At the 42nd Primetime Emmys ceremony in 1990, Patricia Wettig broke new ground with her Best Drama Actress win for “Thirtysomething,” as she became the first recipient of both lead and supporting awards for playing a single character on a single series. Her performance as Nancy Weston had led to a featured victory two years earlier and would result in one more consecutive lead win. Throughout the seven-decade history of the Emmys, 18 more actors have had their one-show characters recognized as both primary and secondary at least once each, and two more have pulled off double wins.
The inaugural member of this group was Jean Hagen, who played Margaret Williams on “Make Room for Daddy.” Before the program was retooled as “The Danny Thomas Show” and Williams became the first sitcom character to be killed off, Hagen made history in 1956 as the first and only actor to earn both lead and supporting nominations for the same role in the same year. A decade later, Agnes Moorehead received a Best Comedy Actress nomination for “Bewitched” one year after the same role as Endora earned her a supporting bid. She was subsequently deemed a featured player again and garnered four additional notices as such; she never won.
The first dramatic performer to join the club was Linda Cristal (“The High Chaparral”), who was nominated as a lead in 1971 after first competing as a supporting actress in 1968. Kristy McNichol (“Family”), Michael J. Fox (“Family Ties”), and Michael Tucker (“L.A. Law”) followed in the 1980s. McNichol won twice in supporting (1976, 1979), while Fox would triumph three times as a lead (1986-1988).
Julianna Margulies (“ER”) was reclassified as a lead in 1997 after winning a supporting trophy in 1995; she never won in the top race. Two other 1990s nominees, Piper Laurie (“Twin Peaks”) and Jill Eikenberry (“L.A. Law”) went the other way by going from lead to supporting.
In 2002, Jennifer Aniston (“Friends”) and Allison Janney (“The West Wing”) won lead prizes after each previously competing twice for supporting awards. As Janney had triumphed on both of her earlier outings, she became the second supporting-to-lead winner after Wettig.
From 2003 to 2010, three more lead-to-supporting cases occurred with the nominations of Rachel Griffiths (“Six Feet Under”), Lorraine Bracco (“The Sopranos”), and Elisabeth Moss (“Mad Men”). None of them ever won for their roles, even after Moss moved back to the lead category after her one supporting bid.
Jon Cryer’s 2012 Best Comedy Actor win for “Two and a Half Men” made him the first and only male double champ in this group, as the role had already brought him a supporting trophy in 2009.
In 2017, Janney added her name to the list a second time when her “Mom” role was changed from supporting to lead. She won as a featured actress in 2014 and 2015 but never as a lead.
Next came Jeffrey Wright (“Westworld”) in 2018, followed by Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington (“Game of Thrones”) in 2019. None of their nominations resulted in wins. Like Moorehead, Wright went back to supporting after one lead outing.
These 19 lead and supporting crossovers account for 26% of all cases involving one performance and multiple Emmy categories. A vast majority of these actors (79%) first scored featured bids before their characters were promoted to lead. This shift, which is often caused by the leaving of one or more original leads, has been fairly common since the early days of TV. Its perpetuation, especially over the last decade, practically assures that there will be plenty more additions to this list.
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