Will ‘Modern Family’ continue Emmy stranglehold on Comedy Supporting Actor?

Modern Family” has proved unbeatable in the Best Comedy Supporting Actor race at the Emmys, going undefeated in the last three years and earning 11 out of 18 available nominations in the category. Ty Burrell, Eric Stonestreet, and Jesse Tyler Ferguson have been nominated for all three seasons of the show’s run, while Ed ONeill has made the lineup for the last two years.

The show’s Emmy dominance is due in large part to the voting procedures that decide Emmy winners. Series acting nominees each submit a sample episode to a relatively small panel of judges, so when multiple actors from the same show compete in one category, they get the benefit of their performances as well as their scenes in their co-stars’ episodes. “Modern Family,” with three or four nominees every year since the show’s debut, has been able to overwhelm the competition with their extra screentime across multiple submissions.

But this year victory is not as certain. After sweeping the Emmys for three seasons, has a backlash started to set in? The Critics’ Choice TV Awards named it Best Comedy in 2011, but snubbed it across the board this year, save a Comedy Supporting Actress bid for Sarah Hyland. And for the first time it failed to receive any nominations from the Television Critics Association. Now Emmy voters will have to decide if it deserves to be in the company of the other four-time Emmy winners for Best Comedy: “All in the Family” and “Cheers.”

It’s possible that not all four adult actors from the series will return to the Comedy Supporting Actor race. Three of them – Burrell, Stonestreet, and O’Neill – rank among the top six in our overall odds, with Ferguson on the bubble in seventh place. Three actors submitting episodes in one category is still tough to beat, but there’s a new wild card in this year’s race: “Arrested Development.”

The offbeat FOX series, which won Best Comedy in 2004 but was cancelled three years later, returned with new episodes on Netflix in May. In part to accommodate the actors’ schedules, a new storytelling format was established in which each episode primarily showcases one character, which means even the supporting cast will have potential episode submissions entirely devoted to them.

Without commercial interruption, the new episodes of “Arrested” range from 30 to 40 minutes. Compare that to “Modern Family,” whose episodes are closer to 20 minutes long when commercials are edited out. But storylines on “Modern” are usually split evenly among the show’s three nuclear families, which means that even with three submissions, each of the show’s actors will still likely fall behind any one “Arrested” contender in terms of his screentime. This newly leveled playing field could spell trouble for the ABC comedy’s winning streak.

Currently, two men from “Arrested Development” get strong odds to be nominated: Will Arnett, currently in third place, and Jeffrey Tambor, who ranks sixth. Both Arnett and Tambor are multiple Emmy nominees who have yet to win, and both are also potential contenders in other categories this year: Arnett for guesting on “30 Rock” and Tambor for his supporting turn in “Phil Spector.”

The two other “Arrested” men are non-factors according to our predictors: David Cross ranks 14th, and Michael Cera is 26th. Tony Hale also returned for the new season, but chose to compete in this category for his role on HBO’s “Veep” instead.

The important question, then, is how “Arrested” will be greeted overall. Off the air for seven years, will absence make Emmy hearts grow fonder, or have voters moved on? And will the awards, which have often been slow to recognize new broadcasting platforms, be open to honoring an online streaming service like Netflix in major categories?

That may be the best hope for “Modern Family’s” actors: not having to compete against “Arrested Development” at all.

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