by Tyler Glover, Aprille Hanson, Julian Spivey & Preston Tolliver
Over the last few months on The Word’s Facebook page we’ve been holding a Greatest Emmy Winners of All-Time tournament where our readers and social media followers have been selecting the all-time greatest Emmy winners in the drama and comedy categories of lead actor, lead actress, supporting actor and supporting actress. The readers and social media followers of The Word did an exquisite job of pairing down fields of more than 32 winners in each category to pick the ultimate Emmy-winner in each and now we’re unveiling all eight of those winners and giving reasons why we believe they were excellent choices!
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad)
Here's a short list of things Walter White did during the five seasons of “Breaking Bad”:
- He became a notorious drug lord who cooked and distributed methamphetamine to people across the United States and Mexico
- He watched his business partner's girlfriend overdose and did nothing to help
- He worked with Nazis to try to have that business partner killed
- He emotionally tormented his wife to the point that she attempted suicide
- He got his DEA agent brother-in-law (and his DEA agent brother-in-law's partner) killed by the aforementioned Nazis
- And he blew up part of a nursing home to kill a rival drug lord
And despite all that, he made you feel bad for him.
Bryan Cranston didn't win Outstanding Actor in a Drama Series because he portrayed one of the most evil characters on television. He won because he portrayed the opposite - an arguably good guy who broke bad in a way that made you say, "Holy shit. That could be me."
Walter White was a multidimensional character - on one side, he was the high school chemistry teacher, freshly diagnosed with cancer, desperate to find a way to make cash quick so he could leave his family enough to get by (writer's note: pay teachers more money). On the other hand, that desperation vaulted him into a life of meth and assassinations and straight up familial abuse (and using science to kill a lot of people, which just seemed like a really cool and unique and fun way to do that).
Let's be clear: Walter White was not the good guy of the story. He was in the beginning, sure - you could sympathize with the guy who doesn't make enough money for the work he does and is faced with leaving his family with crippling medical debt because of good old fashioned American healthcare. But as the series went on, you saw those incremental changes, and before you knew it, you were watching the show unfold from the lens of someone on the totally opposite end of the moral spectrum. And somehow, for some reason, we all still made excuses for him. Despite the abhorrent behavior (and sexual assault, even) toward his wife; despite the total disregard for human lives outside his home; despite the fact that, really, he was kind of just an asshole.
That's due in large part because of Vince Gilligan's writing, yes. But it's also thanks to Cranston's ability to portray a character that in the midst of the bad, he remained someone you could see yourself in. PT
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Claire Foy (The Crown)
Claire Foy rightfully deserves the crown for Outstanding Lead Actress of all-time for her performance of Queen Elizabeth II in "The Crown." At the start of the series, Elizabeth II is just a princess doing tours and being able to lead somewhat of a normal life. However, when her father dies, it is her time to become Queen. Queen Elizabeth II has to do her best to be impartial and do what is best for the country even if it is not what she would do. What makes Foy so incredible in this role is that even when she is saying nothing, she is saying a lot. Foy is a master at letting the audience know what she is thinking without saying anything. That's what makes it even more exciting when Foy finally speaks her mind on occasion. We see family conflicts come up where she wants to give her sister her blessing on a marriage but from a governmental standpoint and wanting to stay away from a scandal, Elizabeth has to make them wait. Foy shines through it all. Foy was the winner of a Golden Globe, a Primetime Emmy and two Screen Actors Guild Awards all for Lead Actress In A Drama Series. The only negative thing I could even think to say of Claire Foy in "The Crown" is that I hate that she only got to play the role for two seasons. This is because "The Crown" changes the whole cast for season three to older actors and will switch at the start of season five as well. Claire Foy was absolutely perfect in the role of Queen Elizabeth II. TG
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey)
Maggie Smith's portrayal of Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, in "Downton Abbey" was widely popular with the Emmys. Smith was nominated for five of the six seasons and won three Emmys: one for Best Supporting Actress In A Miniseries and two for Best Supporting Actress In A Drama Series. This is because "Downton Abbey" began as a miniseries but when it decided to return, the Emmys placed it to compete in the drama categories. The fact that Maggie Smith was voted as the absolute Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series of all-time by readers of The Word was not shocking to me. At the beginning of the series, the heir to become the Earl of Grantham has died in the sinking of the RMS Titanic. He was set to marry Mary Crawley, the daughter of the Earl of Grantham, before his demise. The problem facing the Crawley family is the heir presumptive, Matthew, is from the upper-middle class and does not desire to lead an aristocratic life. Smith plays Violet, Mary's grandmother, who is devoted to keeping her family's status, which she sees as their well-being. Smith portrays Violet with such elegance, sophistication, sarcasm and wit. She is ready to go to battle for her family and Smith shows that she is a force to be reckoned with. The series continues to show how the events of history affect the Crawley family through all six seasons and Smith does not miss a beat. Her performance is absolute perfection. TG
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama: Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones)
