Being a fan-favorite or repeat nominee for the Primetime Emmys doesn’t automatically mean one will eventually win the award for television excellence. There have been many instances of actors failing to win the award for the role that became iconic or helped a show go from being average to superior. Below are 12 examples of iconic and popular television characters that at least succeeded in getting nominated, but ultimately never achieved winning the coveted Emmy award.
12. Henry Winkler as “The Fonz” in Happy Days
In the show’s 11 seasons, Winkler was nominated three times for Lead Actor in a Comedy Series without ever taking home a win for starring as one of TV’s coolest bad-boys. Winkler did manage to win two Golden Globes for the role. The Fonz is especially known for his thumbs up while saying “aye,” and also can be accredited for the phrase that signifies when a running show has lost credibility: “Jumping the Shark.”
*See below for the video clip of the “jumping the shark” scene
11. Neil Patrick Harris as “Barney Stinson” in How I Met Your Mother
The ultimate ladies man was nominated four times for Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, but was never able to smooth-talk his way into winning the coveted award. He was also nominated twice for a Golden Globe for the role, but failed to grab a win there either. Barney is best known for his expert relationship advice and the now iconic catch phrase: “Suit up!”
10. Greg Itzin as “President Charles Logan” in 24
One of the television’s most hated villains was able to grab two nominations: One for Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for the show’s iconic 5th season and another as Guest Actor in a Drama Series for the series’ final season, season 8. President Charles Logan was the very epitome of the slimy and corrupt politician and was also the ultimate arch-villain to 24’s hero, Jack Bauer.
9. Lorraine Bracco as “Dr. Jennifer Melfi” in The Sopranos
Tony Sopranos’ therapist who had her own internalized struggles was nominated four times during the show’s seven-season run: Three times for Lead Actress in a Drama series for the show’s first three seasons and one final time for Supporting Actress in the show’s final season. Bracco showed tremendous restraint in her performance, in contrast to the show’s cast, by portraying her character as someone who genuinely wants to help her mobster patient, but finds it mentally eating her away in the process. Bracco handedly should have won for the show’s third season for the episode, “Employee of the Month,” but instead she walked away empty handed by the show’s conclusion.
8. Giancarlo Esposito as “Gus Fring” in Breaking Bad
Gus Fring was a character who was only in the series for a brief time, but the impact of the character carried throughout the entire series. Esposito was nominated solely for the show’s fourth season and was expected to win for portraying the drug kingpin who hides in plain sight and verbalizes so much with his eyes without ever having to say a word. However, Esposito ironically lost to co-star Aaron Paul that year.
7. David Duchovny as “Agent Fox Mulder” in The X Files
He may have been able to take home one Golden Globe for his role as the agent obsessed with cases of paranormal and extraterrestrial life, but it wasn’t ever enough for Duchovny to win an Emmy as well. Duchovny was nominated three times for Lead Actor in a Drama series, but failed to win any of these times. His role, along with his co-star Gillian Anderson as “Agent Dana Scully,” became iconic television characters, with the popularity for the show still being so high that a X Files miniseries has been created and will be released in mid-January 2016.
6. Steve Carell as “Michael Scott” in The Office
Perhaps one of the most glaring of Emmy snubs comes in the form of Steve Carell failing to win any of his six nominations for Best Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Carell is who truly anchored the comedy series, even when its plotlines veered into territory that sometimes became unrealistic and borderline ridiculous. However, Carell’s portrayal of the unintentionally awkward, wannabe cool boss was endearing and truly was the heart of the show, not to mention he popularized the phrase “That’s what she said.” Carell exited the show in season 7 and almost immediately the show plummeted without him, further indicating the impact Carell had on the mockumentary show. Carell did manage to win a Golden Globe for the show’s second season, which at least shows Carell some appreciation for his comedic talent during his run with the show.
*Click below for a video compilation of the best of Michael Scott
5. Martin Sheen as “President Josiah Bartlet” in The West Wing
It seems almost astonishing that the central character in the iconic Aaron Sorkin political drama never won an Emmy, but it’s true. Sheen was nominated for an Emmy six times in the show’s 7 year run, never winning any. Sheen was able to grab a Golden Globe for the show’s second season, which would have been the most ideal season for him to win the Emmy (“Two Cathedrals” was his submission episode that year). Sheen played the idealistic President flawlessly and made him relatable and likeable with his quirky traits and mannerisms. One side note worth mentioning is that President Bartlet wasn’t intended to be the show’s main character, but rather it was supposed to be Rob Lowe’s “Sam Seaborn.” President Bartlet was supposed to be a guest character, who occasionally made appearances on the show. It was only after Sheen wowed producers, and Sheen stated he was interested in being part of the main cast, that the show shifted its focus towards President Bartlet.
