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Video: Newcomers electrify the Emmys

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TODAY contributor

Explainer: Robbed! Surprising Emmy nominees who've never won

  • There are more Emmy also-rans than winners, and someone who has to smile tightly as another claims the prize is probably doing some of the toughest acting of their career. But take heart, thespians. Those feeling slighted on Aug. 29 should bear in mind that they’re in good company.

  • Hugh Laurie (Dr. Gregory House, 'House')

    Image: Hugh Laurie
    Isabella Vosmikova  /  FOX

    Primetime Emmy nods: 6

    He’s been nominated practically every year since Fox's “House” first opened its hospital doors, but Laurie — the Brit with a way with an American accent — routinely gets ignored for flashier names and those with an intellectual cable following (we’re looking at you, Bryan Cranston, though you are deserving). Meanwhile, voters seem to forget that Laurie’s subtly empathetic curmudgeon Dr. House practically rewrote the concept of the antihero on television.

    Robbed! While Laurie puts on a full-court press each season, 2009 arguably should have been his year. Dr. House was recovering from a full-on mental breakdown caused by his abuse of painkillers, and he brought audiences through the looking glass with him during his illness and recovery. That had its unexpectedly hilarious moments, in part thanks to House's prickly relationship with just about everyone.

  • Phylicia Rashad (Clair Hanks Huxtable, 'The Cosby Show')

    Image: Phylicia Rashad
    Jacquelyn Martin  /  AP

    Primetime Emmy nods: 3

    As the patient, brilliant wife of Dr. Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) on NBC’s “The Cosby Show,” Rashad spent eight years playing straight man to his insightful, goofy face-pulling stunts and rants — and that’s a much harder acting gig than the one tossing out the one-liners.

    (TODAYshow.com is a part of msnbc.com, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and NBC Universal.)

    Robbed! First off, she was nominated only twice as Clair. (Rashad’s third nomination came for CBS’ “A Raisin in the Sun.”) And while Clair rarely got the spotlight all to herself, a win in either the series’ first or final years would have made the most sense. While it seems hard to imagine today, in 1984, finding a tough-minded, super smart, middle-class black woman on TV was all but unheard of, much less finding one who could contend with and occasionally upstage a legendary comedian.

  • Christopher Meloni (Det. Elliot Stabler, 'Law & Order: Special Victims Unit')

    Image: Christopher Meloni
    Will Hart  /  NBC Universal, Inc.

    Primetime Emmy nods: 1

    He’s the strong, sexy, sometimes silent (though usually brooding) partner of Mariska Hargitay’s Det. Olivia Benson on NBC’s “Law & Order: SVU,” the now longest-running “L&O” show on television. Hargitay gets to play more sensitive, emotionally damaged and does it so well she earns regular nominations and has one win. Meanwhile, Meloni, who does believable repressed and expressed anger better than anyone on TV, has received only one nomination.

    Robbed! Meloni got the nod in the right year — 2006 — and deserved it for performances like the episode in which he and Benson chased an escaped criminal/serial killer played by Lou Diamond Phillips, who slashes Benson's throat. Stabler had to decide whether he could abandon his injured partner to save kidnapped children and apprehend the killer, and his choice is clear agony. Again, not the flashy half of the duo, but just as deserving.

  • Jackie Gleason (Ralph Kramden, 'The Honeymooners,' 'The Jackie Gleason Show')

    Cast Of 'The Honeymooners' On Bus
    Paramount Pictures  /  Getty Images
    Jackie Gleason, left, in his role as bus driver Ralph Kramden, on "The Honeymooners."

    Primetime Emmy nods: 4

    “The Great One,” as Gleason was known, was one of television’s earliest stars, creating the iconic blowhard Ralph Kramden of CBS’ “The Honeymooners.” Versatile and verbose, he could play both a serious dramatic persona and a comedian, yet never won an Emmy, though his “little buddy” on “Honeymooners,” Art Carney, won seven.

    Robbed! “Honeymooners” fans would point to what are called the “classic 39” episodes of the series that ran from 1955-56, when Gleason had his true moment in the sun. In just that handful of episodes, Gleason embodied a character that would define him for the rest of his life while creating a template for other legendary TV characters, from Fred Flintstone to Archie Bunker. That said, Gleason’s Kramden did get one statue: It stands outside New York’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, a monument to the character’s job as a bus driver.

  • Kim Cattrall (Samantha Jones, 'Sex and the City')

    Image: Kim Cattrall
    Craig Blankenhorn  /  Warner Bros.

