For some of the most beloved shows in the history of American television, when it comes to the Emmy Awards they never even had a chance to say, “It was just an honor to be nominated.” Sure, there were usually individual nominations for acting, writing, directing, etc., but those are but consolation prizes for the failure of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to recognize via a Best Series nomination some of the finest examples of prime time television. To be fair, the Academy does get it right a lot of the time, at the very least nominating the obvious best shows even if the actual award might go to a suspect choice. However, that is part and parcel of award shows, and the Emmys are notorious for falling in love with individual shows and giving them the best series award many years in a row (looking at you Modern Family). But if the true point of the Emmys is to recognize excellence in television programming they have repeatedly failed in that mission by flat out ignoring some amazing shows, not even granting them the chance to lose to whatever show predictably gets the award.
The following 10 shows were never even nominated for Best Series in their respective categories (Comedy or Drama), and for that we shout out a righteous “For shame!” at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ordered from oldest to newest):
1) Roseanne (1988-1997)
#35 on TV Guide‘s Top 50 Shows of All Time/#71 WGA/TV Guide 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time/#21 on Entertainment Weekly‘s 100 Best Shows from 1983-2008
Premise: Adaptation of stand-up comedienne Roseanne Barr’s “domestic goddess” routine, focused on a working class family of five in the American midwest. The quality of the show was often overshadowed by Roseanne’s consistent tabloid presence and whispers of a hostile set, but this was Mike & Molly (a plus-sized actor and actress as the central couple) two decades early with an unbelievable knack for finding the humor in abject poverty while never making the characters weight or low economic standing a point of condescension.
What Was It Nominated For?: The Emmys mostly regarded this as being little more than a showcase for strong performances from its lead actors, maintaining this belief in the form of consistent acting nominations for the first 7 of Roseanne’s 9 seasons. Laurie Metcalf won twice for Best Supporting Actress, Roseanne once for Best Actress, and John Goodman just appreciated being nominated at all (we assume) ever year from 1989-1995. There were also a couple of technical award nominations and one for writing.
What Shows Were Nominated Instead?: Cheers, The Golden Girls, Murphy Brown, Designing Women, The Wonder Years, Brooklyn Bridge (never heard of it? that’s probably because it only lasted for two seasons), Home Improvement, Seinfeld, Frasier, Mad About You, Friends, The Larry Sanders Show
2) Homicide: Life on the Streets (1993-1999)
#46 WGA/TV Guide 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time/#46 on Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Best Shows from 1983-2008
Premise: A really good cop show in an era of really good cop shows, inevitably overshadowed by Law & Order and NYPD Blue. Based on the same book that inspired The Wire, a complex look at a Baltimore police force and criminal underbelly with a multi-ethnic cast at a time when that was uncommon. It might be best remembered as the show that first gave us Andre Braugher.
What Was It Nominated For?: Lots of acting and casting nominations with just a couple for writing and directing.
What Shows Were Nominated Instead?: Picket Fences, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, Northern Exposure, ER, The X-Files, Chicago Hope, The Practice, The Sopranos
3) My So-Called Life (1994-1995)
#68 WGA/TV Guide 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time/#33 on Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Best Shows from 1983-2008
Premise: A drama centered on Angela Chase (Clare Danes) and her circle of friends/enemies in high school, featuring some of the most realistic depictions of adolescence ever captured in dramatic form on television. It only ran for 19 episodes
What Was It Nominated For?: A writing, directing, and acting (for a very young Clare Danes) nomination, but that’s it.
What Shows Were Nominated Instead?: Depends if you consider it a comedy or drama, but its closer to the latter in which case we’re talking NYPD Blue, Chicago Hope, ER, Law & Order, and The X-Files.
4) Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2003)
#41 on TV Guide’s Top 50 Shows of All Time/#49 WGA/TV Guide 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time/#10 on Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Best Shows from 1983-2008
Premise: Maybe Emmy voters just couldn’t in good conscience nominated a show named Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which would be understandable. Yes, the show is centered around a girl named Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle-Gellar) who slays vampires, and not every season would probably qualify as among the finest dramatic TV of its era. However, this turned into one of the most enduring TV shows of the past couple of decades with new fans continually discovering it via Netflix/DVD, and its creator (Joss Whedon) has become a billion dollar man (directing The Avengers film). It is a fantasy/horror/sci-fi show which might on the level seem like weightless teen angst, but the show’s knack for metaphor was typically ingenious (e.g., the boy you slept with because he said he loved you turns into a literal monster the morning after).
