Emmy Awards: Who's Won the Most? - Rolling Stone
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Emmy Awards: Who’s Won the Most?

From the longest nomination streak to the network with the most statuettes, breaking the awards down by the numbers

ER

The cast of the award-winning 'ER"

NBC/Everett

“Awards ceremonies don’t matter,” fans like to tell themselves when their favorite movies/TV shows/records/performers go unrecognized. “The best art doesn’t need a piece of hardware for us to know how good it is.” This mantra — applied to everything from the Grammys’ attempts to recognize hip-hop to nearly the entire history of the Best Picture Oscar — appears especially easy to justify when it comes to TV and its big awards-show broadcast. After all, The Wire didn’t win a single statuette over the course of its run (and was only nominated for two), and is now widely recognized as one of the best small-screen dramas of all time. Several of the most highly-acclaimed series currently on the air are repeatedly snubbed, from extraordinary hour-long dramas (see Hannibal and The Americans) to groundbreaking half-hour comedies (you deserve all the gold, Broad City). Still, on Sunday, the Primetime Emmy Awards will air, and who wins may help shed light on the rapidly-changing state of television.

In 2016, Game of Thrones became the most-awarded series in Emmy Awards history, with a total of 38 wins. To date, Game of Thrones has won 308 awards out of 628 nominations.

Tonight, it is nominated for 32 for its final season (the most for any on season of a TV show ever). It already won 10 Emmys during the Creative Arts Emmys last weekend. And if Game of Thrones wins three Emmys on September 22nd, it will break the record for most trophies won by a single season. But who currently holds that record? Game of Thrones, which won 12 awards in 2015.

Let’s be clear: These ceremonies don’t necessarily tell viewers anything about something like “objective quality,” but they do say something about the way quality is perceived by a specific group of people with power: voters. Members of the Television Academy repeatedly reward Modern Family, spent years recognizing The Big Bang Theory, and nominated several seasons of CSI for Best Drama; you could argue that these victories make the people voting for them out of touch. Yet it also says something about how they see the business of television — which is important when these are people with sway in the industry.

And more importantly, the Emmys provide a very specific lens through which to see the history of the medium, from the long-running shows that are acknowledge as “good” but don’t win awards (Curb Your Enthusiasm) to the ones that consistently bring home trophies (Frasier). Here are a few specific stats from Emmys history, from the most awards won by a single show to the type of role that’s garnered actors the most take-home hardware. These are the numbers that will help you win your local TV trivia night — and occasionally shed light on the Academy, the awards event and even television as a whole.

Louis C.K.

LOUIE - Pictured: Louis C.K. CR: FX

FX

Most Categories for a Single Nominee: 9

In 2013, Louie star/creator Louis CK was nominated for nine different awards, ranging from writing to performing to directing to producing to editing to hosting SNL. Keep in mind that this could not have happened until relatively recently, both because of the (relative) ease with which someone can be a metaphorical one-man band and get something on the air, but also because several technical categories weren’t even recognized for years. (The editing categories are just over 10 years old.)

That same year, Tina Fey was nominated in seven categories as a producer, writer, and lyricist (for 30 Rock's "Rural Juror" song), as well as in a special category for the sitcom's webisodes and for her role in the telecast of that year's Golden Globes. This doesn't say anything about the state of the medium — Tina Fey is just ridiculous talented.

Dennis Franz

UNITED STATES - NOVEMBER 18: NYPD BLUE - "Sheedy Dealings" - Season Five - 11/18/97, Dennis Franz, (Photo by Michael Ginsberg/ABC via Getty Images)

Michael Ginsberg/Getty

Role That’s Won Actors the Most Emmys: Cops (33)

A full 33 trophies have been won for characters in law enforcement, including 20 for Best Actor in a Drama (four of which went to Dennis Franz for his role as Andy Sipowicz in NYPD Blue), three for Best Actor in a comedy (all for Tony Shalhoub playing Adrian Monk), and 10 for actresses — six of which went to Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless, the stars of Cagney & Lacey.

This ridiculously high percentage makes sense if you watch a lot of TV — after all, cop shows tend to dominate serious drama, with legal and medical shows rounding out the staples of a basic TV diet. Accordingly, 13 Emmys have gone to actors playing lawyers, including two recent pairs of Best Actress wins for Glenn Close in Damages and Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife, and many, many for doctors (mostly for Kelsey Grammer).

Meanwhile, 16 dramatic Best Actress trophies have gone to women playing characters defined primarily as wives, from women on older shows depicting domestic life (like Jane Wyatt's performance on Father Knows Best or Mary Tyler Moore’s role on The Dick Van Dyke Show) to Carmela Soprano — a fascinating character who often reads as a critique of the traditional TV housewife.

