Why can’t performers from overseas win Drama Actor Emmy?

Emmy voters certainly like their Best Drama Actor winners to be homegrown, with only three of the more than 50 races to date going to a foreigner. Even then, those champs were Canadian — Raymond Burr (“Perry Mason” – 1959, 1961) and Kiefer Sutherland (“24” – 2006) — and they won for playing quintessentially American men. Not once has a winner hailed from overseas.

What does that stat mean for this year’s two British nominees: Hugh Bonneville (“Downton Abbey“) and Damian Lewis (“Homeland“)? These are the 19th and 20th attempts by men from overseas to take home this top prize. 

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Brits with multiple losing bids are led by six-time also-ran Hugh Laurie (“House”), who was nominated in 2005 and then five times in a row beginning in 2007. He broke the losing record of fellow Brit Edward Woodward (“The Equalizer”) who was bested five time beginning in 1985. 

Irishman Gabriel Byrne (“In Treatment”) is the only other overseas nominee with more than one loss (2008, 2009). 

Three Australians each lost a single race: Keith Michell (“The Six Wives of Henry VIII,” 1972), Anthony LaPaglia (“Without a Trace,” 2006) and Simon Baker (“The Mentalist,” 2009),

Two other Brits were defeated once each: David McCallum (“The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,” 1966) and Ian McShane (“Deadwood,” 2005).  

Burr’s two wins put him in the company of Edward Asner (“Lou Grant”), William Daniels (“St. Elsewhere”), E.G. Marshall (“The Defenders”), and Daniel J. Travanti (“Hill Street Blues”).

The overall record-holder is Dennis Franz (“NYPD Blue”) with four victories. Three Emmys were won by Bill Cosby (“I Spy”), Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad”), Peter Falk (“Columbo”), James Gandolfini (“The Sopranos”), James Spader (“The Practice” and “Boston Legal”), and Robert Young (“Father Knows Best” and “Marcus Welby, M.D.”). 

Cranston could well tie Franz this year as he is overwhelmingly out front to win with odds of 5 to 6. Lewis is in second with odds of 4 to 1. Jon Hamm (“Mad Men“) follows at 11/2, and then Bonneville and Steve Buscemi (“Boardwalk Empire“) are tied at 25/1. Michael C. Hall (“Dexter“) is in a distant sixth place at 50/1.

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