History was made in a monumental way with the announcement of the 2021 Primetime Emmy nominations as Mj Rodriguez (“Pose”) became the first trans lead acting nominee. This year also marks the first instance of three Black women being included in the same Best Drama Actress lineup, as Rodriguez is up against Uzo Aduba (“In Treatment”) and Jurnee Smollett (“Lovecraft Country”). Any of them would be only the third Black winner of this award, and a victory by Rodriguez or Smollett would be even more distinctive in that either of them would be the first actress in a quarter century to snag this award for a final season.
“Pose” wrapped its three-season run in June with a proper two-part finale, while “Lovecraft Country” was unexpectedly cancelled in July after having aired its inaugural season’s last episode nine months earlier. While female stars of drama series have been nominated for final seasons as recently as 2019 (Emilia Clarke, “Game of Thrones” and Robin Wright, “House of Cards”), none have prevailed since Kathy Baker (“Picket Fences”) in 1996.
The five others who preceded her to the podium for their farewell seasons were Barbara Stanwyck (“The Barbara Stanwyck Show,” 1961), Michael Learned (“Nurse,” 1982), Tyne Daly (“Cagney & Lacey,” 1988), Patricia Wettig (“Thirtysomething,” 1991), and Dana Delany (“China Beach,” 1992).
There have been eight such Best Comedy Actress champs, from Jane Wyatt (“Father Knows Best,” 1960) to the category’s two most recent wins by Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”) and Catherine O’Hara (“Schitt’s Creek”). Supporting actresses have done it 16 times, beginning with Nancy Marchand (“Lou Grant,” 1982) and Pat Carroll (“Caesar’s Hour,” 1957) and leading up to Maggie Smith (“Downton Abbey,” 2016) and Annie Murphy (“Schitt’s Creek,” 2020).
The first Best Drama Actor winner to join this group was Bill Cosby (“I Spy,” 1968), while the 11th and most recent was Matthew Rhys (“The Americans,” 2018). The first comedic male lead to triumph for his show’s last season was Sid Caesar (“Caesar’s Hour,” 1957), with the 11th being last year’s champ, Eugene Levy (“Schitt’s Creek”). There are a total of 15 supporting male examples, from Anthony Zerbe (“Harry O,” 1976) and Art Carney (“The Honeymooners,” 1956) to Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones,” 2019) and Dan Levy (“Schitt’s Creek,” 2020).
Five-season shows have produced the most winners of this kind, accounting for 12 of the 67 cases. Just four final season winners have, like Rodriguez, hailed from three-season shows: Cosby and the “Caesar’s Hour” trio of Caesar, Carroll, and Carl Reiner. Smollett would potentially be the third female winner for a single-season drama or comedy series after Stanwyck and Madge Sinclair (“Gabriel’s Fire,” 1991), the 10th overall, and the first in three decades after Sinclair and her costar, James Earl Jones.
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