As we enter Emmy night, it is important to also acknowledge past winners who paved the way of success for many of tonight’s winners. In the history of television, barriers had to be broken or taboos had to be debunked to show both audiences and actors that television has become a source of narrative excellence. Below are ten examples of worthy Emmy winners.
Lucille Ball for I Love Lucy
This list should start with one of the most worthy Emmy wins of all time, that being Lucille Ball for her hilarious turn on the sitcom that would forever set the standard for television comedy. Ball has been cited as an influence and pioneering comedian and it is understandable as to why. Lucille Ball’s comedy work defied the gender expectation of ‘stand by your husband’ and satirized that ideology by having her character continually scheming and forcefully interjecting herself into activities that she had been told she couldn’t do. This is why audiences loved Lucille Ball’s work. It was because she was doing precisely what thousands of others wished they could do themselves.
Emmy wins for the cast of Golden Girls
In the history of the Emmys, only three shows have ever succeeded in getting their full cast Emmy awards: All in the Family, Will and Grace, and Golden Girls. Of the three, Golden Girls deserves a little extra praise because its actresses debunked the age theory about television, that nobody would be interested in watching a show about women in their fifties or older. Golden Girls challenged that barrier and not only provided a groundbreaking comedy that immediately became popular, but the show would win Emmys for Comedy Series two years in a show. Much of that is because of the show’s four leads: Bea Arthur, Betty White, Rue McClanahan, and Estelle Getty. The four of them, with their competing personalities, breathed life into the show with their hilarious delivery of dialogue. Furthermore, their work proved to executives and audiences that television excellence doesn’t require an age maximum.
Michael Emerson for Supporting Actor for Lost
Perhaps one of the most iconic performances in all of television. Emerson had to fight to win his Emmy, which is remarkable when considering the layered performance he offered to his infamous Ben Linus character. Emerson showed audiences that it was possible to depict a villain and evolve him into a character audiences would come to admire or pity.
James Gandolfini and Edie Falco for The Sopranos
When it comes to contemporary television, The Sopranos presented to audiences the capabilities of television by presenting a well-written, analytical show about the New Jersey Mafia. Even more brilliant was the show representing loathsome characters, but interjecting just enough humanity into them for the audience to care. When observing the show’s characters in The Sopranos, most are sociopaths who justify their own deeds by complaining about the sins of others. Of the show’s brilliant cast, it was Gandolfini and Falco who shined best with their on-and-off friction regarding marriage and crime. Both characters they portrayed were deplorable human beings, yet both actors were able to create pitying qualities to their character’s personality. This allowed for audiences to at least be fascinated by their plight. Gandolfini and Falco set a new standard when it came to acting.
Kiefer Sutherland for 24
Whether one agrees with the content of 24 or not, it cannot be denied that Kiefer Sutherland WAS Jack Bauer, a character personality he has been desperately trying to shake since the show’s conclusion in 2008. What makes Sutherland especially noteworthy is that he was the first “movie actor” to step into a leading television role, which was considered a demotion for an actor in 2001. Sutherland willfully took on the lead role in the show because he felt the character and show had tremendous potential. What Sutherland proved with the immediate success of 24 was that television was beginning its newest Golden Age and he had been part of its definitive start. After Sutherland’s premiere on 24, it is now common to see celebrity A-list actors starring in their own television shows. Kiefer Sutherland started that trend.
Zelijko Ivanek for Damages
This performance was one of the most surprising Emmy wins in recent years. Ivanek’s win was one of the rare times a very underrated performance was awarded what it deserved. His supporting role in Damages’ first season was an extraordinary example of acting ambiguity. The show’s general concept was providing audiences with limited details that slowly were revealed to viewers throughout the show’s season. Ivanek portrayed a supposedly corrupt defense attorney, yet the character’s intentions and motivations slowly were exposed to shift the audience demeanor to utterly pity him. This was not an easy performance to achieve, especially when acting alongside acting greats such as Glenn Close and Ted Danson. Ivanek left a lasting impact on the show, which is precisely why he was awarded the Emmy for his work.
Sarah Jessica Parker for Sex and the City
It wasn’t until the show’s final season that Sarah Jessica Parker was finally awarded an Emmy for her iconic performance as Carrie Bradshaw. Contrary to the show’s harshest critics, Parker was the glue that held Sex and the City together. Without her, there was no moral compass to lead the show. Parker built her character as someone with excessive innocence and whose determination to find love always seemed to place her in unfortunate romantic situations. What Parker especially achieved was making the character relatable. Viewers of the show were given a vantage of her motivations and could relate to the show’s theme that love is sometimes irrational. Parker has been given unfair scrutiny for her performance in recent years, most of which is biased and unfounded. If Parker hadn’t won an Emmy, it would have been a crime.
Mary Tyler Moore for The Mary Tyler Moore Show
It seems ridiculous to think that a show about an independent woman would be controversial. Yet when The Mary Tyler Moore Show premiered in 1970, the show was considered to be both revolutionary and controversial at the same time. Moore starred as Mary Richards, a recently single woman, who decides to work her way up at a news agency. The show was controversial at the time because of its seeming acceptance of divorce, but also embracing the concept that a woman didn’t need a man to continue onwards with her life. The show was primarily about Mary Richard’s being her own individual and not being dependent on others. Much of this demeanor was in thanks to Mary Tyler Moore, whose deadpan style of acting was a perfect contrast to the outlandish situations her character would continually be in.
Jon Hamm for Mad Men
In recent years, never was there such uncertainty as to whether a truly talented actor would be awarded the Emmy he should had already won multiple times. Jon Hamm’s Don Draper is already slated to be one of television’s greatest characters of all time. Jon Hamm placed so much complexity, nuance, and humanity into a character that so easily could have been despised. What makes Hamm’s performance so profound was his ability to have audiences be revolted by his outward actions, yet sympathize and pity him at the same time. Hamm crafted the character as someone inwardly terrified of change and resisting a world that is altering. There was a certain sadness applied to the character that portrayed him as a stranger in an environment he once knew. Jon Hamm also interjected tremendous psychology into his performance, crafting his reactions and motivations with the themes of regret and internally believing he doesn’t deserve happiness. To see Jon Hamm at his finest moment, watch season four’s episode “The Suitcase.” It was acting perfection.
Seinfeld for Comedy Series
It is astonishing to realize that Seinfeld, one of the greatest comedies of all time, only won the coveted Emmy for Comedy Series once. Once we shake off that horrid reality, we should be grateful the show ever won. The reason is because Seinfeld changed the format of comedy television forever. It was “a show about nothing” and it stuck to that motif by never introducing a concise plotline. The show had overarching themes, but the show never committed to them entirely. Instead, Seinfeld was brilliant in its satirizing of social situations and calling out various social “expectations.” The show was ahead of its time and the Emmys didn’t know how to properly respond to a show they didn’t realize would become one of the most iconic shows of all time. Regardless, Seinfeld is a prime example that a show doesn’t need multiple Emmys in order to be appreciated. It is regarded as the greatest comedy series of all time, a claim the show deserves.