‘Brothers & Sisters’ never fulfilled awards potential

ABC recently axed the family drama “Brothers & Sisters” after five seasons. Following ratings juggernaut “Desperate Housewives” on Sunday night, “Brothers & Sisters” retained just three-quarters of that audience. With producers unable to reduce costs to an acceptable level and armed with an impressive array of pilots, the alphabet net opted to drop the show in favor of Pan Am,” an affectionate look back at the friendly skies of the 1960s.

While the departure is sad unto itself, what is more disheartening is that the show never lived up to its potential. Created by award-winning playwright Jon Robin Baitz and with top talent both in front of and behind the camera, this well-reviewed series should have been a stronger Emmys contender —  it only reaped seven bids over its first three seasons, and won just one of those.

Of the talented cast of “Brothers & Sisters,” only two of them ever earned Emmy recognition — Sally Field won Best Drama Actress for the first season and contended for the next two years while Rachel Griffith was an also-ran in the supporting race in each of the first two seasons.

Field came to the series after the pilot was shot, replacing Tony champ Betty Buckley (“Cats”) as matriarch Nora Walker. Her character  was complex, both sympathetic and sweet as well as steely and strong. Field, who began her career in TV in the mid 1960s, went on to win two Best Actress Oscars (“Norma Rae,” 1979; “Places in the Heart,” 1984). She also picked up a pair of Emmys playing mentally ill women in the mini-series “Sybil” in 1977 and as a guest on “ER” in 2001. And Griffith, who played strong-wllled daughter Sarah, had vied for both lead and supporting Emmys for “Six Feet Under.”

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Brothers & Sisters” was the first TV series for Calista Flockhart since she came to fame on “Ally McBeal.” For that hour-long series, she lost the Comedy Actress Emmy race three times, first to Helen Hunt (“Mad About You”) in 1998 and 1999 and then to Patricia Heaton (“Everybody Loves Raymond”) in 2001. She was perpetually snubbed for her substantial supporting role on “Brothers & Sisters” as the conservative Kitty. Her character did not have an easy life, beating cancer but losing her husband (Rob Lowe) in an auto accident at the end of the fourth season.

That same car crash caused amnesia for the character Holly Harper played by Patricia Wettig. Harper had wreaked havoc in the lives of the Walker family from the first episode when it was revealed she was the long-time mistress of the recently-deceased William Walker (Tom Skerritt). While Wettig won three Emmys for her work on “thirtysomething” — Supporting Drama Actress, 1988; Drama Actress, 1990, 1991 — she was never nominated for “Brothers & Sisters” and her character was written out at the start of the fifth season.

Welsh actor Matthew Rhys played the middle Walker son Kevin. Over the run of the series, the character came to terms with being gay and evolved from a greedy corporate lawyer to a pro bono attorney, getting married and adopting two children along the way. Rhys also directed some of the series finer episodes.

Beau Bridges had a recurring role on the show this season as Nick Brody, Nora’s first love who was the father of Sarah. Bridges has three Emmys to show for his dozen nominations — Best TV Movie/Mini Actor in 1992 for “Without Warning: The James Brady Story” and Best Supporting TV Movie/Mini Actor for both “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom” (1993) and “The Second Civil War” (1997). He could well land a Guest Drama Actor bid for this heartfelt reunion with Field, his “Norma Rae” co-star.

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