by Julian Spivey
The 70th anniversary of the Primetime Emmy Awards is tonight on NBC at 7 p. m. For the milestone ceremony I have ranked my 70 favorite Emmy winners of all-time. Note this is a list of my personal favorite Emmy winners and in no way a “Greatest Emmy Winners” of all-time list. If you don’t see some of your favorite Emmy winners than the odds or more likely that I haven’t yet seen this series or performances than simply not liking them. I hope you enjoy the list.
70. Jeffrey Tambor (Transparent)
Controversial now because of harassment that came to light during the #MeToo movement last year, Jeffrey Tambor has been fired from the cast of Amazon’s “Transparent,” in which he was the lead. But before that, Tambor’s terrific performance as transgender character Maura Pfefferman made television history as he became the first to win an Emmy for portraying a trans character.
69. Viola Davis (How to Get Away with Murder)
Viola Davis made Emmy history when she took home the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2015 for the first season of “How to Get Away with Murder” becoming the first black woman in the almost 70-years of the Emmys to win in that category. Davis’s role as Annalise Keating on the ABC is one of the biggest badasses currently on network television.
68. John Larroquette (Night Court)
John Larroquette pretty much owned the Emmy’s Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series category in the late ‘80s winning four consecutive awards from 1985-1988 for his smarmy lawyer Dan Fielding. The womanizing, know-it-all was such a successful character for Larroquette at the Emmys that after his fourth consecutive win he asked not to be considered for the honor to give others a shot.
67. Alec Baldwin (Saturday Night Live)
Alec Baldwin’s impression of President Donald Trump got stale in its second season on “Saturday Night Live,” even though he’s been nominated for a second consecutive year, but when he debuted the impression, which was thought to be a short-lived one, it was an absolute laugh riot. Baldwin’s impression might not be as accurate as say Darrell Hammond’s was, but it really hits home the awkwardness (yeah, that’s the word I’ll go with here) of the president. It certainly pulls no punches.
66. Mel Brooks (Mad About You)
I’m not sure anybody has ever provided more people with laughs than Mel Brooks, which made his casting as Uncle Phil, Paul Buchman’s (Paul Reiser) uncle on the underrated ‘90s sitcom “Mad About You” the perfect get. Brooks dominated the Outstanding Guest Actor in a Comedy Series Emmy category in the late ‘90s with his outlandish performance on the series that typically seemed improvised on the spot and must have made Reiser and the rest of the “Mad About You” cast almost pass out by attempting to hold in laughs.
65. "Get Smart"
“Get Smart” showed us what comedic genius Mel Brooks was capable of before he hit the movie big time with “The Producers,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Blazing Saddles” with this spy spoof of the James Bond movies that starred Don Adams as a bumbling American spy who somehow always slipped into solving the crime.
64. "Flip" - "The Larry Sanders Show"
“The Larry Sanders Show” revolutionized comedy series for television by airing on HBO in the ‘90s, where it could get a little bawdier than the stuff you saw on network TV. The show won three Emmy Awards over its six seasons, with two of them coming for the series finale “Flip” that won for Outstanding Directing in a Comedy and Outstanding Writing in a Comedy for Garry Shandling (also the star of the show) and Peter Tolan. It’s one of the greatest finales for any comedy in TV history.
63. "Arrested Development"
“Arrested Development” is one of the most unique comedies to ever appear on American television and that’s probably why it didn’t last so long (only three seasons originally, though revived by Netflix years later). Much like “Seinfeld,” the series tells the story of a group of unlikable people, but this time an entire family of them. The humor, according to The Guardian, would heavily influence future classics like “30 Rock” and “Community.”
62. Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond)
Brad Garrett’s performance as the goofy, lovable giant Robert Barone on “Everybody Loves Raymond” won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series three times (2002, 2003 and 2005). Garrett’s Robert got a lot of laughs for his woe is me performance as Ray Romano’s older brother who fights for a shred of the amount of love Ray gets from their mother. My only issue with Garrett winning three Emmys is I wish (and I’m sure he does too) he could’ve shared one with Peter Boyle who was nominated seven straight years for portraying family patriarch Frank without winning.
