One of the biggest surprises of this year's Critics' Choice TV Award nominations was the Best Drama Actress bid for newcomer Tatiana Maslany, star of BBC America's low-profile sci-fi drama "Orphan Black." To break through in that category, she edged out a number of major Emmy contenders, including Michelle Dockery ("Downton Abbey"), Glenn Close ("Damages"), Connie Britton ("Nashville"), Kerry Washington ("Scandal") and Robin Wright ("House of Cards").
It will be tough for Maslany to repeat that nomination at the Emmys, which are notoriously unkind to science fiction programs, but if she does manage to enter the race, she may be even tougher to beat. Because while Emmy voters aren't especially fond of sci-fi, they're suckers for dual roles.
That's how "Bionic Woman" star Lindsay Wagner pulled off her upset victory for Best Drama Actress in 1977. She submitted an episode in which she played good and evil characters, which helped her overcome her show's sci-fi stigma.
But Wagner has got nothing on Maslany in that department. On "Orphan Black," she plays Sarah Manning, who discovers that she is one of many genetic clones and searches for answers about her origin. These multiple roles allow Maslany to play good and evil characters while also adopting a number of different personalities and accents – including British, American, and Ukranian.
Multiple roles are an advantage at the Emmys because they allow actors to show off their range and versatility. In addition to Wagner, that strategy has worked for Sally Field, who won for playing a woman with multiple personalities in "Sybil," and Erika Slezak, who set the record for most Best Actress wins at the Daytime Emmys (six) thanks in large part to storylines where she played split personalities on "One Life to Live." More recently, Toni Collette won Best Comedy Actress for her role as a wife and mother battling her alters on "United States of Tara."
"Orphan Black" aired its first season finale on June 1, just 10 days before the start of Emmy voting. It will return for a second season next spring.
Over the years, Emmy has demonstrated an affinity for certain familiar genres in the races for Best Comedy and Best Drama: the family sitcom (“The Cosby Show,” “Modern Family”), the office comedy (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” “The Office”), the police procedural (“Hill Street Blues,” “NYPD Blue”) and the courtroom drama (“The Defenders,” “The Practice”). And the races for Best TV Movie and Miniseries have been filled with historical biopics (“Eleanor and Franklin,” “John Adams”) and literary adaptations (“Roots,” “Nicholas Nickleby”).
But Emmy has continually turned a blind eye to science-fiction and fantasy programs. The following 25 programs tried to overcome Emmy's sci-fi/fantasy curse and while some fared better than others, none but "Lost" were able to take the top prize.
Above: She saved the world a lot. But despite the protestations of critics, neither the show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" nor lead actress Sarah Michelle Gellar were ever nominated for Emmys. Series creator Joss Whedon received a single writing nod in 2000, losing to "The West Wing"; to date, that is the only time a show on the WB, UPN, or CW networks has ever been nominated for an award presented on the Emmy telecast.
Click arrow to right of photo to see how 24 other sci-fi and fantasy shows fared at the Emmys.
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