Critics love ‘The Middle,’ but Emmys shun working-class shows

Critics love “The Middle,” as evidenced by its Critics’ Choice nomination for Best Comedy Series this year. The ABC sitcom, which follows the Heck family as they eke out a working-class life in the Midwest, is also a ratings hit. And its star, Patricia Heaton, is a two-time Emmy winner. So why isn’t the show a stronger contender for Emmys?

It currently ranks 11th in our overall odds for Best Comedy Series, and our predictors may be right, if history is any indication. In its first three seasons, “The Middle” earned just one Emmy nomination: Best Non-Prosthetic Makeup in 2012.

What separates Emmy voters from critics and audiences may be Snob Appeal, which has often been a significant factor in Emmy races. Looking back through the awards’ history, it’s easy to notice a trend favoring affluent characters. Shows like “Frasier,” about cultured psychiatrists living an upper-class lifestyle in Seattle, and “Modern Family,” whose Pritchetts are well-to-do professionals living in spacious California homes, win multiple awards, while shows like “The Middle,” about the family of an aspiring dental assistant and the manager of a rock quarry, are often left out.

Heaton won her back-to-back Emmys for “Everybody Loves Raymond,” whose title character was a successful sports writer living a much more comfortable lifestyle than the disadvantaged Heck clan, whose disheveled house and malfunctioning appliances are recurring jokes. That may be why, despite being a previous Emmy favorite, Heaton has yet to even be nominated for her current series.

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Other shows featuring working-class characters have been similarly unlucky. “Roseanne” earned several acting nominations and wins, but the classic sitcom was never even nominated for Best Comedy. Neither was “My Name is Earl,” about a small-time crook trying to make amends. Creator Greg Garcia followed “Earl” with more working-class characters in “Raising Hope,” which has also been mostly overlooked at the Emmys.

David Simon‘s “The Wire” was one of the most acclaimed dramas in recent television history, but it received only two writing nominations during its five-season run. It may have been disadvantaged at the Emmys in part because it was set in a poor, crime-ridden community in Baltimore. Simon’s “Treme” has had a similar problem, focusing on a New Orleans community rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.

There are a few exceptions to Emmy’s upper-crust tendencies. “All in the Family” won four Emmys for Best Comedy. “The Office” won in 2006 despite taking place among low-level paper salesmen. “Girls” was nominated for Best Comedy last year and is a strong contender to return this year, but its struggling young characters have greater bohemian chic; in contrast, the lowly Heck clan may not have the necessary Cool Factor to compensate for their limited means.

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