Shafted: 15 TV Stand-Outs Who Deserved More Emmys – Rolling Stone
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Shafted: 15 TV Stand-Outs Who Deserved More Emmys

‘The Wire,’ Jon Hamm, MTV — you won’t believe these these landmarks and legends have been given so little Emmy love

Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in 'The X-Files,' one of the many shows that have been under-rewarded at the Emmys.

Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny in 'The X-Files,' one of the many shows that have been under-rewarded at the Emmys.

© 20th Century Fox Film Corp./Courtesy of the Everett Collection

All award shows make mistakes. However, the Primetime Emmys is truly unique — because it seems to make the same mistakes over and over again. Whereas a great film can only lose Best Picture at the Academy Awards once, so many fantastic television dramas and comedies are ignored year after year by Emmy voters. It's not just shows that miss out on the trophies either: Many classic television roles, from George Costanza to Don Draper to Jessica Fletcher, never got their Emmy due.

We've combed through the archives and found the 16 most under-rewarded TV icons, from show runners to modern classics like The Wire to an entire network (!) that have been given the cold Emmy shoulder. For some, the 2014 ceremony offers another shot at recognition; for others on this list, their time has passed. Either way, they're all winners to us.

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‘The X-Files’

Let's face it: It's hard for most sci-fi TV shows to get the Emmy recognition they deserve. (Ask the makers of The Twilight Zone or any of the Star Trek programs.) Which made The X-Files an anomaly: It was nominated 21 times, from Outstanding Drama Series to Outstanding Lead Actor for David Duchovny. Unfortunately, only three of those Primetime nominations resulted in an X-win: Gillian Anderson (Outstanding Actress in a Drama, 1997), Peter Boyle (Outstanding Actor in a Guest Role – Drama for the episode "Clyde Bruckman's Final Repose), and scriptwriter Darin Morgan (Outstanding Writing – Drama, 1996). If it's any consolation, Duchovny won a Best Actor Golden Globe for his work as Fox Mulder.

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‘The Wire’

How is it that a drama that's now firmly in the pantheon of All Time Great TV Shows was only nominated for two Primetime Emmys?  Two! The Wire lost in the Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series in both 2005 and 2008…and that’s it. Nothing for Michael K. Williams' portrayal of Omar, nothing for Stringer Bell or McNulty or Prop Joe or Senator Clay Davis, or even series creator David Simon. Maybe Emmy voters had HBO fatigue thanks to The Sopranos, but ignoring what's now considered a top-tier Golden Age of TV drama is as bad a crime as Avon Barksdale ever committed.

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‘Saturday Night Live’

How can a long-running series that has won a total of 42 Emmys still be under-awarded, you ask? For Saturday Night Live, it's all about quantity over quality. Dozens of statuettes have been awarded recognizing the show's direction, hairstyling and camerawork, original music and lyrics (including Andy Samberg's group the Lonely Island, who performed in 2011) and a whole score of guest hosts – from Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon to Tina Fey and Betty White — have brought home Outstanding Guest Actor/Actress in a Comedy Series thanks to their visits to Lorne Michaels' soundstage. However, in the major Outstanding Variety Series category, SNL has only won twice in 17 nominations, in 1976 and 1993. Additionally, no full-time cast member has won an Outstanding Supporting Actor or Actress Emmy for being on SNL since Gilda Radner in 1978. Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig were frequently nominated during their recent tenures, but neither landed the trophy. Current cast member Kate McKinnon will attempt to end that losing streak at this year's Emmys. Fingers crossed.

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‘The Critic’

It stinks…that Jon Lovitz's beloved cartoon movie critic was never nominated for anything animated-award-related at the Emmys. Created by Simpsons vets Al Jean and Mike Reiss, The Critic was possibly the most Woody Allen-esque cartoon in history, as every 30-minute episode was a keen-eyed animated look at relationships, off-kilter family trees, cinema and New York City. It only lasted for two shortened seasons of 23 total episodes, but this gem had a more lasting impact and larger cult following than, say, PBS' The Roman City, which won Outstanding Animated Program in 1994, one of The Critic's two years of eligibility.

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‘Chappelle’s Show’

We know what you're thinking: The "I'm Rick James, bitch" skit alone deserves all the Emmys. Yet, remarkably, Dave Chappelle's Comedy Central sketch comedy show never won an Emmy Award. Even crazier, it was only nominated once in the Outstanding Variety Series, where it lost to The Daily Show. Right when the series was reaching its peak popularity, however, Chappelle pulled the plug, cementing its legacy as another cult favorite that ended its run Emmy-less.

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Jason Alexander

While George Costanza is regarded as one of the greatest sitcom characters in television history – he landed #2 on Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Seinfeld characters – Jason Alexander never truly received the Emmy love he deserved. It wasn't from lack of nominations: The actor was up for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series a whopping seven times, but each time he either lost to Frasier's David Hyde Pierce or he watched as his buddy Michael Richards took home gold. (Richards won the category three times out of six nominations.) Jerry Seinfeld was also an Emmy afterthought as he also never won out of five nominations, but never rewarding Jason Alexander is the bigger mistake — perhaps the biggest Emmy oversight in history. 

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MTV

For over 30 years, MTV has been an epicenter of youth culture and a hub for truly original television. Who cares if the "M" in MTV is underrepresented these days; the network's cutting edge programming helped spawn reality TV with The Real World, rebooted the traditional cartoon with Beavis & Butt-Head and Daria, and opened the door to the likes of Jon Stewart, Tom Green and the cult comedy group the State. Yet, for all their risks and superlative programming, MTV has largely been ignored by the Emmys. Sure, MTV Unplugged scored a couple Creative Emmys, and Liquid TV was once nominated for in the Outstanding Animated Series category. But such MTV staples as Jersey Shore, Punk'd, Austin Stories, 120 Minutes, that season of The Real World: Los Angeles with Jon the country singer, and countless other iconic shows never scored an Emmy.