    Primetime Emmy nods: 5

    Love her or find her a parody of lustfully assertive womanhood, Cattrall’s Samantha put the “sex” into “Sex and the City.” When the HBO show premiered in 1998, Samantha was raunchy, vibrant, fully embracing of her womanhood and was probably one of prime time’s first modern cougars. Half of the female foursome of “SATC” won Emmys for their roles (Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon), but fellow non-winner Kristin Davis’ single nomination pales in comparison next to Cattrall’s five misses.

    Robbed! What should have been a slam-dunk for an Emmy win was Cattrall’s breast cancer story line, which developed in the series’ last season. Samantha tackled losing her hair to her illness as only she could — with stylish wigs and hats, even going bare-headed in one episode. She remained entirely herself, but developed a new, deeper layer thanks to the illness and her surprisingly constant relationship with boyfriend Smith.

  • Bob Newhart (Dr. Bob Hartley, 'The Bob Newhart Show'; Dick Loudon, 'Newhart'; Ben Hollander, 'ER'; Judson, 'The Librarian')

    Image: Bob Newhart
    Gus Ruelas  /  Reuters

    Primetime Emmy nods: 6

    One of TV’s preeminent funnymen, the dry, deadpan Newhart is not only beloved by generations of audiences, but is considered a comedian’s comedian. Largely known for the two series bearing his moniker, Newhart generally played versions of himself surrounded by quirky weirdos to hilarious effect (Jerry Seinfeld, in particular, owes much to Newhart). This is the guy that Emmy voters will really regret not honoring, and now that he’s in his 80s, they’d better get cracking.

    Robbed! Newhart went overlooked for acting on CBS’ “The Bob Newhart Show,” though he did score his first nomination for writing. Later, during “Newhart” he picked up his acting nominations, but never won. The ideal time for a prize would have been as the series ended: The finale for “Newhart” is considered one of the best inside jokes in history. In it, Newhart wakes up next to the woman who had played his wife on “The Bob Newhart Show” (Suzanne Pleshette) and makes it evident that the entire “Newhart” series was just a very long, bizarre dream.

  • Farrah Fawcett (Francine Hughes, 'The Burning Bed'; 'Farrah's Story'; Mary Gressler, 'The Guardian'; Diane Downs, 'Small Sacrifices')

    Image: Farrah Fawcett in "The Burning Bed."
    Everett Collection
    Farrah Fawcett in "The Burning Bed."

    Primetime Emmy nods: 4

    Fawcett got her truly big break as one of “Charlie’s Angels,” then sold millions upon millions of copies of her classic 1970s swimsuit poster. But for many years she was seen simply as one of producer Aaron Spelling’s “jiggle” gals — pretty to look at, but not a lot of substance underneath. She started taking on more substantive roles in the 1980s and first earned Emmy attention in 1985 for “The Burning Bed” on NBC. She followed it up with two other films and a project that documented her battle with cancer, which ultimately took her life in 2009.

    Robbed!  At the time “Bed” came out, Fawcett was considered a serious candidate for the win — she’d surprised everyone with her ability to dig deep into the psyche of an abused woman. Alas, the Emmys overlooked her, just as the Oscars would in 2010 by leaving her off the list of “In Memoriam” tributes.

  • George Clooney (Dr. Doug Ross, 'ER')

    Image: George Clooney on "ER"
    Sven Arnstein  /  Sven Arnstein/NBCU Photo Bank

    Primetime Emmy nods: 2

    Clooney proves that you can be one of the best actors on the planet and the Emmys still won’t give you a big win. The truth is that the star (like other A-list celebs, including Tom Hanks) made his mark on television, then did a superb swan dive into a movie career, never looking back. Clooney wound his way unheralded through extended stints on “Roseanne” and “The Facts of Life” before finding his niche as a serious performer on NBC’s “ER,” where he stole audiences’ hearts while providing CPR to patients.

    Robbed! As a member of an ensemble, it’s often hard to get a standout story arc, but Clooney had strong, emotional moments in the series’ second season (1995-1996) as he and his father tried to reconnect. Scenes like the one in which his character reveals his childhood abuse by his father proved Clooney was more than just a pretty face, but Emmy voters clearly weren’t ready to make the jump that Oscar balloters would in 2006, when Clooney earned his trophy for “Syriana.”

    Randee Dawn is a freelance writer based in New York, and was born with a remote control in her hand. She is the co-author of “The Law & Order: SVU Unofficial Companion,” which was published in 2009.

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