61. Tom Selleck (Magnum P.I.)
Tom Selleck was the epitome of cool and sexy in the ‘80s as private investigator Thomas Magnum solving crimes in beautiful Hawaii, which served as a lovely backdrop for “Magnum, P.I.” Magnum was a man’s man, but also suave – in a Humphrey Bogart sort of way – with a good sense of humor to go along. Selleck won an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama in 1984.
60. Lucille Ball (I Love Lucy)
Lucille Ball was essentially television’s first superstar when “I Love Lucy” debuted in 1951 and for six seasons her Lucy Ricardo would create iconic television comedy moments with her incredible physical comedy. Ball was also a landmark figure in television creating with her husband (both on and offscreen) Desi Arnaz the first ever ensemble cast in television history and the first interracial marriage on TV, which came 16 years before Loving v. Virginia legalized all forms of interracial marriage in the U.S.
59. Woody Harrelson (Cheers)
I don’t think anybody has ever played dimwitted ignorance on television better than Woody Harrelson did as the lovable bartender Woody Boyd, for which he won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy in 1989 for his role on “Cheers.” Harrelson was able to mix the sheer idiocy of Bob Denver’s Gilligan without ever drooping into annoyance levels.
58. Gillian Anderson (The X-Files)
Gillian Anderson’s Dana Scully on “The X-Files” is one of the smartest and most heroic female characters in television history as the skeptic to David Duchovny’s believer Fox Mulder. Anderson and Duchovny formed one of the best friendships and will-they-or-won’t-they relationships in TV history, it’s just a shame both couldn’t be honored (Duchovny was nominated twice). Anderson was nominated for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series on four occasions, winning in 1997.
57. Donald Glover (Atlanta)
One of the best performances on television right now is the work Donald Glover is doing on FX’s “Atlanta,” in which he’s able to mix comedy and drama to great effect and earned him an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series last year. He should be considered the front-runner to repeat this year for what was even a better season, in my opinion, than the first.
56. "Always" - "Friday Night Lights"
I would think that most showrunners would say that series finales are the hardest to write because it’s always hard to bring a long-running series to an end and so often fans are not pleased with the ways in which shows are wrapped up. But, “Friday Night Lights” series finale “Always” managed to wrap every storyline up neatly and gave us a role reversal in the Taylor relationship with Coach Taylor (Kyle Chandler) having his wife Tami’s (Connie Britton) back this time, putting a bow on maybe the greatest and most realistic relationship in TV history. Jason Katims won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series for “Always.”
55. Candice Bergen (Murphy Brown)
Candice Bergen’s portrayal as tough broadcast journalist Murphy Brown is one of the greatest and most memorable female characters in television history. Bergen’s Emmy-reign was so dominant in the late ‘80s through the mid-‘90s winning five Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series awards in the show’s first sevens seasons that she declined future nominations for her role. Bergen’s five Emmy wins were the most in the category for one performance until Julia Louis-Dreyfus recently won her sixth consecutive award for Selina Meyer on “Veep.”
54. Ty Burrell (Modern Family)
As “Modern Family” has gone on there have been times when Ty Burrell’s performance as the bumbling dunce Phil Dunphy has become a little old, but when the show first debuted almost a decade ago it was one of the funniest performances on television. Burrell’s knack for physical comedy and his delivery of awkwardly dumb stuff made Phil one of the easiest characters on TV to laugh at and with. Burrell won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 2011 and 2014.
53. "The People v. O.J. Simpson - American Crime Story"
It seemed the whole world went O.J. Simpson crazy again for the 20th anniversary of the infamous murder trial in 2016 with an almost eight-hour documentary “O.J.: Made in America” winning an Oscar and the miniseries “The People vs. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story” dominating the Emmys for FX and producer Ryan Murphy. Simply put, the miniseries easily became one of the best in television history with terrific acting from Sarah Paulson, Courtney B. Vance and Sterling K. Brown, who all won Emmys for their performances.
52. Tina Fey (Saturday Night Live)
When Tina Fey was on “Saturday Night Live” she almost never appeared in sketches, but rather co-anchored Weekend Update and was the show’s head writer, but during the 2008 Presidential campaign when it turned out she bear a resemblance to Republican Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin she became the star of the show in a tour de force performance that earned her her first of two Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Emmys.