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‘The Twilight Zone’

Rod Serling's weird, paranoid omnibus series introduced audiences to the beauty of a twist ending – "To Serve Man" comes to mind – as well as left generations of TV watchers with countless remarkable nightmares, from Talking Tina to the plane-mauling goblin that taunted William Shatner to bookworm Burgess Meredith surviving a nuclear war only to break his glasses. As revered as The Twilight Zone is now – Sterling's show spawned a film or series reboots almost every decade, and it opened the door for everything from The Outer Limits to The X-Files — back in the early Sixties, it was largely ignored by Emmy voters. Only once, in 1961, it was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series in 1961, losing to Hallmark Hall of Fame: MacBeth. While The Twilight Zone was shut out in the major awards, Serling received a pair of Outstanding Writing Achievement in Drama Emmys.

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‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’

Call it the Curse of Costanza. Jason Alexander never won an Emmy for his portrayal of a character based largely on Larry David, and the voting body has also overlooked David's own comedy. In fact, Curb owns the record for Most Outstanding Comedy Series nominations without winning with seven. We can understand some of the losses, like when David's show was defeated by Arrested Development in 2004 and 30 Rock in 2008… but the loss to Friends in 2002? With Larry David showing no inclination to start work on a ninth season of his HBO show, the possibility of a total Curb Your Enthusiasm shut-out seems pretty, pretty lame to us.

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Angela Lansbury

The longtime Murder, She Wrote was the Susan Lucci of the Primetime Emmys, with Lansbury receiving an unprecedented 12 Lead Actress in a Drama Series nominations for her role as detective Jessica Fletcher. But each and every year she showed up to the ceremonies and went home empty-handed.  On the bright side, while a dozen other actresses may have racked up those Emmy wins, only Lansbury has inspired a hit reggae track.

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The Cast(s) of ‘Law & Order’

The Law & Order universe might be the most binge-worthy franchise on television, but whereas mere mortals often fall pray to those SVU marathons that are always on the USA Network, Emmy voters seem far less susceptible. Of all those great actors who have been a regular on any L&O show – Christopher Meloni, Sam Waterston, Jerry Orbach, S. Epetha Merkerson, Richard Belzer, Vincent D'Onofrio, Eric Bogosian, even Ice T! – only Mariska Hargitay has won an Outstanding Acting in a Drama Emmy for their work on the show. And forget about Outstanding Drama Series nods; none of the various L&O shows have even been nominated in that category since the original won an Outstanding Drama Series Emmy back in 1997 — which was so long ago, Lieutenant John Munch was still slumming it on Homicide: Life on the Streets.

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Jon Hamm

It's remarkable that the actor behind one of TV's most iconic characters ever has never been the recipient of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Hamm earned six nominations for his portrayal of Don Draper on Mad Men but has zero wins to show for them. Three of those potential Emmys went to another TV legend – Breaking Bad's Bryan Cranston – while the others went to Friday Night Lights' Kyle Chandler, Homeland's Damian Lewis, and Jeff Daniels of The Newsroom. Cool characters, but they're no Don Draper. Hamm is once again nominated for Outstanding Lead Actor this year, but he faces stiff competition from Cranston yet again and the True Detective boys. Luckily for Hamm, Don Draper – who will get a nod for part two of Mad Men's final season – won't have to worry about Walter White or Rust Cohle in 2015.

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Meryl Streep

One of the greatest actresses of all time, Meryl Streep has 18 Oscars nominations… but only three Emmy nods. Yes, her winning percentage for Emmy Awards (2 out of 3 wins in the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie category) is way better than the 3-for-18 she's batting in the Academy Award Best Actress/Best Supporting Actress categories. Still, it seems strange that Meryl didn't receive nominations for her guest voice work on The Simpsons and King of the Hill, or her portrayal of Margaret Chase Smith in the miniseries Freedom: A History of Us, if only just to add her majestic aura to the ceremony. Streep's first major award win was actually the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie for 1978's Holocaust; 26 years and double-digit Oscar nods later, she'd win in the same category for Angels In America.

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Vince Gilligan

While Breaking Bad and its actors have been rightfully honored at the Emmys since the show debuted in 2008, its mastermind Vince Gilligan has never won an Emmy for Outstanding Writing or Outstanding Director — despite a handful of nominations that even goes back to his exceptional work on The X-Files. However, this might be the year the losing streak ends for Gilligan as he's up for Emmys in both categories once again, so hopefully the showrunner finally will receive the stand-alone award he deserves. Either that or he can hope that his amusing appearance on Community somehow earns him an Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series nomination next year. (Spoiler alert: It won't.)

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Seth MacFarlane and ‘Family Guy’

Amazingly, Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane has just as many Grammy nominations (three) as his long running comedy has Outstanding Animated Series nods. In both cases, both MacFarlane and Family Guy left the award shows empty handed. The Simpsons and South Park had a stranglehold on the Outstanding Animated category during FG's peak years, and now the emergence of cartoons like Archer and Bob's Burgers (which deservedly won the 2014 Emmy in this category) have left MacFarlane's most famous show without so much as a nomination. While the show's Emmy days might be over, it hasn't been a total shutout for MacFarlane: He won Outstanding Voice-Over Performance in 2000 for his work as Stewie Griffin and Outstanding Music & Lyrics in 2002 for the Family Guy episode "You've Got a Lot to See."

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