In the early 1970s, Valerie Harper set a precedent among TV supporting actresses by winning three consecutive Emmys as Rhoda Morgenstern on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” Her character’s popularity led to the spinoff series “Rhoda” in 1974, and she ended up taking home a lead acting prize for the show’s inaugural season. This made her the first performer to earn nominations as one character across multiple categories for multiple programs. In the nearly five decades since, 11 more actors have joined the group, including three more double winners.
Harper was first followed by two of her “Mary Tyler Moore Show” castmates: Cloris Leachman (1976) and Ed Asner (1978). Their respective characters, Phyllis Lindstrom and Lou Grant, were promoted to lead placement on spinoffs of their own, which were appropriately titled “Phyllis” and “Lou Grant.” Leachman won as a supporting actress (1974) and a guest performer (1975) for the original series but never for her own show. Asner, the second dual champ on this list, won three comedy supporting trophies (1971, 1972, 1975) and two drama lead ones (1978, 1980).
1980 brought the first lead nominations for the eventual third double winner, Robert Guillaume (Benson DuBois, “Soap” and “Benson”), and Polly Holliday (Flo Castleberry, “Alice” and “Flo”). Guillaume’s supporting and lead wins came in 1979 and 1985 respectively.
A special case occurred in 1982 when Vicki Lawrence (Thelma “Mama” Harper) competed for the Best Movie/Limited Supporting Actress prize for “Eunice” after earning four consecutive featured bids between 1974 and 1977 as a regular on “The Carol Burnett Show.” She won in 1976.
In 1994, Kelsey Grammer matched Leachman’s achievement by earning recognition for playing Frasier Crane as a supporting player, guest star, and lead on “Cheers,” “Wings,” and “Frasier,” respectively. He won four times for “Frasier.”
Between 1995 and 1999, Bebe Neuwirth (Lilith Sternin), Shelley Long (Diane Chambers), and Woody Harrelson (Woody Boyd) made the supporting-to-guest jump by bringing their Emmy-winning “Cheers” characters to “Frasier.”
After winning the guest prize as Denny Crane on “The Practice” in 2004, William Shatner triumphed in the drama supporting category one year later when the character moved to “Boston Legal.”
It then took 13 years for the next and most recent performer to add her name to the list, as Viola Davis was nominated for bringing her 2015 Best Drama Actress-winning character Annalise Keating (“How to Get Away with Murder”) to “Scandal” for a single episode.
These dozen multi-show crossovers account for 17% of all cases involving one performance and multiple Emmy categories. It is the least common method besides the single-show lead-to-guest one (6%), but it does produce about as many winners as any other. It may take a while for another performer to join the group, but Davis’s addition at least proves that it is still possible in the current TV era.
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