51. Gary Burghoff (M*A*S*H)
Cute. That’s probably the best way to describe Gary Burghoff’s Radar O’Reilly on “M*A*S*H,” a role he actually played in Robert Altman’s 1970 film of the same name before joining the television series two years later. They must’ve known Burghoff was the only one who could possibly be Radar. Burghoff won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1977.
50. Julie Bowen (Modern Family)
Julie Bowen’s flare for perfect sarcasm is probably the best trait of her Claire Dunphy, in my opinion one of the most underrated characters on ABC’s modern classic “Modern Family.” Her sarcasm frequently comes when dealing with her bumbling husband, Phil, played brilliantly by Ty Burrell. Bowen won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series back-to-back in 2011 and 2012.
49. "Modern Family"
“Modern Family” was so successful with the Emmys that it got to the point where even big fans of the show, like me, were like “Oh God, can we just recognize another show now?” after it won Outstanding Comedy Series a record-tying five straight years, for its first five seasons. “Modern Family” was able to successfully take the family sitcom and mix it with the faux-documentary form made popular by “The Office” – though to be honest it doesn’t really make a ton of sense for this series.
“Veep,” which has won the last three consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Comedy Series, is mostly known for Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s powerhouse lead performance that has garnered her a record six consecutive Emmys, but the show overall boasts one of the most complete casts on television. Sometimes political shows give us the dream version of politics, but “Veep” gives it the way we know it must truly be behind the scenes – dirty and incredibly obscene.
47. "Dick in a Box" - "Saturday Night Live"
Andy Samberg created a pop culture phenomenon when he got to “Saturday Night Live” in the mid-‘00s with his digital shorts with his comedic musical trio The Lonely Island. The most notable and hilarious collaboration was 2006’s “Dick in a Box” featuring Justin Timberlake. It was shocking, even for ‘SNL,’ to go there with this raunchy bit, but it instantly became one of the most memorable moments in the show’s long history and won Samberg, Timberlake and The Lonely Island crew an Emmy for Outstanding Music & Lyrics. Now, if we can just get Samberg a nomination for his terrific work on “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.”
46. "The Contest" - "Seinfeld"
Picking a favorite or greatest “Seinfeld” episode is no easy task with classic episodes like “The Soup Nazi,” “The Chinese Restaurant” and on and on, but the episode that most frequently seems to top lists is season four’s “The Contest,” in which our four characters compete to see who can go the longest without masturbating – with the word never being mentioned on the show and the topic very taboo for TV even in the ‘90s. The episode would win the Emmy for Larry David for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series and was ranked as the Greatest Television Episode of All-Time by TV Guide in 2009.
45. Julia Louis-Dreyfus (Seinfeld)
A few years ago, Rolling Stone magazine named Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Elaine Benes as the greatest “Seinfeld” character (honestly all four leads were so perfect I’m not sure I can choose). Her performance on the show – Dreyfus has won Emmys for each of her three sitcom roles – is as outrageous as Elaine’s dancing with her superficiality and neurosis leading to anger that Louis-Dreyfus has proven in multiple roles to be an expert at. Louis-Dreyfus won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1996.
44. Ray Romano (Everybody Loves Raymond)
Ray Romano is one of the most successful stand-up comedians of all-time being able to turn his stand-up routines – mostly revolving around his family life – into a classic TV sitcom. There have certainly been more interesting TV characters, funnier TV characters, more memorable TV characters, but when it comes to just living among the craziness of one’s family, I’m not sure anybody has been able to ring more laughs out than Romano as Ray Barone. He won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 2002.
43. Loretta Swit (M*A*S*H)
Loretta Swit’s performance of Army Nurse Margaret Houlihan on “M*A*S*H” might well be the biggest character growth or change I’ve ever seen from a beloved television character. She started out as a know-it-all prude in the beginning, at odds with our main duo Hawkeye Pierce (Alan Alda) and Trapper John (Wayne Rogers). But by the end of the show, she had grown into a dear friend of all the characters and just an absolute pleasure to behold. She won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 1980 and 1982.
