The Mystery of Why Top TV Producers Shonda Rhimes, Greg Berlanti and Chuck Lorre Haven’t Won an Emmy

The broadcast behemoths face a voting body more eager to reward cable and streaming series.
Why Shonda Rhimes, Greg Berlanti and Chuck Lorre Haven't Won an Emmy
Greg Berlanti, Shonda Rhimes, Chuck Lorre

Shonda Rhimes, Chuck Lorre and Greg Berlanti are easily the most powerful producers on TV. Yet none of them have ever won a Primetime Emmy.

Ten years ago, that might not have been the case. But Rhimes, Lorre and Berlanti produce populist fare for (mostly) broadcast networks, at a time when those shows are no longer on the Emmy radar.

In 2016, the broadcasters were shut out of the top Emmy categories for the first time in the award’s history. Never before had the top drama, comedy and actor and actress prizes gone exclusively to cable and streaming services.

But last year’s results were the culmination of a trend that began when “The Sopranos” star Edie Falco won the Emmy in 1999 for Outstanding Drama actress. By 2001, HBO had grabbed the first outstanding series prize for a cable series (“Sex and the City”), as well as both top drama acting prizes (Falco and James Gandolfini).

READ MORE: IndieWire’s Full Emmy Coverage

Nevertheless, broadcast continued to dominate the major Emmy categories until the turn of this decade, when Emmy picks started to truly line up with critical acclaim over populist faves.

Of course, in the pre-Peak TV era, that was often one and the same. Check out the key Emmy winners from 1997: “Frasier” and “Law & Order” were ratings hits, earned solid critical marks and won the outstanding comedy and drama Emmys.

As competition grew and cable (and then, later, streaming) started churning out complicated, elevated material, broadcast’s big-tent philosophy was left a bit behind. Chuck Lorre is the king of multi-camera sitcoms – but the TV Academy hasn’t awarded a best comedy Emmy to one since “Everybody Loves Raymond” in 2005. Rhimes and Berlanti both still specialize in full 22-episode (at least) seasons of dramatic television, the way virtually all primetime hours used to be made. But the last outstanding drama Emmy winner to air more than 13 episodes in a season (as well as the last broadcast series) was “24” in 2006.

This is not to say that populism should drive Emmy nominations – but back when there were fewer shows on the air, most mega-producers eventually got their due.

Producers like Berlanti, Lorre and Rhimes are producing multiple shows garnering millions of viewers, yet their series just aren’t considered Emmy fodder for one reason or another. (Of course, it’s similar to the ongoing blockbuster vs. arthouse debate at the Oscars.)

From a popularity standpoint, Rhimes would be a shoo-in. She owns ABC’s Thursday night lineup, her “Shondaland” banner is now a brand and “Grey’s Anatomy” defies gravity – it’s still a top 10 show, among adults 18-49, even after 13 seasons. “Grey’s” was nominated for outstanding drama in 2006 and 2007, and Viola Davis won the outstanding drama actress Emmy in 2015 for “How to Get Away with Murder.”

But soap-oriented shows like Rhimes’ hits haven’t been Emmy fodder over the past decade. Voters were much more fond of those shows in the 1990s, when David E. Kelley ruled with “Ally McBeal,” “The Practice,” “Picket Fences” and “L.A. Law.,” all of which won top Emmy honors.

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Lorre has been nominated for eight Primetime Emmys, including three for “Two and a Half Men” and four for “The Big Bang Theory” in the outstanding comedy category – but never a win. (Several of his stars, including Jim Parsons, Jon Cryer and Melissa McCarthy, have won, however.) Lorre’s deepest comedy yet, the critically lauded “Mom,” hasn’t yet earned a win.

Could that change this year? Warner Bros. TV has taken a different approach with this year’s “Mom” Emmy campaign, spending much of the show’s For Your Consideration budget on a $250,000 donation to support Planned Parenthood. And “Mom” has previously been recognized by the Television Academy Honors for its storylines that have tackled serious topics such as substance abuse, addiction, suicide and more.

As for Berlanti, the uber-producer has only been nominated once for an Emmy – in 2012, for USA’s “Political Animals.” Yet next season, Berlanti will have a whopping 10 shows on the air, including eight on broadcast, one on cable (Lifetime’s “You”) and one on streaming (DC’s “Titans”).

But Berlanti’s universe is heavy on comic book adaptations and action series like “Blindspot,” all of which are the kind of crowd pleasers that develop a rabid fan base but aren’t often recognized by Emmy voters.

Berlanti’s ten-series tally puts him in an elite field that in the past has included Aaron Spelling and Jerry Bruckheimer.

Bruckheimer and Spelling both won Emmys – but interestingly, not for the kind of programs they were best identified with.

Bruckheimer has a whopping 10 Emmys thanks to reality juggernaut “The Amazing Race,” but his “CSI” franchise earned just three series nominations early in its run, and never a win. And although Aaron Spelling is best known for his popcorn serials like “Dynasty” and “Beverly Hills, 90210,” he eventually earned his two Emmys for a special, “Day One,” and for the 1993 TV movie “And the Band Played On.” Perhaps that’s a signal that Berlanti, Rhimes and Lorre will have to go off-brand in order to finally nab an elusive Emmy.

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