The Emmys are my favorite televised awards ceremony. Why? Because you can win multiple times for the same part, you can lose multiple times for the same part, and you can win by surprise, in a streak, or in an upset. The drama is more varied than the Oscars, and it’s a little harder to predict who will win at the Emmys — yet it’s also rarer that I have a major problem with who takes home the hardware.
Just ahead of this Thursday’s Emmy nominations, here are 10 classic Emmy wins that remind me why I love this ceremony so much.
1. Jackee becoming the first black Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy (’88)
Presenter Bruce Willis may have mispronounced her name, but Jackee (Harry)’s triumph at the ’88 Emmys in the Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series category for 227 still sizzles with saucy supremacy. “Does this mean I get more money?” Jackee cooed at the end of her speech. I like to think of this win as sweet revenge for the fact that her 227 costar (and legend of The Jeffersons) Marla Gibbs has never won an Emmy.
2. Sean Hayes is “Just Jack” enough to win in 2000
Presenters Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson (2000 was definitely an ABC broadcast) grinned at each other in unsurprised agreement when Sean Hayes walked off with the 2000 Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy trophy for his work as Jack McFarland on Will & Grace. Funny thing about Jack McFarland, one of the least career-savvy gay characters ever: He is still a one-of-a-kind TV presence. Since Will & Grace left the air, we’ve had other Emmy-crowned hits like Modern Family, but Jack McFarland’s flighty, unapologetic, impish, always-funny antics make him something of an amazing anomaly. Based on the sheer amount of jokes he landed during the show’s long run, he’s pretty much the Airplane! of gay characters on TV.
3. The performer with the most Emmys? Is the goddess Cloris Leachman.
Justice: With eight Emmys, Cloris Leachman has more acting Emmys than any other performer. Who could refute that righteousness and awesomeness? She was a riot as blithe snob Phyllis Lindstrom on The Mary Tyler Moore Show, and I particularly loved her Emmy-winning guest appearances on Malcolm in the Middle. Another fun fact about The Mary Tyler Moore Show: The three winningest actors in the ceremony’s history are all cast members from MTM. (Ed Asner and Mary Tyler Moore barely trail Leachman with seven acting Emmys apiece.)
4. Gilda Radner snatching the 1978 Variety Emmy for Saturday Night Live
Get this: Only two Saturday Night Live stars have won Emmys for their work as cast members on the show, and both of them are from the original cast of Not Ready For Prime Time Players. One of them is Chevy Chase (eh) and the other is Gilda Radner, the still-reigning queen of shameless, bawdy, vulnerable, and uncompromising comedy. Gilda died only 10 years after winning her trophy, so I’m especially glad she was commemorated so officially during her time on the show.
5. Glenn Close may not have an Oscar, but she has two Emmys for playing the role of her lifetime on Damages.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Glenn Close has had some amazing roles, but most of them are in flawed movies. The World According to Garp is senseless, The Natural is boring, The Big Chill is senseless and boring, Fatal Attraction is offensive to the mentally ill, and Dangerous Liaisons is… well, awesome. That’s the exception. But Glenn Close’s best role is that of Patty Hewes on Damages, where she gets to be as ferocious, sly, scary, and occasionally vulnerable as Close’s immense abilities allow. She horrifies Rose Byrne, tangles with great guest stars (particularly Martin Short in season three), and always surprises — nay, startles — you.
6. Jane Lynch vaults from indie favorite to golden girl, 2010
Jane Lynch is such a smart, willfully weird and perverted comic superstar. Her Christopher Guest cred and deeply underrated work on Lovespring International make her something of a droll demigod, and that’s why it was so refreshing to see her win (in the biggest non-surprise of the night) for playing tracksuit doyenne Sue Sylvester on Glee. Better yet, she got to host the 2011 ceremony and prove she could rile a room with monologue jokes and costume changes. All the hail the vivacious LGBT comedy queen!
7. Alec Baldwin’s multiyear wins for, perhaps, the funniest lead male TV role ever.
He may be a hotheaded and arguably homophobic Tweeter, but I’ve always appreciated the fact that Alec Baldwin took home two Emmys over the still shut-out Steve Carell for 30 Rock. Here’s the truth about the roles of Jack Donaghy and Michael Scott: Jack Donaghy is a tougher role. He’s funny, devious, self-absorbed, a good mentor, and occasionally very warm. Michael Scott, conversely, is an idiot with only a few idiotic flavors (though they’re all funny). I still miss the hell out of 30 Rock, and it’s mainly because of this perfect performance. Jane Krakowski’s too. She better be nominated again this year.
8. Eric Stonestreet’s glorious double victory for Modern Family
9. Vivian Vance’s speech for her Supporting Actress win still contains the best line ever.
Vivian Vance was the first performer to take home the Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy statuette back in 1953, and I maintain that her mostly polite speech concluded with one of the funniest lines in Emmy history, when she thanked “the greatest straight-woman in show business, Lucille Ball.” You’re allowed to be that sarcastic when your contract stipulates that you weigh ten pounds more than the marquee star.
10. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ three wins for three different series make her the Meryl Streep of TV.
With her three wins for three vastly different projects, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the queen of Emmys, and I’m assuming there’s not a person on Earth who’d accuse her of not deserving it. Yes, Tyne Daly has also picked up hardware for her work on three different shows, but JLD is the sole dominating actress on her three winning shows (Seinfeld, The New Adventures of Old Christine, Veep). I think she should follow this Meryl parallel more closely and give us cheeky sitcoms about Karen Silkwood, Isak Dinesen, and Susan Orlean, personally.