Tomorrow morning, 12 narrative series will receive a nomination for this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards, joining 64 years of previous nominees that include greats like “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “Hill Street Blues” and “The Sopranos.” But even more shows will join a club that’s arguably even more prestigious: Not being nominated for a best series Emmy. Television’s questionable highest honor has actually snubbed just as many great series as they have rewarded them, as this list of the 10 greatest shows never nominated for a best series Emmy Award makes clear:
“Buffy The Vampire Slayer”
It seems like the two easiest ways to avoid ever getting an Emmy nomination for best series — even if said series is among the very best ever — is a) having a teenager as your lead character and b) being a genre series. And “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” was both. During its 1997-2003 run, the Joss Whedon-created series about everyone’s favorite vampire slayer never made it to the big race (though honestly no one really expected it to given its aforementioned qualities). It did manage a handful of nominations for makeup, hairstyling and music, and in 2000 its only nomination to ever reach the televised awards: Best writing for a drama series, oddly for an episode which is almost entire devoid of dialogue (“Hush,” which revolves around a curse on Buffy’s town in which everyone’s voices are stolen).
“Freaks and Geeks“
These days it’s easy to look at “Freaks and
Geeks” and marvel at how it wasn’t a giant hit — almost every cast
member has gone on to immense comedy fame and celebrity. But the
1999-2000 television season was another era, and the Paul Feig-created,
Judd Apatow-produced NBC series was ahead of its time — both in terms
of attracting an audience beyond its dedicated cult following and in
terms of the darkness of its humor and approach to high school life,
with its characters’ triumphs rarely being the sort of a teen movie. The
show went similarly underappreciated by the Emmys in its single season.
While Feig did get two nominations for the writing of the series’ pilot
and its finale, the show’s only win was in 2000 for casting.
Part of the Emmy Awards’ apparent ban on giving a series nomination to anything that aired on the WB or UPN (and later, the CW), the great Amy Sherman-Palladino (notably the writer of the only episode of “Roseanne” ever nominated for an Emmy, as discussed below) never saw her critically lauded “Gilmore Girls” meet Emmy’s questionable standards. Starring Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel as a mother and daughter living in a small town (alongside Melissa McCarthy, in a role that would begin her slow escalation to super-stardom), the series was known best for its fast-paced, whip smart dialogue (often written by Sherman-Palladino). But the series, its actors and its writing were never even nominated. In fact, it only ever received a single nomination in 2004 (for makeup, which it won).
Louis C.K.’s surreal, brilliant autobiographical FX
comedy has been one of the most acclaimed shows on television ever since
its 2010 premiere (it’s currently taking the year off while C.K.
recharges and goes on tour). Despite the universal love from critics,
the series has never been nominated for Outstanding Comedy Series —
instead, it has received nominations for acting, writing and directing,
all for C.K., with the lone win in 2012 going to the stand-up for the
writing on season two premiere “Pregnant.” Celebrating all of the part
of a series without lauding the whole is a little odd, especially given
that C.K. writes, directs, stars in and produces everything, but perhaps
this will be the year the Emmys finally make things right. After all —
C.K.’s starring in a Woody Allen movie. What better stamp of approval
do you need for the sometimes Allen-inspired series?
“My So-Called Life“
Alright, so it only aired for one, low-rated 19-episode season. But as surely as the many, many people who have become diehard fans of “My So-Called Life” over the years (likely via its popular rerun-run on MTV or its VHS and DVD releases), it was one the best seasons of TV, like, ever. Starring eventual Emmy darling Claire Danes (just 13 years old when the pilot was shot) as the now iconic angsty teenager Angela Chase, “My So-Called Life” featured perhaps the most realistic depiction of teenage life to hit network television, which indeed resulted in deserved Emmy nods for directing, writing, theme music and acting (Danes). But for a show of this caliber to lose out on a series nomination to the fifth season of “Law & Order”? So-called insanity!
Before there was “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under,” there was “Oz.” A precursor to HBO’s late 1990s/early 2000s dramatic series renaissance, the Tom Fontana-created, maximum-security prison-set series went on for six memorable seasons but never got the Emmy love of the series that followed in its footsteps. Two nominations came in 1999 (for casting and guest actor Charles S. Dutton), but that was all she wrote, despite extraordinary writing, directing and performances from a racially diverse cast including Rita Moreno, Kirk Acevedo, Terry Kinney, Ernie Hudson, J.K. Simmons, Eamonn Walker and Harold Perrineau. Problematically, the HBO shows to follow “Oz” that also offered such diversity (“The Wire,” “Treme”) were among the few of that network’s 2000s-era drama series to also never get a series nomination.
Despite extraordinary ratings and critical acclaim (at least during its first six seasons), “Roseanne” was somehow never nominated for best comedy series at the Emmys. Perhaps the show’s envelope-pushing ways were simply too much for the generally conservative Academy of of Television Arts & Sciences, who in the 1990s gave “Frasier” five consecutive wins in the comedy category while entirely ignoring Ms. Barr’s pioneering sitcom. Which was even more odd considering it did give the series tons of acting love for John Goodman (7 noms), Laurie Metcalf (4 noms, 3 wins), Sara Gilbert (2 noms) and Roseanne herself (4 noms, 1 win). Which all feel like somewhat backhanded compliments when coming without any recognition for the series itself (and only one nomination for writing, which is just as offensive considering how strong it was at the series’ peak).
“Sports Night” was the series that launched Aaron Sorkin’s career as a television writer, introducing the world to the workplace screwball comedy adventures and earnest (and sometimes preachy) dramas that would become his signature. It also has certain character types and dynamics he’s stuck with into “The West Wing,” “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “The West Wing.” “Sports Night,” which starred Josh Charles, Peter Krause and Felicity Huffman as the hosts and producer of a “SportsCenter”-style program, was a little rough compared to “The West Wing” (it was oddly saddled with an incongruous laugh track when it started, one that was eventually allowed to fade away), but it was winsome, charming, and certainly a better series than “Studio 60.” Yet, during its two season run, “Sports Night” got four Emmy nominations and one win, the same as “Studio 60,” and not one was for Outstanding Comedy Series.
Soon to be resurrected in movie form thanks to a landmark Kickstarter campaign, Rob Thomas’ girl detective drama “Veronica Mars” was smart, well-acted and had a terrific female protagonist played by Kristen Bell. But it was also a genre series, a teen series and one that got its start in the scraggly final years of UPN — not aspects that helped the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences take it as seriously as it deserved, as noted with regard to “Buffy.” That may be why it had an easier time earning accolades from the Saturn Awards and the Teen Choice Awards than the Emmys. In its three season run, “Veronica Mars” failed to earn a single Emmy nomination. But Thomas, Bell and fans have had the last laugh in breaking Kickstarter records to raise over $5 million on Twitter.
Yes, David Simon’s Baltimore epic, widely regarded as the best television series of all time, never received a nod for Outstanding Drama Series during its five-season run on HBO. It’s unfortunate, but in line with the fact that the show’s been better appreciated on home video and streaming than it was when it was on air. What stings a little more is that no one from its incredible ensemble cast, one of the most diverse and interesting to grace the small screen, got a nomination either. The noms the series did secure were for writing — in 2005 for the episode “Middle Ground,” by Simon and George Pelecanos, which saw the death of a beloved major character, and another in 2008 for “–30–,” the series finale by Simon and Ed Burns. Neither resulted in a win.