Peter Dinklage is the record holder for most Primetime Emmy wins for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series with four wins. This is most definitely not a fluke. In "Game of Thrones," Dinklage plays Tyrion Lannister, who is the brother to the Queen of Westeros and becomes Hand of the King. Over the course of the years, Tyrion goes from someone that is more concerned with sleeping with as many women as possible to someone who really cares about the kingdom and what is best for it. What is best for it may not be his family in power. Tyrion even kills his own father and then joins the other side of the war. Dinklage helps make Tyrion someone unlike we have ever seen before in television. He is flawed, complicated, and complex but also, compassionate, understanding, and seeks to do what is best for the kingdom. Dinklage is the only person that could have played this role and I cannot imagine anyone else could have done a better job. I am so glad that in this tournament of the Outstanding Supporting Actor of all-time that Peter Dinklage was the winner of the "game." TG
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series: Alan Alda (M*A*S*H)
Alan Alda is the greatest television actor of all-time. So, it’s not too surprising to see him voted as the greatest Lead Actor in a Comedy Series of all-time Emmy-winning performance on “M*A*S*H” in The Word’s fan-voted tournament. The only thing surprising about Alda, the Emmys and “M*A*S*H” is that he somehow only won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series twice in the show’s entire epic run, but he can mostly blame Carroll O’Connor and “All in the Family” for that. Alda did also win Emmys for both directing and writing episodes of “M*A*S*H” and remains the only person to have ever won Emmys for acting, directing and writing the same series. What made Alda the greatest television actor of all-time, in my opinion, was his gift for being able to make viewers cry via both laughter and dramatic acting and that fit a show about doctors serving in wartime perfectly. You can’t just outright have a comedy about war without bringing some drama into the fray – well, I guess if you’re “Hogan’s Heroes” you can, but you can’t have an all-time great show doing that. Alda’s greatest quality as an actor, which he (and a terrific staff of writers) brought to the character of Hawkeye Pierce on “M*A*S*H,” is empathy. Alda and his character Hawkeye Pierce sticks in the heart and minds of so many TV viewers because he truly makes us all want to be better people. JS
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series: Betty White (The Golden Girls)
Everyone loves Betty White. It’s something we can all agree on. So, it’s no surprise that White came out on top of the fan-voted Greatest Emmy-winning Lead Actress in a Comedy on The Word. In her career, she received 21 Emmy nominations, winning five, including in 1986 for her character Rose Nylund on “The Golden Girls” and in 1975 and 1976 for Sue Ann Nivens on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” According to the Writers Guild of America, both sitcoms made its 101 best-written TV series of all-time list in 2013. White played Rose on ‘Golden Girls’ with the right balance of cluelessness and heart. It’s a hard line to tread because tipping the scale too much in either direction can make a character incredibly annoying. But when Rose launched into a story about St. Olaf -- the fictional Minnesota town she was from -- and all its absurdities, viewers laughed and bought into the nonsense because of her comedic timing and commitment to the craziness of it all. But just like the entire cast, no character was one dimensional. She could break hearts while cutting into a birthday cake by herself in her kitchen in St. Olaf, the first birthday after her husband died, in “A Piece of Cake” from season two to getting her childhood bear Fernando back from a bratty kid, ripping it out of her arms and shoving her out the door while saying “Sometimes life just isn’t fair kiddo,” in “Old Friends.” White plays all her roles with heart and humor, making her a perfect winner. AH
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series: Don Knotts (The Andy Griffith Show)
Don Knotts won more Emmy Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series all-time as he thoroughly dominated the category in the ‘60s for his role as bumbling Deputy Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show.” It’s a performance that has remained with TV viewers for more than half a century and has certainly inspired many actors and actresses. Anytime I see Laurie Metcalf portray her Emmy-winning performance as Jackie Harris on “Roseanne” and “The Conners” I can’t help but think of Knotts. There were certainly bumbling comedic characters before him – perhaps Knotts himself took some notes from the great Lucille Ball – but he just had these wonderful facial expressions and such expressive eyes that he would often-times make you laugh as much or more with his physicality than the jokes that were coming out of his mouth. In 1999, TV Guide named Barney Fife the ninth greatest TV Character of All-Time and more than 20 years after that – even with the golden age of television the last two decades has seen – he’s still memorable enough for the readers of The Word to vote him as the greatest Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy-winner of all-time. JS
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series: Estelle Getty (The Golden Girls)
Picture it, Estelle Getty being named the greatest Emmy-winning Supporting Actress in a Comedy in television history -- it’s exactly how the fans of The Word voted in the Greatest Emmy Winners of All-Time tournament. She played the feisty Sophia Petrillo, the 80-year-old mother of Dorothy Zbornak (Bea Arthur) -- despite being a year younger than Arthur -- for seven seasons of “The Golden Girls,” as well as spin-off shows, making the character’s run 10 years on television. In 1988, she won her Emmy for playing everyone’s favorite Italian spitfire. She was nominated seven times. In a show about older women navigating life, with a lesser actress, it would have been easy for Getty to get outshined by the primary cast Arthur, Betty White (Rose) and Rue McClanahan (Blanche). But Getty brought a blunt sarcasm that threw the concept of a “sweet old lady” pretty much out the window. The show broke a lot of stereotypes of older women and Getty was a big part of that. Her comedic timing when throwing digs at Dorothy’s nonexistent love life, Blanche’s too frequent love life and Rose’s lack of awareness were perfection. Beyond the wisecracks, she played the character with warmth and an incredible depth in episodes like “Not Another Monday” from the final seventh season, where she, at the last minute, talks her best friend out of suicide. Getty’s versatility made that character something more than just one-liners and Sicily stories. AH