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David Schwimmer: An Unjust History of the Emmys Ignoring the Man Behind ‘Friends’ Most Disliked Character

Or, Why Great Acting Can't Always Overcome the Perception of a Character, as discussed in a very special edition of the Very Good TV Podcast.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886065u)Lisa Kudrow, David SchwimmerFriends - 1994-2003Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane ProTelevision

Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer in “Friends”

Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

If you Google “ross friends,” the first search result (once you get past two Wikipedia pages) is an article titled “8 Reasons Ross from ‘Friends’ Is a Massive Asshole.” Next is a story aggregating an essay that argues Ross is a tragic hero, but the author summarizing that essay can’t propose a positive interpretation of Dr. Geller without first describing Ross as (in official-looking capital letters) “The Worst Person In The World.” Third on the list is Buzzfeed’s “30 ‘Friends’ Moments That Prove Ross Geller Is Literally the Worst,” which pretty much speaks for itself.

“Friends” fans have a pretty strong beef with Ross, and no, this isn’t an argument for why he’s actually the show’s best character — those articles have been written, too. This is an acknowledgement of an outstanding performance often overlooked in favor of the character being portrayed; a look back on what might have been if people (namely, Emmy voters) were able to look past their issues with an aggravated paleontologist and honor the performer who brought him to absurd, hilarious, and oh-so-exasperating life.

As in all artistic competitions, especially retroactive ones, it’s also a subjective take: David Schwimmer was only nominated once, in 10 seasons of “Friends,” and a deserving nod for his turn in “The People vs. O.J. Simpson” doesn’t make up for years of being overlooked. But what really drives the discussion now isn’t specifically Schwimmer, Ross, or even the TV Academy generally ignoring “Friends” (it only won four Emmys in 10 years; Jim Parsons has won four by himself for “The Big Bang Theory.”): It’s the idea of characters winning awards meant for actors and the bias against disliked characters at awards shows; the “thankless roles” whose performers often go unrewarded, when they’re exactly the people who demand recognition.

For more on that phenomenon, make sure to listen to this week’s Very Good TV Podcast (above). IndieWire TV Editor Liz Shannon Miller and TV Critic Ben Travers discuss the fine line between being an antihero and being unlikable; for example, Don Draper and Walter White were bad guys, but you loved them and/or loved watching them, whereas folks like Todd and Pete Campbell were disliked characters who didn’t allow most viewers to revel in their villainy.

Could the same split be happening this year, within the same show, between Ann Dowd and Yvonne Strahovski? The former plays an outright baddie, and does so with delicious expertise; Dowd won a much-deserved Emmy in 2017, but she’s not in Season 2 as much as Strahovski, who’s being hailed for her part as the complicated, disliked Mrs. Waterford. Many expect Dowd to get the nomination while Strahovski is left off the list. Could she be another great performance pushed aside by the character she plays?

We’ll find out on Thursday, when Emmy nominations are announced, but until then let’s travel back in time and find out the answer to a question no one is asking: How many Emmys did David Schwimmer deserve for “Friends”?

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886065j)David Schwimmer, Matthew Perry, Matt LeblancFriends - 1994-2003Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane ProTelevision

The Year Was 1995…

Who Was Nominated?
Jason Alexander, “Seinfeld”
David Hyde Pierce, “Frasier”
Michael Richards, “Seinfeld”
David Schwimmer, “Friends”
Rip Torn, “The Larry Sanders Show”

David Schwimmer’s Nominated Episode:
“The One with the Sonogram at the End” and “The One with the Blackout”

The Winner’s Nominated Episode:
“Flour Child” + “An Affair to Forget”

So Who Won?
David Hyde Pierce, “Frasier”

What? Him? Why? 
In 1995, “Frasier” was just starting its record-setting domination in the comedy category. It would win Outstanding Comedy Series five years in a row, and 1995 was the second consecutive victory there — but it was David Hyde Pierce’s first win after being overlooked the year prior. He would win four overall, as “Frasier” regularly stole “Friends'” thunder at the Emmys as the “more prestigious” pick. (It was, after all, the super-snobby successor to “Cheers.”)