*Click the video link below to see the now famous “Cathedral Scene.”
4. Kim Cattrall as “Samantha Jones” in Sex and the City
Sex and the City was comedy perfection and much of it was due to its cast. Kim Cattrall’s Samantha Jones represented the free-spirited, extroverted female of the show’s group, who always brought about the show’s most hilarious moments, one-liners, and situations. She was the scene-stealer of the series and a fan-favorite amongst viewers of the show. Cattrall never allowed for her character to become a stereotype, but instead provided her character with a metamorphosis. This allowed for one of the most profound cross-seasonal character arcs in Sex and the City, which was Samantha’s deviation from being commitment-phobic to truly falling for someone. However, despite winning a Golden Globe for the show’s fifth season, Cattrall wasn’t as lucky with the Emmys. She was nominated five times for Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, never winning any of them.
3. William Frawley as “Fred Mertz” in I Love Lucy
It seems almost ridiculous to think that one of the most famous characters in all of television never won an Emmy, but William Frawley’s “Fred Mertz” never took home the Emmy. He was nominated five times for Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, losing every bid for the coveted award. Frawley was comedy brilliance next to his on-screen wife, Vivian Vance, who both functioned as contrasting characters to Lucille Ball and Dezi Arnaz. With Vance, Frawley was able to find comedy in creating a character who was cheap and somewhat jaded with being married, but was never obnoxious in his behavior. Additionally, having once been a vaudeville actor himself, Frawley interjected his former theater experience into the show with his very own singing and dancing, usually with Vivian Vance. The one silver lining to this Emmy snub is that Frawley’s performance as “Fred Mertz” was so well done and I Love Lucy is such a beloved show, that his performance will be forever remembered. I Love Lucy concluded in 1957, and close to sixty years later people are still watching and adore the show.
2. Angela Lansbury as “Jessica Fletcher” in Murder She Wrote
Let’s just say the obvious: Angela Lansbury has never been lucky with the Emmy Awards, having been nominated 18 times without ever winning. Out of those nominations, 12 of them are for her role as amateur sleuth “J.B. Fletcher” in Murder She Wrote. The show ran for 12 years, with Lansbury being nominated every season in the Lead Actress in a Drama Series category. Murder She Wrote was a lighter murder-mystery show that can be described as a cross between Sherlock Holmes and Miss Marple. The series was episodic with each episode introducing a new series of characters, a murder, and Jessica Fletcher saving the day by solving the crime due to her attention to detail. What made the show unique was that Jessica Fletcher was a crime author, which put her outside the spectrum of being an actual detective. It is because of her understanding of crime that she was always able to outsmart the authorities and detectives who were often baffled with the crimes or made quick assumptions. Angela Lansbury used that little bit of deviation to make her character uniquely her own, which kept her role from blending in with the other sleuth characters from television.
1. Jason Alexander as “George Costanza” in Seinfeld
Seinfeld had it all: Jerry Seinfeld calling out all the idiosyncrasies of society, Elaine Benes dealing with society’s quirks, Kramer being in his own world and somehow it’s acceptable, and then there was George. Most fans of the Seinfeld series acknowledge Jason Alexander’s hard work throughout the 9-year series of portraying the cheap and utterly pathetic George Costanza. When thinking about the series, some of the show’s funniest moments came from George: The rye bread, the photo shoot, the toupee, the overstuffed wallet, eating the éclair from the trash, the answering machine, and the shrinkage. Jason Alexander was so convincing and hilarious in his portrayal of “George Costanza” that he hasn’t been able to break outside of the “Seinfeld curse” since the show concluded in 1998 because all audiences can see whenever they view Jason Alexander is George. Yet despite the tremendous popularity of the character, Alexander never won an Emmy starring as George Costanza. He was nominated 7 times for Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series and failed to win any of them, losing three of those times to co-star Michael Richards, though he was just as worthy of winning.