42. David Hyde Pierce (Frasier)
It’s a testament to David Hyde Pierce’s comedic abilities that he was able to play a character so similar to that of Kelsey Grammer’s pompous high society chasing Frasier Crane without completely getting washed over and in fact was able to do it while standing out. Pierce’s Niles Crane, the younger brother of Frasier, was at his best when matching wits with his brother or portraying his fumbling love for Daphne (Jane Leeves), his father’s live-in physical therapist. Pierce won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series on four different occasions (1995, 1998, 1999 and 2004).
41. Kevin Costner (Hatfields & McCoys)
I’ve always felt like Kevin Costner was an incredibly underrated actor. He was nominated for an Oscar for his performance in “Dances with Wolves,” which won him two Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director, and a few times for Golden Globe Awards, but he’d never won a major acting award until 2012 when he took home Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for his amazing performance as the Hatfields patriarch in the History Channel miniseries “Hatfields & McCoys.” The only downside of it all was I kind of wish he could’ve shared the award with Bill Paxton, who was just as good as the patriarch of the McCoys.
40. "Everybody Loves Raymond"
“Everybody Loves Raymond” is one of the funniest family sitcoms you’ll ever see, though toward the end it could become a bit grating (especially Doris Roberts’s character, which won her four Emmys, but you won’t find her on this list) because, well, families are grating. It’s likely the best television example of what kind of annoyance living close to your family can be once you’re an adult and trying to create a family of your own.
39. Roseanne Barr (Roseanne)
Now she’s been banned from television, for good reason, after an incredibly short-lived revival of her show, but there was a time when Roseanne Barr was one of the most important women on television and her character (possibly forgetting its demise in the revival) will always be one of the greatest in TV history for the way it portrayed a hard-working, middle class mother and family. Barr won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series for “Roseanne” in 1993.
38. Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us)
One of the best performances of recent years on television, especially on a network TV drama, has been Sterling K. Brown’s performance as Randall Pearson on NBC’s hit “This Is Us.” When Brown won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series at last year’s ceremony it marked the first time since Andre Braugher for “Homicide: Life on the Streets” in 1998 that an African-American had won the category and the first since James Spader on ABC’s “Boston Legal” in 2007 for a performance on a network TV series to win.
37. "Key & Peele"
Sketch comedy is hard, because every sketch comedy show is going to be compared to the legendary “Saturday Night Live” and if you don’t have your own take on the genre it’ll be hard to succeed. Comedy Central’s “Key & Peele” only lasted five seasons because its stars blew up so big and went to other things (Jordan Peele won an Oscar for writing “Get Out”). But, it left behind a treasure trove of hilarity from the African-American perspective that television needed since Dave Chappelle’s show had gone off the air a decade before.
36. Joe Morton (Scandal)
Few people can rattle off a long monologue like Joe Morton, who’s character of Eli/Rowan Pope on “Scandal” was one of the greatest – and scariest – characters of the last decade on television. First, as a guest character for which Morton won Outstanding Guest Actor in a Drama Series, he soon became a regular on the show and likely became the most intriguing aspect of it throughout the end.
35. Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne)
I realized earlier this year while watching the revival of “Roseanne” on ABC that Laurie Metcalf, who’s nominated for Outstanding Actress in a Comedy Series for her role as Jackie Harris again this year 24 years after last winning it, that she’s essentially the Don Knotts of female TV stars. Her Jackie Harris, which won her three consecutive Emmys in the ‘90s, is basically the Barney Fife of female sitcom characters. Metcalf’s performance, both in comedic timing and physicality is just perfection.
34. "In Excelsis Deo" - "The West Wing"
“The West Wing” came out of the gate swinging in its first season with a fantastic first nine episodes, but it’s 10th episode “In Excelsis Deo” was the first of what would be a handful of truly classic episodes. Written by show creator Aaron Sorkin and Rick Cleveland the show’s main storyline revolved around Toby (Richard Schiff) trying to get a homeless Korean vet (who wound up dead in a coat he donated to Goodwill) a military funeral. It’s one of the most feel good stories seen on television and gives hope that some within politics might actually have a heart.
There were great medical dramas on television before “ER” came along in the mid-‘90s, but none that ever seemed to get down to the nitty gritty of the cases like this one. It quickly settled into its position of “greatest medical drama in television history” – a title it hasn’t given up since and likely never will. In fact, most medical dramas since “ER” haven’t succeeded merely because that show simply cannot be bested.