Who Should Have Won?
Knowing how often Jason Alexander lost, it’s hard to besmirch him a trophy in his fourth nominated year, especially when one of his nominated episodes was “The Gymnast.” But Schwimmer’s early years on “Friends” were strong. A bit baby-faced and victimized, Ross was a bit of a lovable loser and easy to root for — especially during his early, shy courtship of Rachel (Jennifer Aniston). Schwimmer definitely got better as the years went on and he fully committed to a character who required utter immersion, but the nomination was earned in Season 1, even if it didn’t make sense it would be his last.

The Year Was 1996…

Who Was Nominated? 
Jason Alexander, “Seinfeld”
David Hyde Pierce, “Frasier”
Michael Richards, “Seinfeld”
Jeffrey Tambor, “The Larry Sanders Show”
Rip Torn, “The Larry Sanders Show”

So Who Won? 
Rip Torn, “The Larry Sanders Show”

What? Him? Why?
Because Rip Torn is incredible, and so was the “The Larry Sanders Show.” As the only show nominated in this category not on NBC, it’s nice to see the Academy diversifying a bit.

Should David Schwimmer Have Won?
Won? No. Nominated? Eh, maybe. This is a crowded field, but Ross’ Season 2 journey includes iconic, interior character work in “The One With the Prom Video,” which could’ve pushed him into the lead category, if not for his critical supportive turns in “The One With Barry and Mindy’s Wedding.” Schwimmer’s background acting is always strong (credit his early theater work), but he became critical in building cast chemistry by always going the extra mile in scenes that weren’t about him. Think about Ross’ turn from bashfully accepting a compliment to warning Joey not to kiss him, or his awkward reactions to meeting (or not meeting, since he was rarely formally introduced) all of Rachel’s ex’s friends at the wedding. Plus, his infamous syphilis toast is actually pretty great. The field is too packed to really cut someone, but it’s worth noting Schwimmer was better in Season 2 than Season 1, as expected of a young actor.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886065ag)David Schwimmer, Jennifer AnistonFriends - 1994-2003Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane ProTelevision

David Schwimmer and Jennifer Aniston in “Friends”

Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

The Year Was 1997…

Who Was Nominated? 
Jason Alexander, “Seinfeld”
David Hyde Pierce, “Frasier”
Michael Richards, “Seinfeld”
Jeffrey Tambor, “The Larry Sanders Show”
Rip Torn, “The Larry Sanders Show”

So Who Won? 
Michael Richards, “Seinfeld”

What? Him? Why?
Listen, knowing what we know now about Michael Richards, it would be easy to revoke the man’s awards — after all, no one is ready to give him any right now. But this is about the work, and Richards helped make Kramer into a beloved icon with an exceptional commitment to the exorbitant physical humor and unrecognizable mannerisms fans still adore.

Should David Schwimmer Have Won?

Oh yes. This is the first year David Schwimmer really should have walked away with the Emmy, and not only because Season 3 of “Friends” demanded a lot from the man playing Ross; sure, the whole Ross and Rachel break-up is often overshadowed by the “we were on a break” argument — yes, they were broken up, no, Ross should not have slept with anyone — but think of the humor found amidst the devastation. No one wanted to see the show’s core couple split up, even if they knew it had to happen, and yet Schwimmer still pulled these comedic gems from the black rubble of a heartbreaking split. Season 3 is when we start to see how well Schwimmer can ground preposterous situations without losing the jokes. When Ross was at his most hated, Schwimmer was only getting more precise with his timing, delivery, and emotional output.

The Year Was 1998…

Who Was Nominated? 
Jason Alexander, “Seinfeld”
David Hyde Pierce, “Frasier”
Phil Hartman, “Newsradio”
Jeffrey Tambor, “The Larry Sanders Show”
Rip Torn, “The Larry Sanders Show”

So Who Won? 
David Hyde Pierce, “Frasier”

What? Him? Why?
When Emmy voters get fixated on a show, it’s hard to snap the spell. Sometimes that’s because the series deserves repeated acknowledgment as the best of the medium (cough”Veep”cough), other times it’s because the voters… are… drunk? (cough”Modern Family”cough). “Frasier” falls somewhere in between, though Pierce’s repeated acknowledgment stings knowing Schwimmer would never even make it back in the race.

