Sometimes the Emmys get it exactly right. We know it at the time, and we know it in hindsight. Other times the Emmys leave us scratching our heads. Whether the decisions didn’t make sense at the time or have become puzzling over the years, on occasion the Emmys get it wrong. Here are 25 times we felt like the voters, in all their collective wisdom, came up with an incorrect Emmy winner.
Danny Thomas was a big star in the early days of TV, but his show “Make Room For Daddy” was nothing special. Its win for Outstanding Comedy Series way back in 1955 saw it beat two shows that were better. We aren’t upset about “I Love Lucy” losing, as it won the two prior years, but it also beat “Our Miss Brooks,” a fun show that holds up but never won the Emmy for Comedy Series.
Would you believe that “Seinfeld,” maybe the top sitcom of the ‘90s, won Outstanding Comedy Series only once? It happened in 1993, but it should have happened first in 1992. That was for the third season, the year the show about nothing really took off. Instead, “Murphy Brown,” a middling sitcom that was an Emmys darling, won its second Emmy.
“Arrested Development” is a truly brilliant show. At least, it was genius in its three-season run on FOX. It won Outstanding Comedy Series for its first season, but it also should have won for its even better second season. Alas, the Emmys decided to give the award to “Everybody Loves Raymond” for its ninth season. That was the final year for “Raymond,” making this an unnecessary career achievement award, as the show had already won once.
We can accept “Modern Family” winning one Outstanding Comedy Series Award. That being said, the fact it won FIVE years in a row is head-scratching. If we have to single out one award we’re particularly miffed about, it's this one, as "Modern Family" should never have beaten “Parks and Recreation” in its second season. “Parks and Rec,” a truly great sitcom, never ended up winning anything.
In the early days of Outstanding Drama Series, programs that just showed plays ended up winning more than once. The most egregious of these was when “Hallmark Hall of Fame: Macbeth” won the award. Yes, one single play, which was actually the second time the show had done this performance, won Outstanding Drama SERIES. You know what it beat? A season of the iconic science fiction show “The Twilight Zone.”
Speaking of plays, in 1972 “Elizabeth R” won Outstanding Drama Series. It was a BBC series that featured Glenda Jackson as Queen Elizabeth in six separate 85-minute plays. Are you snoring already? On the other hand, “Columbo” was a solid and reliable murder mystery procedural, and Peter Falk turned the title character into a staple of pop culture. It ended up never winning Outstanding Drama Series, though Falk got his Emmys.
“L.A. Law,” a largely forgotten law procedural, won four Outstanding Drama Series awards. We’re not saying David E. Kelley’s show was bad, but four wins was too much. Meanwhile, in its third win it beat the almost universally beloved first season of “Twin Peaks.” With that show, David Lynch changed television. It should have been honored over “L.A. Law.”
“The Sopranos” got its wins, but as the show that changed the landscape of TV, and the Emmys, it deserved more. Its first season did not undertake the issues a lot of series do when they debut, but it did get nominated. However, it didn’t win, instead losing to legal drama “The Practice,” which won for the second year in a row.
Not every instance of the Emmys getting it wrong involves a terrible decision. Sometimes it’s about a really, truly, deeply deserving show not getting the love it deserves. “Mad Men” had a lot going for it. “Breaking Bad” is the best drama of all time. Its third season, its best, didn’t win, though, as “Mad Men” took home its third of four straight Emmys. No knock on “Mad Men,” but genius deserves recognition.
We’re just going to say it: “Game of Thrones” is overrated. It has some good performances and a lot of money behind it, but the stories were often ridiculous, and the show became overwrought. The sixth season wasn’t anything special. With its second season, “Better Call Saul” proved it was more than just a spinoff of “Breaking Bad.” It deserves a win of its own.
Even fans of “Game of Thrones” don’t like its seventh season. When it won yet another Outstanding Drama Series award, a lot of TV fans and critics were left rolling their eyes. There were a couple of better options, frankly. While the second season of “Stranger Things” had a couple of issues of its own, it was certainly better than “Game of Thrones.” That being said, it was also a chance for the Emmys to finally give “The Americans” a win in its final season.
Arthur Fonzarelli’s jacket is in the Smithsonian. Henry Winkler made him an icon of TV. Sure, “Happy Days” could be a little cheesy, but Winkler was above it, even when jumping sharks. Meanwhile, the star of “Chico and the Man” was decidedly Chico, played by Freddie Prinze Sr. Do you even know who played “the man?” That would be Jack Albertson, a fine actor who stood in the way of Winkler winning for the Fonz. Thankfully, he just won for “Barry.”