32. Kate McKinnon (Saturday Night Live)
Kate McKinnon has won the last two Emmys for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series for her multitude of fantastic impressions and absolutely hilarious, and often crazy characters on “Saturday Night Live,” a show she’s been the Most Valuable Player on for quite a while now. McKinnon is entering her seventh season on the long-running sketch comedy show (which is hard to believe) and is already one of the five greatest female cast members in the show’s legendary history.
31. Ted Danson (Cheers)
For the longest time Ted Danson was the Peter O’Toole of the Emmy Awards, a terrific actor who was often nominated for his suave and utterly fantastic performance as bartender Sam Malone on “Cheers,” the greatest sitcom of the ‘80s, but after seven straight nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series he had never won. That all changed in 1990 and he’d win once again in 1993 for the final season of the show.
30. Julianna Margulies (The Good Wife)
Julianna Margulies won an Emmy for her excellent performance as Nurse Carol Hathaway in the early days of NBC’s medical drama “ER,” but it’s her two-time winning performance for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series as lawyer Alicia Florrick in CBS’s “The Good Wife” that stands out most for me. Florrick is one of the greatest and most badass female characters in TV history with Margulies playing her with every emotion imaginable over the show’s seven-season run in what is certainly her tour de force career moment.
29. Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H)
Harry Morgan’s Col. Sherman T. Potter is one of the most warm, fatherly characters in television history, while also maintaining the role as a stern when necessary boss. Morgan was a veteran Hollywood actor who’d been appearing in movies as early as 1942 but found the role he was born to play as leader of the 4077th M*A*S*H unit in the Korean War when McLean Stevenson decided to leave the show and did so in a shocking manner. Morgan won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series in 1980.
28. Michael Richards (Seinfeld)
Michael Richards’ turn as Cosmo Kramer on “Seinfeld” might be the kookiest character in television history, but while some kooky characters eventually become annoying (or start out that way) Kramer was always lovable from his outrageous hair to the way he just burst through Jerry’s door. Richards won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series three times (1993, 1994 and 1997).
27. Alan Alda (The West Wing)
There’s nothing most of us wouldn’t give up for Alan Alda’s Republican Presidential candidate Arnold Vinick to appear in real life and take over the U.S. Presidency right now. Alda’s performance of Vinick on “The West Wing” pretty much shows why the terrific NBC political drama was a pipe dream in that you just don’t see many, if any, conservative candidates like him in the real world. Alda brought his unique warmth and intelligence to the role and actually gave some fresh air to the series winding down its run. Alda won the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series in 2006, remarkably becoming the fourth different cast member to win this category.
26. William Shatner (Boston Legal)
William Shatner’s performance as gun-loving, cigar-smoking, womanizing, conservative Denny Crane on ABC’s legal drama “Boston Legal” was one of the most fun performances I’ve ever seen on television, but that was back in the Bush years when playing a conservative as a lovable buffoon was possible. His bromance with James Spader’s Alan Shore (similar in many ways and completely different in others) is probably my favorite TV friendship of all-time. Shatner won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series for his performance in 2005.
25. Don Knotts (The Andy Griffith Show)
Nobody won more Emmy Awards in the 1960s than Don Knotts for his laugh-out-loud performance as bumbling deputy Barney Fife on the timeless “The Andy Griffith Show.” Knotts won Outstanding Supporting Actor in a TV Series (three times consecutively) before the categories were split between drama and comedy and twice again after the split. The only disappointing thing is Knotts’s real-life and on-screen best friend Andy Griffith never got to share in Emmy glory for his excellent performance in the show. In fact, he was never even nominated in one of the biggest mistakes in Emmy history.
24. Tony Shalhoub (Monk)
Tony Shalhoub’s three-time Emmy-winning role as Adrian Monk in the 2000s USA Network crime dramedy “Monk” is one of the most outstanding performances I’ve ever seen because of the character’s obsessive-compulsive disorder and many phobias. It’s hard to see any other actor besides Shalhoub in the role as he deftly combines both the humor and drama in his character’s issues.
23. "The Office"
The American version of “The Office” is, without a doubt, one of the greatest workplace comedies of all-time and seems to have become essentially the “Seinfeld” for the millennial or post-millennial generation thanks to Netflix streaming. What the show did so well was being able to wrap one of television’s favorite love stories into an absolutely zany show filled with some of the most memorable and hilarious characters of all-time.