What Was It Nominated For?: Here’s what you need to know about how little the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences clearly understood Buffy the Vampire Slayer: they only ever gave it 1 writing nomination, and it was for an episode which is silent for 25 of its 45 minutes (season 4’s “Hush”). Other than that, they gave it a lot of technical award nominations (mostly in the make-up categories, what with all the bumpy-faced vampires).
What Shows Were Nominated Instead?: The Practice, ER, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, The X-Files, The Sopranos, The West Wing, CSI, Six Feet Under, 24
5) Oz (1997-2003)
#101 WGA/TV Guide 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time/#73 on Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Best Shows from 1983-2008
Premise: The inner workings of a maximum security prison, with an emphasis on the increasingly complicated and morally corrupted lives of the prisoners. It is often mostly referred to in jest due to its seemingly endless amount of prisoner-rapes-another-prisoner storylines and otherwise ceaselessly brutal content. However, this misses the often fascinating depiction of race relations and struggles to maintain sanity and something resembling a moral compass during incarceration. J.K. Simmons, J. Jonah Jameson from the Spider-Man films and current Farmers Insurance spokesman, got his start on Oz, playing a neo-nazi skinhead.
What Was It Nominated For?: Single nominations for guest acting and casting, nothing else.
What Shows Were Nominated Instead?: The Practice, ER, Law & Order, NYPD Blue, The X-Files, The Sopranos, The West Wing, CSI, Six Feet Under, 24
6) Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
#60 WGA/TV Guide 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time/#13 on Entertainment Weekly’s 100 Best Shows from 1983-2008
Premise: A straight-laced teenager (Linda Cardellini) in high school who seeks to branch out into a different social circle comprised of usually endearing potheads, and her younger brother and his geeky friends who have just started high school. Beyond being that thing Judd Apatow did well before 40-Year-Old Virgin and containing one of the all-time best casts, the show is known for its mastery of mixing pathos and comedy and being a high school show that completely “got it right,” for lack of a better description.
What Was It Nominated For?: Two writing nominations and a win for outstanding casting. Actually, they were right on with giving it an award for casting considering this is where Seth Rogen, Jason Segal, James Franco, Busy Phillipps, Linda Cardellini, John Frances Daley, and Martin Starr all got their start playing freaks and/or geeks. To be fair, most other awards bodies completely ignored this here-and-gone short-lived drama which has only gradually gained notoriety and a re-evaluation post-40-Year-Old Virgin.
What Shows Were Nominated Instead?: The West Wing, ER, Law & Order, The Practice, The Sopranos
7) The Wire (2002-2008)
#9 WGA/TV Guide 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time/#11 on Entertainment Weekly‘s 100 Best Shows from 1983-2008
Premise: A mutli-layered examination of the criminal system of Baltimore, from the cops to a journalist to the streets with the actual criminals. For many, this was their introduction to current budding film star Idris Elba.
I know, I know. You’ve been meaning to watch that box set your strangely passionate friend bought you as a gift, presenting it to you with a far away stare and odd habit of ending every other sentence, “The Wire? OMG, so good!” However, your experience is not unique. The Wire has attained such an ardent following via DVD box sets that it has reached “officially annoying status” where its fans will insist you watch it with such suffocating passion and conviction that it actually might turn you against it. However, be patient because once you actually see it you’ll probably be just like them, converted to preach the good word of The Wire.
What Was It Nominated For?: Two writing nominations. That’s it. It did win multiple Peabody Awards.
What Shows Were Nominated Instead?: The West Wing, 24, CSI, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos, Joan of Arcadia, Lost, Deadwood, Grey’s Anatomy, House, Heroes, Boston Legal, Mad Men, Damages, Dexter
8) Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
#38 WGA/TV Guide 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time/#59 on Entertainment Weekly‘s 100 Best Shows from 1983-2008
Premise: Robots humans created go all Skynet on their asses, forcing the sole remaining pocket of humanity to flee their planet and seek a sanctuary promised by their polytheistic religion on a fleet of ships anchored by an aging warship. Do not watch the pilot unless you have at least a week of down time ahead of you for you will inevitably find yourself marathoning the entire series on Netflix. It’s Shakespeare in space. What’s not to love, other than the final season or so when it became overly apparent they were just making it all up as they went along.
