‘UnReal’ and ‘Custody’ could win Lifetime Network its first acting Emmys in decades

The Lifetime Network has been producing original content for decades starring some of the biggest names from the worlds of film, television and theater, but surprisingly the network has struggled for Emmy wins in acting races. Mary Tyler Moore claimed Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress in 1993 for the cable net’s “Stolen Babies” — her seventh victory on her 15th and final nomination of her career — but that’s all. This year the network’s best chances may be the telefilm “Custody” starring Emmy and Oscar winners Viola Davis and Ellen Burstyn, and the original drama series “UnReal” starring Shiri Appleby and Emmy nominee Constance Zimmer.

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A whopping 24 Lifetime actors have received Emmy nominations with just one winner. While the network focuses on programming for women three men have received bids. Two of those were for Best Movie/Mini Actor: Beau Bridges for “We Were the Mulvaneys” (2002) and Donald Sutherland for “Human Trafficking” (2006). The other was for Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actor: Robert Carlyle for “Human Trafficking” (2006).

The ladies who’ve scored nominations are some of the most recognizable names working in television and film, including past Emmy and Oscar winners and nominees. Of those 19 women, the vast majority (14) earned their nominations for Best Movie/Mini Actress:

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1996: Sela Ward for “Almost Golden: The Jessica Savitch Story”
1999: Ann-Margaret for “Life of the Party: The Pamela Harriman Story”
2002: Blythe Danner for “We Were the Mulvaneys”
2003: Thora Birch for “Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story”
2005: Debra Winger for “Dawn Anna”
2006: Kathy Bates for “Ambulance Girl”
2006: Judy Davis for “A Little Thing Called Murder”
2007: Gena Rowlands for “What if God Were the Sun”
2009: Shirley MacLaine for “Coco Chanel”
2009: Sigourney Weaver for “Prayers for Bobby”
2010: Joan Allen for “Georgia O’Keefe”
2011: Taraji P. Henson for “Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story”
2014: Minnie Driver for “Return to Zero”
2014: Cicely Tyson for “The Trip To Bountiful”

In addition to Moore, three other women have scored nominations for Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress:

2004: Anne Heche for “Gracie’s Choice”
2013: Alfre Woodard for “Steel Magnolias”
2014: Ellen Burstyn for “Flowers In The Attic”

Only two women have scored nominations for continuing series. Blair Brown contended for Best Comedy Actress five times for “The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (1987-1991): the first two were for NBC followed by three more for Lifetime. And in 2016 Zimmer was up for Best Drama Supporting Actress for “UnReal” (2016).

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Two of the network’s acting losses were considered upsets: Burstyn and Tyson. Burstyn is a past Oscar Best Actress winner (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” 1974). But it’s her stellar Emmy track record that made this loss surprising. Burstyn previously won the Emmy for Best Drama Guest Actress for “Law & Order: SVU” (2009), then Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress for “Political Animals” (2013) over the presumed frontrunner Sarah Paulson for “American Horror Story: Asylum.” Burstyn is so beloved she even received a notorious nomination for Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress in 2006 for a 15-second performance in HBO’s “Mrs. Harris.” Nevertheless, playing an abusive grandmother in “Flowers In The Attic” couldn’t bring her another win; she lost to Kathy Bates for “AHS: Coven.”

Then there was Tyson, a past Oscar nominee for Best Actress (“Sounder,” 1972). She was also a three-time past Emmy winner: Best Movie/Mini Actress and Actress of the Year for “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman” (1974) and Best Movie/Mini Supporting Actress for “Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All” (1994). Tyson won a Tony for “The Trip to Bountiful” on stage in 2013. She reprised her role on TV and was considered the favorite on Emmy night, but she was upset by Jessica Lange for “AHS: Coven.”

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Be sure to make your Emmy predictions. Weigh in now with your picks so that Hollywood insiders can see how their TV shows and performers are faring in our Emmy odds. You can keep changing your predictions until just before nominees are announced on July 13. And join in the fierce debate over the 2017 Emmys taking place right now with Hollywood insiders in our TV forums.

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