The Emmys are unique among entertainment industry awards in that voters are required to view the nominated material before submitting their ballots. Not so at the Grammys or Oscars, where buzz and popularity strongly influence the results. In a process misunderstood by many — even multiple winners like Edie Falco and Tyne Daly have been caught off-guard when asked about their Emmy reels — actors and programs are nominated by popular vote and then choose sample episodes which represent their best work. Those are then viewed by judging panels who determine the winners.
This may seem like a formality, but history shows that the best sample episode usually wins. That’s how little-known character actor Zeljko Ivanek beat his more famous co-star Ted Danson for Best Supporting Drama Actor in 2008 for “Damages,” and how Christian Clemenson won Best Guest Drama Actor in 2006 for “Boston Legal” against major stars like Michael J. Fox (also “Boston Legal”) and James Woods (“ER”). Lacking the strong name recognition that often inspires rubber-stamping from TV academy voters, it was the strength of their work that put them in Emmy’s good graces.
Episode submissions are also the primary factor for many shocking upsets. Last year, Glenn Close (“Damages”) and Julianna Margulies (“The Good Wife“) were considered the likely frontrunners for Best Drama Actress; Close was the defending champ, with consecutive wins in 2008 and 2009, and Margulies was the star of the season’s hottest new show, earning a Golden Globe and SAG Award earlier that year. But neither star put her best foot forward, sending underwhelming episodes to voters. As a result, Kyra Sedgwick, who had lost her four previous bids for “The Closer,” was able to capitalize; she submitted “Maternal Instincts,” her most emotional episode submission, and pulled off an upset.
Take a tour to see a dozen stars who proved to be their own worst enemies when it came to submitting sample episodes. Some of them won future races, some went away winless, and others are still waiting. Future Emmy nominees should learn from the mistakes of these unfortunate contenders. VIEW GALLERY