22. Helen Hunt (Mad About You)
Helen Hunt won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series four consecutive years (1996-1999) for her wonderful role as Jamie Buchman on NBC’s ‘90s sitcom “Mad About You.” Hunt, along with co-star Paul Reiser (who was nominated six times, but snubbed), made for my favorite sitcom couple of all-time because their marriage was so real to life and the two leads had terrific chemistry. Hunt also brought her terrific dramatic acting skills to the role, which really came in handy during some of the rough parts of the Buchman’s marriage.
21. Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom)
It shocked many people in 2013 when Jeff Daniels upset drama heavyweights like Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Kevin Spacey (House of Cards) to win Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his performance as newsman Will McAvoy in HBO’s “The Newsroom.” But, I was elated and though somewhat surprised, not completely shocked. “The West Wing” proved that great actors reciting Aaron Sorkin dialogue was Emmy gold and Daniels basically had the Emmy wrapped up in the first few minutes of “The Newsroom” pilot with the epic “America isn’t the best country in the world” monologue.
20. Julia Louis-Deyfus (Veep)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s performance as Vice President Selina Meyer in HBO’s comedy that often feels like a mockumentary “Veep” has won her a record six consecutive Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series. Louis-Dreyfus played one of TV’s iconic characters in Elaine Benes on “Seinfeld” (appearing already on this list), but it’s her performance as Meyer that I believe will go down as one of the 10 greatest female roles in television history.
19. Tina Fey (30 Rock)
“30 Rock” is one of my all-time favorite comedies because the absolute absurd mind of Tina Fey. Fey created, starred in and wrote episodes for “30 Rock,” which probably has more laughs and jokes per minute than any comedy in TV history. Her lead role as Liz Lemon, the showrunner of a sketch comedy show (which she no doubt used her years at “Saturday Night Live” as resource material), is a goofy nerd in charge of keeping order in a madhouse. Fey is sublime in that role.
18. Alec Baldwin (30 Rock)
Alec Baldwin’s performance as Jack Donaghy on NBC’s great sitcom “30 Rock” is one of the funniest characters in television history in a great spoof of the white, rich and conservative male figure in charge of a large conglomerate. His character is perfectly summed up in his best quote: “It’s after six, what am I, a farmer?” after Tina Fey’s Liz Lemon asks him why he’s wearing a tux. Baldwin’s terrific performance as Donaghy earned him back-to-back Emmys for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy in 2008 and 2009.
17. Kelsey Grammer (Frasier)
I’ve often said that you know Kelsey Grammer’s performance as Dr. Frasier Crane on NBC’s classic ‘90s sitcom “Frasier” and before that in the ‘80s as a supporting member of “Cheers” is one of TV’s funniest and greatest characters because he’s able to ring all the charm out of someone so pompous, which isn’t easy to do. Grammer won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series a record-tying four times.
The ‘80s were simply not a good decade for American sitcoms. Few classics from that era remain and many of the shows were corny family-oriented fare. But, “Cheers” – revolving around the staff and patrons of a Boston bar – will live forever. The characters were lovable, and all had their own special quirks and the writing was superb.
15. Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights)
Kyle Chandler’s performance as Coach Eric Taylor on NBC and later DirectTV’s “Friday Night Lights” is the man many of us want to be or strive to be. He wasn’t perfect. Coach Taylor had his faults throughout the series, but he was one of the most realistic portrayals on television of what it means to be a man and husband. His on-screen chemistry with Connie Britton made for maybe the greatest couple in TV history. Chandler surprised many by winning Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 2011.
14. James Spader (Boston Legal)
James Spader has the unique distinction of having won Emmys for the same character on two different television shows. Spader won his first Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his performance as the wild attorney Alan Shore on ABC’s “The Practice” before starring in the spinoff “Boston Legal,” which would earn him two more awards for the role. Spader is one of my all-time favorite television characters as the unpredictable, but extremely moralistic Shore who was always on the side of the underdog.
