Recently, we considered why Kerry Washington, star of ABC’s hit drama “Scandal,” isn’t considered a frontrunner for Best Drama Actress despite widespread acclaim for her performance and ratings that have steadily increased since the drama debuted last spring.
Is there a racial component? Black actresses are certainly underrepresented at Hollywood awards, not because of a lack of talented actors but because of the dearth of prominent roles for them. Indeed, Washington would be only the fifth nominated for Best Drama Actress at the Emmys, and would be the first to win.
But “Scandal” probably faces a different problem, which may be even more difficult to overcome: the Emmys’ bias against soap operas.
“Scandal,” about a sexy political crisis manager (Washington) having an affair with the President of the United States (Tony Goldwyn), has grown in popularity precisely because of its sensational twists and turns, but that storytelling style might also hold it back from winning major prizes. History has shown that the Emmys will occasionally nominate popular soap operas if they generate enough buzz, but they rarely win.
The original “Dallas” was nominated twice for Best Drama, but lost both times (to “Lou Grant” in 1980 and “Hill Street Blues” in 1981). However, Barbara Bel Geddes managed a Best Drama Actress win in the ’81 race.
“Dynasty” was nominated for Best Drama in 1982, also losing to “Hill Street Blues.” Over the course of its run it also earned acting nominations for its stars Linda Evans, Joan Collins, and John Forsythe, but the show only ever won one Emmy during its run: Best Costume Design in 1984.
“Melrose Place” ran for seven seasons on FOX in the 1990s, but never contended for a single Emmy, even though its star Heather Locklear contended four times at the Golden Globes, which are more welcoming of soaps than the Emmys.
Primetime soaps came back into fashion in the mid-2000s with the debut of “Desperate Housewives,” which earned just a single nomination for Best Comedy Series (2005), losing to traditional family sitcom “Everybody Loves Raymond” despite overwhelming buzz during its early years. It did, however, win two guest-acting prizes for Kathryn Joosten (2005, 2008) and Best Comedy Actress for Felicity Huffman (2005).
“Ugly Betty” also won Best Comedy Actress, in 2007; its star America Ferrera was the first Hispanic woman to win that award, but that year the show lost its only bid for Best Comedy Series to “30 Rock.”
“Grey’s Anatomy,” whose creator Shonda Rhimes also oversees “Scandal,” was nominated twice for Best Drama, losing to “24” in 2006 and “The Sopranos” in 2007. Only two of its actors have won Emmys: Katherine Heigl claimed Best Drama Supporting Actress in 2007, and Loretta Devine won Best Drama Guest Actress in 2011.
Last year, “Revenge” was a breakout hit, earning a Golden Globe nomination for star Madeleine Stowe, but despite its classic literary inspiration – its story is inspired by “The Count of Monte Cristo” – it was completely shut out of Emmy nominations in 2012.
This year, “Scandal” is joined by another ABC freshman soap looking to break through: “Nashville,” about sexy stars and love affairs in the country music business. “Nashville” earned Globe nods for actors Connie Britton and Hayden Panettiere, but “Scandal” was shut out of that event.
One current soap opera has fared better, however: “Downton Abbey,” which won Best Movie/Miniseries in 2011 and was nominated for Best Drama in 2012. But its love stories and shocking twists are given greater artistic cachet by its creator – Oscar-winner Julian Fellowes – and its setting: Hollywood awards voters can’t resist a British period piece.