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Can any comedy series dethrone 'Modern Family' at the Emmys?

August 22, 2011 |  3:19 pm

Modern Family

"Modern Family" won a decisive victory at the Emmys last year, taking six awards out of 14 nominations including best comedy, and this year the series is considered an even stronger front-runner with 17 nods, which is more than any other comedy.

TV's top award certainly likes to act a lot like a TV repeat. "30 Rock" won three in a row from 2007 to 2009, "All in the Family" and "Cheers" won four apiece, and "Fraiser" won a record five in a row from 1994 to 1998. Most Emmy pundits are predicting "Modern Family" will continue the trend with a repeat win this year, but is its victory inevitable?

Previous winners "The Office" and "30 Rock" are back in the running this year, as well as last year's nominee "Glee." But this is the first time voters will have the chance to honor "The Big Bang Theory" or "Parks and Recreation" in the top series race. Could Emmy voters buck convention by rewarding new blood?

Support has been steadily building for "Big Bang" since it premiered in 2007. It didn't receive any nominations for its first season, but it broke through in 2009 with acting nods for lead star Jim Parsons and guest actress Christine Baranski. Last year it earned a total of five nods, winning its first Emmy for Parsons. And this year it earned another five bids: a repeat nomination for Parsons, along with a surprise nod for his co-star Johnny Galecki and the show's first-ever nomination for best comedy series.

Five nominations may seem like scant support compared with 17 for "Modern Family," but unlike the Oscars, where the most-nominated film usually wins best picture, at the Emmys sometimes less turns out to be more. Remember, in 1998 "The Practice" won its first Emmy for best drama series with only four nominations, compared with the 16 earned that year by "ER" and "The X-Files." And last year, even though "Glee" had more nominations than "Modern Family" (19 to 14), it still lost the top prize.

Also helping "The Big Bang Theory" is its high profile. It's the most watched show in this category, and one of the most watched shows on television. And it's the only multi-camera sitcom in the race this year, meaning it's the only option for TV traditionalists. But neither of those factors helped "Two and a Half Men," which couldn't win any of its three nominations in this category (2006-08). In fact, no multi-camera sitcom has won this race since "Everybody Loves Raymond" in 2005.

The crucial factor that "Big Bang" might lack is that intangible Cool Factor, which "Parks and Recreation" has in spades. NBC's sitcom about the local government of Pawnee, Ind., received only three total nominations (comedy series, comedy actress and sound mixing), but its mockumentary format is similar to previous winners "The Office" and "Modern Family," and though it's an underdog in the ratings (averaging just over 5 million viewers last season), it wouldn't be the first time Emmy has honored a little-watched show with tons of critical buzz. Fox's cult hit "Arrested Development" accomplished that feat in 2004.

Possibly the biggest challenge facing both shows is their lack of writing or directing nominations. No program, comedy or drama, has won a top series prize without at least one or the other since "Friends" prevailed in 2002. Can "The Big Bang Theory" or "Parks and Recreation" defy the odds?


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-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: "Modern Family." Credit: ABC