Carroll O’Connor ended up winning four Emmys for playing Archie Bunker on “All in the Family.” At a certain point you would think voter fatigue would have set in. Yes, it was a good performance, but it also wasn’t exactly multidimensional a lot of the time. In 1979, the year of his final win, the Emmys could have finally given Hal Linden an Emmy for his work on “Barney Miller” — or they could have given it to a young, up-and-coming actor who got his first nomination that year: Robin Williams.
The interesting thing about Richard Mulligan is that he won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series twice, once for two different roles. We have questions about his second win, for starring in “Empty Nest." Michael J. Fox and Ted Danson would have both been fair winners, but they both won a ton, so we aren’t too up in arms. On the other hand, what about giving some love to John Goodman for his work as Dan Conner on “Roseanne?"
Steve Carell never won an Emmy for “The Office.” Can you believe that? He should have won at least once, if not multiple times. Richard Mulligan has two more Emmys than Carell! Tony Shalhoub has three more Emmys than Carell, each for playing Adrian Monk on “Monk.” We want to give his third of those to Carell for his iconic TV performance as Michael Scott.
“Two and a Half Men” was never a critical darling, mostly because it wasn’t any good, so it was odd when Cryer suddenly won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in the middle of its run. Maybe people just felt bad he had to work with Charlie Sheen? Larry David may basically play himself on “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” but maybe voters could have given it to him. Speaking of guys playing themselves, Louis C.K. is a problematic figure now, but at the time giving him a win would have felt right.
Have you ever heard of the TV show “Kaz?” We can answer for you, and the answer is no. It was a drama about a former convict who became a criminal defense attorney, and it lasted all of one season. Despite that, Ron Leibman, also not a household name, won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. The other nominees? TV legends Ed Asner, Jack Klugman and James Garner.
James Gandolfini and James Spader both won three Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series Emmys. Spader won his three for playing Alan Shore on “The Practice” and “Boston Legal.” Gandolfini, of course, played Tony Soprano, one of the foremost TV characters ever. Spader’s last win came over Gandolfini, among others. The thing that really irks us? It was the final year of “The Sopranos.”
Everybody loves Jeff Daniels. Nobody loved “The Newsroom.” That seemed to be the gist of things when Daniels won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Even Daniels lovers had issues with that. Part of what made it so galling was that he beat Jon Hamm and Bryan Cranston.
Yes, Hope Lange won two Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress for her role in a sitcom in which she had wacky adventures with the ghost of a sea captain. Nobody really remembers “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” Yet in her first win, she beat Elizabeth Montgomery for “Bewitched,” Barbara Feldon for “Get Smart” and Diahann Carroll for “Julia.” It would have been particularly nice for Carroll to win, as she played a black working single mother, which was groundbreaking at the time.
The Emmys have an issue with calling any 30-minute show a comedy for award category purposes. That’s how Toni Collette and Edie Falco won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series in back-to-back years even though their shows weren’t really comedies. Falco was quite good on “Nurse Jackie,” but when she won she took down two true comedy legends: Tina Fey and Amy Poehler. Poehler never winning for playing Leslie Knope is a crime.
Sela Ward won an Emmy way back in 1994 for “Sisters” and then won a second one in 2000 for the largely forgotten drama “Once and Again.” Her win came over a murderer’s row of nominees. We’re talking Amy Brenneman, Julianna Margulies and the “Sopranos’” dynamic duo of Edie Falco and Lorraine Bracco. All of them would have been worthy winners.
When Patricia Arquette won an Oscar for “Boyhood,” it made a ton of sense. She not only gave a lived-in performance, but she also did it over 12 years. When she won her Emmy, she did it for…a procedural where she talked to ghosts. That feels like a mistake. Jennifer Garner winning for “Alias” would have been fun, but the interesting thing would have been if Frances Conroy won for the overlooked “Six Feet Under.”
We aren’t knocking Foy’s performance as a young Queen Elizabeth II on “The Crown.” She just shouldn’t have won in this stacked category. Tatiana Maslany played several separate characters on “Orphan Black.” Sandra Oh was up for the cultishly adored “Killing Eve.” Keri Russell was in her final season on “The Americans.” Matthew Rhys got a win for that show, but Russell couldn’t.
“The Simpsons” has won a bunch of Outstanding Animated Program awards. As such, we can’t complain about the greatest animated show of all time not winning in a given year. It’s the choice that was made in 1992 that rubs us the wrong way. “The Simpsons” was nominated for “Radio Bart,” a classic episode. It lost to “A Claymation Easter,” a random stop-motion animated movie that has been lost to the sands of time, unlike “Radio Bart,” which has aired in reruns literally dozens of time since then.