In 1968, nearly a decade after winning a pair of Best Drama Actor Emmys for “Perry Mason,” Raymond Burr received another nomination in the category but for playing a different character: the titular detective on “Ironside.” The role also brought him a second nomination that same year, as he was separately recognized for the TV movie that served as the series pilot. While he lost both those races, that double dipping made him the first actor whose performance as a single character brought him multiple bids through a change in genre or format. In the years since, he has been followed by 15 other actors, including five dual winners.
Limited series leads Glenda Jackson (“Elizabeth R”) and Keith Michell (“The Six Wives of Henry VIII”) each earned bids in 1972 for their general work on their respective shows as well as for specific episodes. They both ended up bringing home awards, with Jackson bagging two. Peter Falk followed in 1974, when “Columbo” was changed from a drama to a limited series for a period of two years. He won the Best Movie/Limited Actor prize in 1975 and the Best Drama Actor award in 1972, 1976, and 1990. A year after winning in drama in 1975 for “Upstairs, Downstairs,” Jean Marsh made the move to limited.
The only man to ever earn nominations as the same character through both genre and program changes is Ed Asner, whose 1970-1982 tenure as Lou Grant earned him seven nomination for Best Comedy Supporting Actor (“The Mary Tyler Moore Show”) and five for Best Drama Actor (“Lou Grant”). He triumphed three times as a supporting actor and twice as a lead. Vicki Lawrence is the only woman to be nominated for playing the same character on two separate and differently formatted programs, as she appeared as Thelma “Mama” Harper in a supporting capacity on both the 1970s variety series “The Carol Burnett Show” (winning in 1976) and the 1982 movie “Eunice.”
Lawrence was the last entrant on this list for over a quarter-century until Ricky Gervais received a nomination for starring in the movie-length series finale of “Extras” one year after winning the 2007 Best Comedy Actor award for the same show. He was immediately followed by Kiefer Sutherland, whose show “24” aired a movie subtitled “Redemption” between its sixth and seventh seasons due to the 2007-2008 Writers Guild of America strike. Sutherland had won the Best Drama Actor prize in 2006.
Five such switches occurred throughout the 2010s, beginning with back-to-back limited-to-drama supporting wins by Maggie Smith (“Downton Abbey”). Next was Laura Linney, whose second nomination and first win for “The Big C” came for the show’s final season, which was subtitled “Hereafter” and classified as a limited series.
In a class of their own are Uzo Aduba and Laverne Cox, whose performances on “Orange Is the New Black” were reclassified as dramatic after first being deemed comedic. The former’s billing also changed from guest to supporting, and she triumphed in both categories. Also in her own league is Jessica Lange, who earned her two bids as Constance Langdon (“American Horror Story”) through both format (limited to drama) and billing (supporting to guest) changes. The role earned her the Best Movie/Limited Supporting Actress award in 2011.
The most recent members of this group both joined in 2020. Tituss Burgess was recognized for the interactive movie “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt: Kimmy vs. the Reverend” after his role on the original series reaped him four Best Comedy Supporting Actor bids. Laura Dern, who won the 2017 Best Movie/Limited Supporting Actress award for “Big Little Lies,” went the other way when her show was changed from a limited series to a continuing drama.
These 16 genre and format crossovers account for 22% of all cases involving one performance and multiple Emmy categories. The most recent examples essentially prove that any path is still possible, as it has become much more common for limited series to continue past one season and for traditional shows to end with shortened seasons or movies. Smith and Aduba’s victories also gave the method more credibility and indicate that actors can succeed through virtually any type of program overhaul.
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