critics have long known this to be the case, middle-of-the-road–loving Emmy voters are slow on the uptake. In the 67-year history of the Primetime Emmy awards, only one genre show has taken home the coveted Outstanding Drama Series statuette: Lost, in 2005. Though sci-fi and genre shows fare decently in the Creative Arts Emmys (all those cool costumes and special effects will do that), only a handful of sci-fi or fantasy shows have ever won Primetime awards.

But could this be the year that genre finally rises to the top of the heap? The 2015 deck is stacked in favor of HBO's Game of Thrones, which garnered 24 nominations — more than any other show this year. What's more, fan and critical darling Tatiana Maslany scored an Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series nod this year for the eight-plus roles she plays in BBC America's clone conspiracy thriller, Orphan Black.

Here's a look at where sci-fi and fantasy shows have stood in Emmy voters' eyes in ceremonies past, from the loved to the snubbed.

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‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’

A genuine RSC-bred Shakespearean actor in charge of the bridge, and still this beloved sci-fi series netted nary a single acting nomination in its seven seasons on the air. Seriously, have the Emmy folks ever seen Patrick Stewart in action?! The Next Generation has only a solitary primetime nod — a nomination for Outstanding Dramatic Series in 1994, as the show was finishing up its run.

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‘The X-Files’

Chris Carter's supernatural FBI thriller was the Primetime Emmys' first true genre darling, scoring 16 nominations between 1995 and 1999 in acting, directing, writing and Best Drama. Still, the agents only won twice: a writing accolade for the dark "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose," and a lead actress statuette for Gillian Anderson in 1997 (her only Emmy win to date).

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‘3rd Rock From the Sun’

Modern sci-fi sitcoms are few and far between, which may explain the love for Bonnie and Terry Turner's quirky aliens-out-of-water show. (The other biggie: Mork & Mindy, which got two nominations in 1979.) That, or it could just be that 3rd Rock had a fantastic cast: John Lithgow and Kristen Johnston scored three Lead Actor and two Supporting Actress wins, respectively; the show was also up twice for Best Comedy and twice for directing.

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‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’

Considering that it's become one of the most influential shows of the past 20 years, it's criminal that Buffy only had one solitary Primetime Emmy notice: a writing nomination for showrunner Joss Whedon in 2000. And given the impact that the future Avengers kingpin's snappy, witty style would have on TV writing, it's ironic that the nominated script ("Hush") contained almost no dialogue. (Whedon fans, don't even ask about his amazing, short-lived sci-fi Western show Firefly; it didn't even register as a blip on the Emmys' radar.)

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A few years before Lost entered the scene, the Emmys were already enamored of J.J. Abrams thanks to this sci-fi–inflected spy thriller. Future movie star Jennifer Garner and her many wigs were nominated for Lead Actress four years running, and acting vet Victor Garber three times for Supporting Actor. Alias also got Supporting Actress and writing nods, but no wins. But it was really all just a cliffhanger for Abrams' next big thing.

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Genre television gained sudden, massive visibility when everyone in America got hooked on Abrams and company's trippy castaway thriller, set on an island where anything from time travel to morality-judging smoke monsters could and would happen. Lost is the first and (to date) only sci-fi or fantasy show to ever win for outstanding drama series — in its first season, no less. In addition to more than 20 nominations between 2005 and 2010, Lost also nabbed supporting actor awards for Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson, plus a directing accolade for its memorable two-parter pilot.

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‘Battlestar Galactica’

Ronald D. Moore's post-apocalyptic space drama tackled heavy political issues every bit as seriously as The West Wing and impossible moral quandaries more brazenly than ER (to name just a few Emmy voter faves), but failed to get the awards recognition it richly deserved. Battlestar bristled with stunning writing and direction, plus gut-wrenching performances to boot from heavyweights like Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell; but probably because its main characters were robots and fighter pilots, it only netted a small handful of writing and directing nods between 2007 and 2009.

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‘The Walking Dead’

Straight-up horror has usually fared even worse than fantasy and sci-fi (though American Horror Story has done nicely with acting nominations over the last few years), and if you're hunting for proof that the Emmys are out of step with TV viewers, look no further than Frank Darabont's zombie megahit. Based on Robert Kirkman's comic-book series, AMC's show is the highest rated cable series of all time, consistently breaking records and earning raves from fans and critics alike for its movie-level production values. In spite of all of this, The Walking Dead has earned exactly — wait for it — zero Primetime nominations in its five seasons so far. Let's be real now, Emmys: Clearly this is more than just a pretty (rotting, groaning) face.

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‘Game of Thrones’

Which brings us to genre TV's great white hope, the Breaker of Chains, the Sword in the Darkness, Azor Ahai reborn (okay, okay, we'll stop mixing our mythos). David Benioff and D.B. Weiss's HBO fantasy juggernaut virtually dominated the 2015 nominations, though Game of Thrones has garnered loads of nods in past years, for best drama series, writing, directing and acting. But the only win so far has been a supporting actor trophy for Peter Dinklage in 2011. Still, the show trounced the competition in the Creative Arts Emmys earlier this week, and is nominated in five primetime categories including Best Drama. Could this be the year it takes the Iron Throne?

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‘Orphan Black’

If ever there were a dark horse nominee that deserved the ascension, it's the almost supernaturally talented Tatiana Maslany. BBC America's punk-tinged feminist sci-fi thriller is the kind of show that usually flies under Emmy voters' radar. But it was hard to ignore the groundswell of support from critics and fans for Maslany, who has earned a 2015 Lead Actress nod for playing pretty much all of the main characters (plus a few supporting roles and antagonists, and also a scorpion?). The Emmys gave a statuette to Toni Collette for her shape-shifting performance in United States of Tara in 2009; here's hoping the voters can still recognize virtuosity when they see it.

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