What Was It Nominated For?: A couple of writing and directing nominations along with a bunch of technical award nominations/wins (e.g., Outstanding Sound Editing), but that’s it. It won a Peabody Award two years in a row.
What Shows Were Nominated Instead?: Lost, 24, Deadwood, Six Feet Under, The West Wing, Grey’s Anatomy, House, Heroes, Boston Legal, Mad Men, Damages, Dexter, Big Love, Breaking Bad
9) Community (2009-Present)
Premise: A self-centered lawyer who faked his Bachelors Degree enrolls at a pathetic community college to earn a BA as fast as possible, ending up involved with a Spanish class study group comprised of endearing oddballs. Similar to Roseanne before it, Community is increasingly known for its various controversies centered around misanthropic, alcoholic show creator and head writer Dan Harmon. The quality of the show has notoriously dipped in its past two seasons, but its second season was as uniformly strong as any sitcom in recent memory. Its genre-splitting, meta inventiveness, often serving as a deconstruction of a traditional sitcom, is unrivaled on prime time television today.
What Has It Been Nominated For?: It’s racked up a Best Writing nomination (for “Remedial Chaos Theory”) and a Best Animation win (“Abed’s Uncontrollable Christmas”), but that’s it. Its upcoming 13-episode season is likely its last, with a future Best Comedy Series nomination incredibly unlikely regardless of if it’s the darkest or brightest timeline.
What Shows Have Been Nominated Instead?: The Office, Weeds, Modern Family, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Glee, Nurse Jackie, Parks & Recreation, The Big Bang Theory, Girls, Veep, Louie
10. Justified (2010-Present)
#86 WGA/TV Guide 101 Best Written TV Series of All Time
Premise?: Adapted from a series of Elmore Leonard stories, the series focuses on a deputy U.S. Marshall (Timothy Olyphant) whose quick-draw attitude forces a re-assignment to a backwards coal-mining town in Kentucky he happened to have grown up in. As the series has progressed, it has become more notable for its freakishly compelling villains, particularly Boyd Crowder (Walton Goggins), than anything else, which the Emmys have recognized with acting nominations. However, similar to Roseanne this is far more than just a showcase for good acting and remains one of the finest dramas going at the moment.
What Has It Been Nominated For?: For playing villainous characters, Jeremy Davis was nominated for guest actor and Margo Martindale nominated and won for supporting actress. Otherwise, the Emmy Awards mostly ignore Justified‘s existence, even in a year such as 2011 when it was so crazy good it won a freakin’ Peabody Award.
What Shows Have Been Nominated Instead?: Mad Men, Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife, Friday Night Lights, Game of Thrones, Dexter, Homeland, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, House of Cards
Other notable non-nominees include Firefly, Sports Night, Veronica Mars, The Shield, and Archer.
After all that, try and put yourself in Emmy voters’ horribly expensive shoes, and try to knock off shows you think were less deserving of nominations. Personally, I found it more challenging than expected. Really, what the Emmys try to do is increasingly impossible with so many channels producing high quality content, and one suspects that lists such as the one above will only grow larger in the coming years with more and more shows popping up via avenues we haven’t even anticipated. Given those set of circumstances, it is worth noting that the Emmys have come a long way toward breaking with tradition and not necessarily always just nominating the same exact shows, recognizing something like Louie this year and a genre show like Game of Thrones. There are arguably more fantastic shows that have been nominated for Best Series than haven’t, and the Emmys weren’t/aren’t alone in mostly ignoring many of the shows on this list (Freaks and Geeks, My So-Called Life, Community). However, the fact that shows like Roseanne, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Battlestar Galactica were never nominated? For shame, Emmys! For shame!
Any non-nominated show you like better than these? Actually think the Emmys were right to give these shows the silent treatment? Don’t care about the Emmy Awards to begin with? Let us know in the comments.