13. Richard Schiff (The West Wing)
12. John Spencer (The West Wing)
11. Bradley Whitford (The West Wing)
10. Allison Janney (The West Wing)
For my money, there has never been a better cast of a drama in television history than “The West Wing.” Pretty much every episode of the series was a showcase for all of the actors and their characters too, which shows you how great the writing was, as well. Pretty much anybody involved in the cast won an Emmy Award (except somehow Martin Sheen – who arguably gave the show’s best performance – never won one). Because Allison Janney, John Spencer, Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff were all so talented and integral to the show I’m going to lump them all together. These guys and their characters made it seem so damn cool to be knowledgeable and caring individuals.
It’s not everyday that a show that’s potentially one of the 10 greatest sitcoms in American history had a spinoff that you could argue was actually better, but “Cheers” did just that by spawning off “Frasier.” You know that “Frasier” was a bloody brilliant show when it’s two leads played by Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce were so lovable while also being rather uppity and pompous – traits that rarely lead to lovability.
“Seinfeld” was the show about nothing – brought upon by the little things in life that filled Jerry Seinfeld’s stand-up routines and intrigued him and co-creator Larry David. But, for being a show about nothing it didn’t take long to turn into quite something. Many consider it the greatest sitcom in television history and it’s certainly become a huge part of pop culture.
7. "30 Rock"
“30 Rock” might be the smartest comedy to ever appear on American television, at least network television, and that’s owed mostly to the brilliant comedic mind of Tina Fey. I’m not sure there has ever been a comedy with as many jokes per minute thrown at an audience and with pop culture references galore, it was right up my alley.
6. "Saturday Night Live"
“Saturday Night Live” might be the most successful show in television history. Some might roll their eyes at that statement because too many people think ‘SNL’ piqued when they were teens (whenever that may have been), but the show’s 44th season premieres airs this month and it still continues to be a star builder. Sketch comedy is hit or miss, period. That’s the way it’s always been and always will be – so sometimes the show is a dud and other times it’ll make you almost bust a gut. But one thing I completely believe to be true is there’s never been a TV show to give as much laughter as ‘SNL.’
5. Alan Alda (M*A*S*H)
Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce in the long-running CBS dramedy “M*A*S*H” is the greatest television character and performance of all-time, in my opinion. No actor has ever combined comedy and drama so deftly in a television performance. One minute Alda’s Hawkeye could have you in tears from laughing and the next could have you in tears from the sheer pain felt by having to operate on mere boys during the living Hell that is war. Alda won Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series in 1974 and incredibly eight years later in 1982. He’s the only person in Emmy history to win for acting, writing and directing the same series.
4. "Late Show with David Letterman"
With apologies to Johnny Carson, who revolutionized late night television, I don’t believe anybody ever did it better than David Letterman – though he’s the guy I grew up watching, not Carson. Letterman’s sarcastic, irreverent humor just hit me hard and really shaped the kind of humor I have and love. But, he was also just terrific during tough or tragic moments like his first show after 9/11. He was also the best interviewer late night television had ever seen, mixing his comedy style with seriousness and general interest (or if he didn’t really like a guest, disinterest) that led to a late night show that you didn’t just turn off after the comedy bits.
“M*A*S*H” was perfect television. There’s never been a show on television that blended comedy and drama so terrifically. It was brilliantly written, acted and exactly what America needed at the time as it aired, at least initially, in the final years of the Vietnam War even though the show was set in the Korean War.
2. "The West Wing"
In my opinion, “The West Wing” is one of the two greatest written television series I’ve ever seen, alongside Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.” The dialogue written by Aaron Sorkin comes off as Shakespearean and the liberal dream that is the Jed Bartlett — my favorite president in history fictional or real — administration was something I long for, though I know we’ll never achieve. The entire cast is exceptional, which is why most of them won Emmys and appear on this list. It’s one of the few shows I must re-watch every few years.
1. Rod Serling (The Twilight Zone)
It’s been off the air for more than half a century now, but for my money there still has never been a better written television show than “The Twilight Zone” or a better television writer than Rod Serling, who created and wrote numerous episodes (more than half) of the series. His writing earned him an Emmy twice for Outstanding Writing in a Drama Series, the only two Emmys the show ever won. Serling’s writing for “The Twilight Zone” was fascinating in that it was an anthology and he had to create entirely new stories and characters every week.
What are some of your all-time favorite Emmy winners?