Can 'Big Bang Theory' unseat 'Modern Family' as TV's best comedy?

As "Modern Family" basks in its fourth consecutive Emmy nomination for outstanding comedy series, the question hanging over the ABC hit is whether it can join the elite club of sitcoms that have taken home more than three wins.

Image: "Big Bang Theory" Cliff Lipson / CBS
Johnny Galecki, left, Kaley Cuoco and Jim Parsons on "Big Bang Theory."

So far, only "Frasier," which won five times, and "All in the Family" and "Cheers,'' which both won four times, have been able to pull that off. With three wins behind it, "Modern Family" will not only battle voter lethargy but also the stiffest competition it's ever faced.

Gunning for "Modern Family" are "The Big Bang Theory," which grew its audience in its sixth season and has become the most-watched comedy in the world; the dearly departed "30 Rock"; "Veep," HBO's critical babe that had a formidable second season; FX's "Louie," starring stand-up comedian Louie C.K. as a version of himself; and HBO's bold and fresh "Girls."

"Cool factor is a big issue," said Tom O'Neil, Emmy pundit and founder of the awards site "What’s hip and cool right now? A lot of shows are hip and cool. In the past three years, it was obvious that 'Modern Family' was going to win and that it didn’t have any serious competition. But it's different this year. The show's up against general fatigue over its juggernaut and there are serious competitors all of a sudden."

Image: "Modern Family" wins at 2012 Emmys Kevin Winter / Getty Images file
The Modern Family" cast and crew accept their 2012 Emmy for outstanding comedy series.

"Modern Family" did manage to dominate the supporting actor nominations for the fourth time (the cast chose not to submit for lead actor categories). Although two-time winner Eric Stonestreet did not crack the category, many of his castmates did: Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ed O'Neill, Ty Burrell, Julie Bowen, and Sophia Vergara all scored nominations.

But that doesn't mean the show will take home the big prize, O'Neil said. What show could topple the first series to capture America's "new" families? "Big Bang," which earned its third consecutive nomination could pull that off, he said. Two of "Big Bang's" actors were recognized as well: Jim Parsons, who has twice won best actor and has been nominated two other times; and Mayim Bialik who earned her second consecutive nomination in a supporting role.

"There are a lot of really good shows out there and a lot of really good actors--to be a part of a show recognized in this way is truly a tremendous honor," Parsons said in a statement Thursday. "I'm so proud and grateful to be a part of "Big Bang," and the chance to celebrate in this way with the whole team is a really special experience, especially six years into our run--you really never know with these awards things, so it's very important to enjoy it while it's happening."

2013 Emmy nominees

This year's contenders include "The Big Bang Theory," "Downton Abbey," "Breaking Bad" and many more as television celebrates a banner year.

Another strong contender against "Modern Family" is "Louie," the first basic cable comedy to be nominated. Like "Seinfeld," it wasn't recognized in its first two years but this year received a series nod and a nomination for creator and lead actor, Louie C.K.

And don't count "Veep" out either, O'Neil said. Another factor against "Modern Family" is that it's not snooty enough, he pointed out. "Veep" would be the one to most benefit from Emmy voters' elite tastes, he said, because "it's 'The 'West Wing' on a laugh track."

"The thing you can always count on at the Emmys is snob appeal," he said. "It’s no coincidence that the show that has won more Emmys than any other TV show in history — "Frasier" — is about two snobbish brothers arguing over opera and vintage wine. 'Modern Family' is going to have serious trouble getting the last laugh in best comedy this year."


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