It's hard to picture TV stars such as Steve Carell, Jon Hamm and Hugh Laurie as perennial also-rans. But that's what they've been in recent years at Emmy time, as rival nominees hog the golden statuettes.
Will any of the threesome shed his also-ran status this year? That question is on Emmy-watchers' minds as awards night draws near.
Here's Carell, nominated as outstanding lead actor in a comedy series for his fifth and final year starring on The Office — and already snubbed four years running.
Here's Hamm, who has seen his series, Mad Men, reap best-drama Emmys all three of its seasons while best-actor nominee Hamm got shut out.
And here's Hugh Laurie, a six-time nominee (and, up to now, annual washout) on the medical drama House, about to start its last season.
Mind you, there's no disgrace in a series star being stuck with an also-ran streak.
Among actor nominees, the beloved Angela Lansbury wears the crown as all-time Emmy loser. She was rebuffed a dozen times for Murder, She Wrote and has lodged six more losses for other nominated TV performances.
Fellow unanointed actors include five-time loser Jackie Gleason (even as Art Carney picked up six Emmys for his work with "the Great One"), and Andy Griffith, who was never nominated as Sheriff Andy Taylor, while his goofy sidekick, Don Knotts, raked in five trophies.
And let's not forget (though Emmy judges long have) Bill Maher, who has yet to win an Emmy after 26 bids stretching back to 1995. His current series, Real Time With Bill Maher, has earned him 11 nods: producing (six), writing (four), and hosting (one). Real Time is nominated again this year for best variety, music or comedy series — but it faces The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, which has won the past eight years straight.
Handicappers think Hamm has a good shot this year for best actor in a drama. One hopeful sign: Bryan Cranston, the actor who has made Hamm an also-ran by winning for Breaking Bad the past three years, is out of action this year. Breaking Bad didn't air in the qualifying period.
Besides Laurie, Hamm is facing Steve Buscemi (Boardwalk Empire), Michael C. Hall (Dexter), Kyle Chandler (Friday Night Lights) and Timothy Olyphant (Justified) — none of them slouches. Still, you can't overstate the impact of an Emmy nemesis such as Cranston — or his welcome absence.
Recall how, in 1996, Candice Bergen withdrew from consideration as a nominee for her starring role in the sitcom Murphy Brown. Having collected five Emmys by then, she said she wanted to give other actresses a chance. With Bergen out of contention, Helen Hunt won for Mad About You annually until its end four years later. For the three years before Bergen bowed out, Hunt had been a jilted nominee.
"I think it's finally Jon Hamm's time to win," says Tom O'Neil, editor of the award websites goldderby.com and theenvelope.com.
Short of peeking inside the sealed envelopes, O'Neil may have the sharpest insight of anyone as to who the winners will be. So consider his analysis:
First, Mad Men this year submitted a doozie of an episode to spotlight Hamm's range as 1960s ad man Don Draper. Among Emmy's actor categories, a jury considers just one sample episode per nominee, so it better be persuasive. (Angela Lansbury's Murder role as a writer-detective always put her in the service of each episode's crime-solving, while, in the process, denying her the sort of Emmy-worthy actorly scene she could have handled with ease.)
O'Neil thinks this year Mad Men got it right by submitting the episode called The Suitcase.
"It's a big acting showcase for Hamm," says O'Neil. "He gets every emotion: He cries, he's drunk, he's confessional, he's humble, and he's boisterous and bawdy."
By contrast, Laurie could continue to suffer from a problem endemic to his role on House: "He plays an unlikable character," says O'Neil. "You don't want to hug crusty, cranky Dr House. I think that has backfired on Hugh Laurie."
A similar problem may have plagued Steve Carell: Michael Scott, the paper-company branch manager he played on The Office, is "creepy", O'Neil sums up.
This year, Carell may have overcome that character deficit by submitting as his entry his farewell appearance on the series. That episode, O'Neil notes, "has a sense of history, and heart-tugging moments".
Maybe so. But who can say if it's enough to make an also-ran a winner?
Catch the Emmy awards Monday on OSN First and OSN First HD at 4am and a repeat at 8pm.