The 2014 Emmy Awards are tonight on NBC at 7 p.m., which led me to thinking about some of my all-time favorite Emmy winners. Note this isn’t a list of the all-time greatest Emmy winners, nor likely even close, simply a personal list of those actors and performances that I enjoyed seeing honored.
10. William Shatner (Boston Legal)
William Shatner took home the Emmy Award in 2005 for Best Supporting Actor in a Drama for his portrayal of lawyer Denny Crane, one year after winning an Emmy as Guest Actor for the same role on “The Practice.” Shatner’s performance of the incredibly egotistical, conservative, womanizing buffoon was an incredibly joyous performance turning a character that would likely be hard to love in real life into one of the most lovable characters on television.
9. Kelsey Grammer (Frasier)
Kelsey Grammer has been nominated for Emmy Awards for four different series, three of which he was nominated as the same character, Frasier Crane (“Cheers”, “Wings” “Frasier”). It’s his four-time Emmy winning performance as an Actor in a Comedy Series for “Frasier” that he appears on this list for (not his most recent Outstanding Voice-Over Performance for “The Simpsons” win). Frasier Crane is a character that I know annoys a lot of people, but I always found the things that people found annoying in him to be incredibly funny (his sarcasm and extreme hoity-toityness). Frasier Crane is one of the most iconic characters in television history, which is probably why Grammer got to embody him for 20 years between “Cheers” and “Frasier.”
8. Helen Hunt (Mad About You)
Helen Hunt absolutely dominated the Actress in a Comedy Series category from the mid-to-late ‘90s as Jamie Buchman in the hilarious NBC sitcom “Mad About You,” beside Paul Reiser (who is one of the most snubbed actors in Emmy history). Hunt won this award four consecutive years from 1996-1999. The relationship between Jamie and Reiser’s Paul Buchman is my favorite sitcom relationship of all-time and one that I believe captures a lot about real-life relationships, which is what made Hunt so perfect for the role. Hunt actually won an Oscar for the movie “As Good As It Gets” in 1998 in addition to taking home her third Emmy. I don’t know for sure, but it wouldn’t surprise me if this is the only time this has ever happened (although Matthew McConaughey who won the Best Actor Oscar this year for “Dallas Buyers Club” is a likely front-runner to win tonight for “True Detective”).
7. Don Knotts (The Andy Griffith Show)
One of the biggest omissions in the history of the Emmy Awards is that Andy Griffith was not honored for his iconic performance as Mayberry Sheriff Andy Taylor, in fact he was never even nominated (his lone Emmy nomination came for a made-for-TV movie). His on-screen partner, however, Deputy Barney Fife, as played by Don Knotts, was an Emmy darling winning five times. Knotts is one of the funniest guys to ever grace the small screen and accounted for many of the laughs throughout his run on “The Andy Griffith Show.” I just wish that the Emmy voters of the ‘60s had seen the brilliance that was Andy Griffith’s understated performance, easily one of the most graceful television has ever seen. So, this is basically a two-parter: 1) I’m glad Knotts was honored 2) It’s a damn embarrassment that Griffith wasn’t.
6. Alec Baldwin & Tina Fey (30 Rock)
I chose to include Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey together for their perfect Emmy-winning performances as Jack Donaghey and Liz Lemon on NBC’s “30 Rock” because the two really do seem to go together. Donaghey and Lemon would’ve been great characters on their own rights, but it always seemed like Baldwin and Fey were at their very best when interacting with each other (i.e. Liz Lemon: “Why are you wearing a tux?” Jack Donaghey: “It’s after six. What am I, a farmer?”). Donaghey and Lemon may be the greatest male/female television duo who didn’t end up together. Baldwin won for Actor in a Comedy Series twice (2008 and 2009) and Fey won Best Actress in a Comedy Series in 2008 (she has also won Emmys for her writing and producing on “30 Rock” and for her work on “Saturday Night Live”).
5. Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom)
When Jeff Daniels upset Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad) last season for Actor in a Drama Series the Internet almost broke. I’ve never seen so much vitriolic whining and moaning about an actor winning an award and though so many of these people had never seen Daniels’ performance in “The Newsroom” (which is flat out stunning) and Cranston had previously taken home three statutes for the same role they acted like it was the most blasphemous award in the history of television award shows. For those who watched Daniels’ performance as cable news anchor Will McAvoy, especially in the pilot of the series, they’ll understand. This is one of my favorite wins ever not just because it’s such a terrific performance, but also it’s the most pleasantly surprised I’ve ever been watching an award show.
4. Bradley Whitford, Richard Schiff, John Spencer and Allison Janney (The West Wing)
“The West Wing” was a perfect show. This is why it’s tied for the most Emmy Awards ever won by a drama series (with “Hill Street Blues”). Every single cast member of the show was deserving of an award and should’ve won and a good many of them did indeed. I didn’t feel like I could or should fill up this entire list with ‘West Wing’ Emmy winners so I decided to throw them all into the same slot. Let’s start with Allison Janney (who has already won an Emmy this year for Guest Actress in a Drama for “Masters of Sex” and is nominated for another tonight for Supporting Actress in a Comedy for “Mom”) who took home an incredible four Emmys (in both supporting and lead categories) for her portrayal of White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg. It’s considered by many as one of the finest female performances in television history and was honored as such. Even more remarkable is that the fine supporting cast of actors won the award for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series three consecutive years with three different actors (Richard Schiff in 2000, Bradley Whitford in 2001 and John Spencer in 2002). The legendary Alan Alda would also win this award for ‘West Wing’ in 2006, but he’ll appear a little later on in the list for another role. However, it’s maybe the very worst snub in Emmy Awards history that Martin Sheen never won an Emmy for his jaw-dropping portrayal of President Jed Bartlet on the series.
3. James Spader (Boston Legal)
James Spader’s performance as lawyer Alan Shore was incredibly James Spader-ish … meaning extremely wacky and weird in the most beautiful and best way it possibly could have been done. Alan Shore is one of my favorite characters in the history of television and it’s all on Spader’s performance and the terrific writing led by show-runner David E. Kelley. In addition to the sheer wackiness of Shore’s personality and character was his incredible moral-core that really hit home with me (in much the same way nearly every character on “The West Wing” did). It’s a character I’d truly like to model my life after. His friendship with William Shatner’s Denny Crane (number 10 on this list) was also probably the most unique bro-mance in the history of television with the two being so different and yet so similar in many ways. Spader won three Emmys for his portrayal as Shore, once on “The Practice” and twice on its spinoff “Boston Legal.”
2. Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights)
I’m a huge fan of naturalistic acting and don’t feel that we get enough of that in today’s entertainment. I don’t blame this so much on the actors themselves, but on the producers, directors and writers who make entertainment that’s a little bit more than what you get out of real-life. I guess I can’t really blame them, because television ratings have shown that viewers tend to want a little less real-life on their television. But, here in the late ‘00s was a terrific drama series about a small-town in Texas that lived and breathed high school football and it was one of the most naturalistic series I’ve ever seen. Kyle Chandler as high school football coach Eric Taylor was the anchor of that series. Chandler could say way more with his face and body motions than the finest dialogue in the world could, but hell he had some fine dialogue often, as well. Chandler was snubbed so often for his performance on ‘FNL’ that when he was finally nominated for the show’s final season in 2011 many considered that a win in itself, but damn if he didn’t go on and surprise the world by winning that award, just like his football team had done on TV many times.
1. Alan Alda (M*A*S*H)
Alright, so this one was a no-brainer for me. I’ve long considered Alan Alda’s portrayal as Army doctor Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running CBS series “M*A*S*H” to be the greatest performance in television history. Alda’s character was everything you could want from one character: funny, dramatic, endearing, passionate, moralistic. Alda played every one of those things with so much gusto that every time he was on screen it felt like he was giving a tour de force performance. It wouldn’t surprise me if they continued writing television characters from here to eternity and they couldn’t top Hawkeye Pierce. That has a ton to do with the writing, no doubt, but I think it has an incredible amount to do with Alda. Alda would also make a little bit of history on “M*A*S*H” that stands to this very day as he became the only person in Emmy history to win awards for acting (1974 and 1982), directing (1977) and writing (1979). That just makes his selection on this list ever the more impressive.