James L. Brooks

SPANGLISH, director James L. Brooks on set, 2004, (c) Columbia/courtesy Everett Collection

Columbia/Everett

Most Emmys Won by a Writer/Producer: 17

The biggest winner here is James L. Brooks, who has 17 Emmys — starting with The Mary Tyler Moore Show and its many spin-offs, running through The Tracey Ullman Show, and finally The Simpsons. Brooks is closely followed by Lorne Michaels, with 14 wins across an empire spanning SNL, Late Night With Conan O’Brien, Late Night With Jimmy Fallon (and the host's later Tonight Show incarnation), Portlandia and 30 Rock. Several other major producers have accumulated 10 Emmys, including David E. Kelley, Jerry Bruckheimer, and Steven Bochco.

Glenn Close

DAMAGES, Glenn Close, 'I Lied too', (Season 2, premiere, January 7, 2009), 2007-. Photo: Andrew MacPherson / © FX / courtesy everett collection

FX/Everett

Most Oscar Nominations for an Emmy Winner: 7

Glenn Close was nominated for five Academy Awards in the 1980s , but didn’t take home any of the major trophies until she won an Emmy for her role in Serving in Silence, a made-for-TV movie (she has since been nominated as Best Actress in 2012 for Albert Nobbs and 2019 The Wife). She also won two Emmys for Damages. It’s just the best example of the phenomenon of film actors, often long-nominated but without any hardware, moving to TV — whether for the additional creative freedom or, in some cases, awards bait.

Some other examples: Patricia Arquette’s career was primarily in film until she starred in Medium, for which she won an Emmy — long before collecting a statue for Boyhood. And Alec Baldwin was nominated for an Academy Award in 2003, but his primary source of shiny mantlepiece hardware is 30 Rock.

And that’s just in the lead categories; factor in the Guest Acting categories, and the number of big-screen actors dropping by TV shows increases quite a bit. Ray Liotta won his first major award for a guest turn on ER. Oscar nominee Laurence Fishburne (for What’s Love Got to Do With It in 1993) won Emmys for HBO movie Miss Evers’ Boys and an episode of the anthology drama TriBeCa. Monty Python’s John Cleese has been nominated for only one Academy Award (for writing A Fish Called Wanda in 1988) while winning an Emmy for playing marriage counselor Dr. Simon Finch-Royce on Cheers. And though Gene Wilder  didn’t nab Oscars for acting (The Producers) or screenwriting (Young Frankenstein), he did go home with an Emmy for playing Will’s boss on Will & Grace.

ER

ER, (background, l-r): Sherry Stringfield, Julianna Margulies, George Clooney, Noah Wyle, Eriq La Salle, foreground center: Anthony Edwards, (Season 1), 1994-2009. © NBC / Courtesy Everett Collection

NBC/Everett

Most Emmys Won By a Single Episode: 5

That'd be ER's  pilot, "Love's Labor Lost," which took home trophies for writing, directing, editing, and sound editing and mixing (and was nominated for multiple acting awards). Several other episodes have won four Emmys — notably Breaking Bad's stellar "Ozymandias" from its final season, as well as the very first episodes for Lost and Hill Street Blues.

It's a bit of an opposing lesson: Pilots winning awards isn't particularly surprising, given the way they lay the groundwork for a series, represent a specific vision, and often introduce many of a show’s most innovative elements. But "Ozymandias" comes all the way at the end of AMC's groundbreaking drama, playing off all of the tension the show had built up over and the nuances of the actors' performances. It's an indicator of how, as much as we increasingly think about it in terms of shows or seasons, television is still an inherently episodic medium.

NBC

NBCUNIVERSAL LOGOS -- Pictured: "NBC" Stacked Logo on White: for Digital Use -- (Photo by: NBC)

NBC

Network With Most Emmy Wins: NBC

Tracking the history of TV through the Emmys leads you through decades of only three networks, which is why NBC has by far the most Emmys of any TV distribution service (you can’t even just say "channel" or "network") with over 1,000, followed somewhat distantly by CBS with over 900. These are hard numbers for anyone else to catch up to — FOX has only been around since 1986, with its first nominations coming for The Tracey Ullman Show, followed by HBO in 1988 (which received nominations mostly for specials).

It's not surprising that, even though HBO had to make up for the other networks' 30-year head start, it continues to dominate the awards (it has over 120 nominations for the upcoming ceremony), with over 450 Emmys historically, including 99 wins just last year. It's by far the most successful cable channel, perhaps because subscribers pay directly for it in part for the prestige value associated with its shows being "not TV."

Most other cable networks are not so successful awards-wise — even AMC, which had runs with Breaking Bad and Mad Men, has struggled to place other shows. FX, the most successful basic cable network, was only nominated for 45 Emmys last year, less than half as many as HBO. (Historically, it's had hard time getting traction for any of its shows, with wins in the Best Miniseries categories but few wins for anyone not named Glenn Close.)

While streaming services appear poised to become the new HBO in this respect, attempting to deliver shows directly to the awards center of the brain. they, too, have yet to fully catch on, partially flopping with even its most prestigious shows: six for House of Cards and three for Orange is the New Black. But watch this space: In the next few years, this will be the "network" area set to start scooping up Emmys left, right and center.

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