Should David Schwimmer Have Won?
Not over Hartman. Schwimmer is so, so good in Season 4 — he plays an integral supporting role in the series’ best episode, “The One with the Embroyos,” as the trivia contest host — but this is another strong lineup, and it’s hard to blame the Academy for overlooking Schwimmer yet again.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886065an)Matt Leblanc, Matthew Perry, David SchwimmerFriends - 1994-2003Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane ProTelevision

Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer in “Friends”

Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

The Year Was 1999…

Who Was Nominated? 
Peter Boyle, “Everybody Loves Raymond”
Peter MacNicol, “Ally McBeal”
John Mahoney, “Frasier”
David Hyde Pierce, “Frasier”
David Spade, “Just Shoot Me”

So Who Won? 
David Hyde Pierce, “Frasier”

What? Him? Why?
See previous entry.

Should David Schwimmer Have Won?
This is, by far, the most egregious omission. David Spade? Peter Boyle? Are you serious? Schwimmer is next-level amazing in “Friends” Season 5. Ross is a shell of a man, and he’s put through the ringer all season. Facing his second divorce, Ross is grasping at straws hoping to save his misguided marriage to Emily while simultaneously trying to keep the rest of his life from falling apart. He loses his wife, his apartment, and nearly his job; he’s put on medication for his “rage,” and he has to move in with Chandler (Matthew Perry) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc). There is so little keeping Ross afloat, it’s easy to believe that Rachel would fall out of love with him in just a few days. But Schwimmer is incredible.

The Year Was 2000…

Who Was Nominated? 
Peter Boyle, “Everybody Loves Raymond”
Brad Garrett, “Everybody Loves Raymond”
Sean Hayes, “Will & Grace”
Peter MacNicol, “Ally McBeall”
David Hyde Pierce, “Frasier”

So Who Won? 
Sean Hayes, “Will & Grace”

What? Him? Why?
The preference for “Everybody Loves Raymond” actors over the “Friends” cast is baffling, but there’s no arguing against Sean Hayes’ landmark victory for “Will & Grace.” Recognizing Hayes in this series is important beyond the Emmys, plus he’s absolutely dynamite in the role — a deserving, significant win.

Should David Schwimmer Have Won?
Nope, but he’s still very good in Season 6 — Ross spends the first part of the season justifying his secret marriage to Rachel, and Schwimmer strikes the right tone: very much in denial, but so emphatic about it, trying to convince himself becomes quite amusing. That being said, since the “Friends” cast was competing against itself, this would’ve been the year to nominate Matthew Perry, not Schwimmer. Season 6 is peak Chandler — funny, romantic (“The One with the Proposal”), funny, on point, and… oh yeah, just killer funny.

The Year Was 2001…

Who Was Nominated? 
Peter Boyle, “Everybody Loves Raymond”
Robert Downey, Jr., “Ally McBeal”
Peter MacNicol, “Ally McBeal”
Sean Hayes, “Will & Grace”
David Hyde Pierce, “Frasier”

So Who Won? 
Peter MacNicol, “Ally McBeal”

What? Him? Why?
“Ally McBeal” was well-received by the TV Academy, and Peter MacNicol was part deservedly part of that. He’s great, so no real bones here.

Should David Schwimmer Have Won?
The Boyle adoration is… annoying, so even if Schwimer doesn’t win for Season 7, he should’ve definitely been nominated — for “The One with Monica’s Thunder” alone. In the premiere episode, Ross is propositioned by Rachel and becomes fixated on it. After the two are caught kissing in the hallway, he can’t let go of her plan to have one night of no-strings-attached sex. So he dangles his attractive hands in front of her whenever he can, pushes flirtation back onto the table, and eventually mopes home when he finally sees Monica’s friendship is more important to Rachel than one more night with Ross. It’s a perfect example of Ross being a buffoon, but Schwimmer’s performance elevating it to comic gold. He keeps the laughs coming, at his own expense, while Monica and Rachel move the plot he’s tied to forward. Sure, Ross is overbearing, but Schwimmer makes it cute, in an infantile sort of way. No one leaves the episode going, “Holy cow, I love Ross,” but they’ll still imitate Ross’ faux scoffs to this day.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886065aw)Lisa Kudrow, David SchwimmerFriends - 1994-2003Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane ProTelevision

Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer in “Friends”

Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock

The Year Was 2002…

Who Was Nominated? 
Kelsey Grammer, “Frasier”
Matt LeBlanc, “Friends”
Bernie Mac, “The Bernie Mac Show”
Matthew Perry, “Friends”
Ray Romano, “Everybody Loves Raymond”

So Who Won? 
Ray Romano, “Everybody Loves Raymond”

What? Him? Why?
First of all, it’s important to note NBC shifted strategy in 2002 and started submitting all the “Friends” stars in the Lead Actor categories instead of Supporting Actor. It worked pretty well — for most of the cast. Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc earned their first nominations, and Jennifer Aniston won in her first year submitted as a lead. But Lisa Kudrow, who had been nominated six times and won once in the Supporting category, never got another nomination, and neither did Schwimmer. As for Romano, the TV Academy was absolutely part of the “Everybody” in “Everybody Loves Raymond.” The CBS sitcom won 15 Emmys overall, and this was Romano’s first win with six nods.

Should David Schwimmer Have Won?
Ray Romano has proven himself to a be a talented actor with quite a bit of range thanks to roles in “Parenthood,” “Vinyl,” and “Get Shorty,” but in 2002 he was a stand-up turned actor. He was good, but not great. It would’ve been nice to see Perry or LeBlanc in the winners’ circle, or at least all three “Friends” men in the race.

The Year Was 2003…

Who Was Nominated? 
Larry David, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Matt LeBlanc, “Friends”
Bernie Mac, “The Bernie Mac Show”
Eric McCormack, “Will & Grace”
Ray Romano, “Everybody Loves Raymond”
Tony Shaloub, “Monk”

So Who Won? 
Tony Shaloub, “Monk”

What? Him? Why?
Shaloub’s reign of terror has been well-documented already. We do not have the willpower to dig into it again.

Should David Schwimmer Have Won?
By Season 9, “Friends” was pretty much on autopilot, except for one confounding and controversial plot line: the Ross, Rachel, and Joey love triangle. At this point, Joey was getting over Rachel and she was starting to crush on him. It culminates with a shared kiss between the two roommates in the finale, but Ross is largely sidelined; he’s pursuing Charlie (Aisha Tyler), and Schwimmer is solid, but not pushed to any new territory.

No Merchandising. Editorial Use Only. No Book Cover Usage.Mandatory Credit: Photo by Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane Pro/Kobal/REX/Shutterstock (5886065as)David Schwimmer, Matt Leblanc, Matthew PerryFriends - 1994-2003Warner Bros TV/Bright/Kauffman/Crane ProTelevision

The Year Was 2004…

Who Was Nominated?
Larry David, “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Kelsey Grammer, “Frasier”
Matt LeBlanc, “Friends”
John Ritter, “8 Simple Rules”
Tony Shaloub, “Monk”

So Who Won? 
Kelsey Grammer, “Frasier”

What? Him? Why?
In its final year, the Academy chose to give Grammer one more trophy.

Should David Schwimmer Have Won?
But they chose the wrong departing star. Not only had Grammer already won in 1994, ’95, and ’98, but Schwimmer was pushed to extremes in Season 10. Everyone remembers the finale, and Schwimmer’s puppy dog eyes paired with his romantic earnestness carried Ross’ side of the ultimate coupling well. But at the beginning of the year, he had to react to Rachel dating one of his best friends. And damn, was he good at it. The fajitas. His drunken state. The heart-to-heart with Joey. Ross is broken at the start of Season 10 and whole at the end of it. People may have their problems with how he got there (though this author maintains Ross didn’t ask Rachel to quit her job, just to date him), but Schwimmer is meticulous in building the bridge; he’s established how far he can push Ross in his ridiculousness (and pushes him pretty damn far in the season’s first few episodes) without letting him drift so far away you won’t root for him to wind up with the woman he loves. He should’ve been recognized here, for his last season, as well as all the seasons prior.

Final Tally

Wins: 3
Nominations: 6
Times Ross and Rachel Had Sex: 300 (“You kept count?”)

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