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.

Cliff Lipson / CBS
Johnny Galecki, left, Kaley Cuoco and Jim Parsons on

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 GoldDerby.com. "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."

Kevin Winter / Getty Images file
The Modern Family

"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."

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    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.

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    'Breaking Bad' -

    "Breaking Bad" received its fourth nomination for best drama this year. The AMC hit about a chemistry teacher who turns into a meth cook (Bryan Cranston) to provide for his family has never won in this category despite critical acclaim. The show has 13 nominations overall.

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    British period drama "Downton Abbey" is up for best drama again this year, as well as 11 other categories. It won outstanding miniseries in its first season, and was nominated for drama series in season two.

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    'Game of Thrones' -

    "Game of Thrones, " the HBO drama based on George R. R. Martin's fantasy novels is up for 16 awards this year, including best drama, which it has contended for in each of its three seasons. It did not win in the previous two years, and once again faces stiff competition in this third try.

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    'Mad Men' -

    The AMC drama "Mad Men," about Madison Avenue ad executives, is once again up for the best drama award. The show was nominated in 17 categories last year, but walked away with nothing. It has previously won four best drama trophies.

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    'House of Cards' -

    "House of Cards," the Netflix series about power plays on Capitol Hill earned the streaming service its first nomination for outstanding drama series, ushering in a new era of recognition for streaming content.

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    'Homeland' -

    Showtime drama "Homeland" had an impressive showing at the Emmys its freshman year in 2012, taking the trophies for drama series, best lead actor and actress and more. This year, it nabbed 11 nods, including best drama.

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    Bryan Cranston -

    Bryan Cranston plays chemistry teacher turned ruthless druglord Walter White (aka Heisenberg) on the AMC hit "Breaking Bad." He is once again nominated for lead drama actor, a category he for the role three consecutive times, from 2008 to 2010. He was not nominated in 2011 (the show wasn't eligible for that year's awards due to when the season aired), and was beaten out by "Homeland's" Damian Lewis last year.

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    Hugh Bonneville this year earned his second Emmy nomination for lead drama actor for his role of Robert Crawley on "Downton Abbey." He did not win last year.

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    Damian Lewis -

    "Homeland" star Damian Lewis received his second lead drama actor nomination for playing Nick Brody, a marine turned by al-Qaida. He won in this category in an upset over Bryan Cranston last year.

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    Kevin Spacey is nominated for lead drama actor for his portrayal of Rep. Francis Underwood on Netflix's freshman political drama "House of Cards."

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    Jon Hamm -

    Jon Hamm has now been nominated five times for lead drama actor for his role as Don Draper on "Mad Men." He has yet to win, and again has tough competition in the category.

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    Jeff Daniels -

    Jeff Daniels, who plays Will McAvoy on HBO's "The Newsroom," picked up his first Emmy nomination for lead drama actor.

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    Claire Danes -

    Claire Danes stars as Carrie Mathison, a CIA officer with bipolar disorder on "Homeland." Danes is up again for lead drama actress, a category she won last year.

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    Connie Britton is nominated for best drama actress for her portrayal of country singer Rayna James on "Nashville."

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    "Scandal" star Kerry Washington received her first Emmy nod -- lead drama actress -- for her portrayal of Olivia Pope on ABC's drama.

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    Michelle Dockery -

    Michelle Dockery is nominated for best lead actress for her work as Lady Mary on "Downton Mary."

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    Vera Farmiga -

    Vera Farmgia, shown with Freddie Highmore, picked up her first Emmy nomination, lead drama actress, for her role as Norma Bates in A&E's "Bates Motel."

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    Elisabeth Moss -

    Elisabeth Moss, who plays Peggy Olson on "Mad Men," earned yet another lead drama actress Emmy nod for the role. She is also up for lead actress in a miniseries or movie for her portrayal of Robin on Sundance Channel's "Top of the Lake."

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    Robin Wright, who plays political wife Claire Underwood in Netflix's "House of Cards," earned her first primetime Emmy nomination for lead drama actress.

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    Bobby Cannavale -

    Bobby Cannavale is up for a supporting drama actor for his role as Gyp Rosetti on "Boardwalk Empire."

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    Jonathan Banks -

    onathan Banks, who plays Mike on "Breaking Bad," is nominated for supporting drama actor.

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    Aaron Paul -

    For his role as Jesse Pinkman on "Breaking Bad," Aaron Paul received his fourth supporting drama actor nod. He won in 2010 and 2012.

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    Jim Carter -

    Jim Carter is nominated for supporting drama actor for his portrayal of Mr. Carson on "Downton Abbey."

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    Peter Dinklage, who plays Tyrion Lannister in HBO's "Game of Thrones," is nominated for supporting drama actor.

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    Mandy Patinkin is nominated for his portrayal of Saul Berenson on "Homeland."

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    Anna Gunn -

    Anna Gunn plays meth dealer Walter White's wife, Skyler, on "Breaking Bad." She is nominated for supporting drama actress.

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    Dame Maggie Smith is nominated for supporting drama actress for her portrayal of Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham on "Downton Abbey."

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    Emilia Clarke -

    Emilia Clarke is nominated for supporting drama actress for her portrayal of Daenerys Targaryen in HBO's "Game of Thrones."

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    Christine Baranski, who plays Diane Lockhart on CBS's "The Good Wife," is nominated for supporting drama actress.

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    Morena Baccarin plays Jessica Brody on Showtime's "Homeland," and is nominated for supporting drama actress.

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    Christina Hendricks -

    Christina Hendricks, who plays Joan Harris on "Mad Men," is nominated for supporting drama actress.

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    "30 Rock" is no stranger to Emmy excitement. The sitcom received 13 nods this year, including best comedy, lead actor and actress, and more.

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    'The Big Bang Theory' -

    "The Big Bang Theory" is up for eight awards, including best comedy, lead actor, supportig actress and more. The popular sitcom has never won the best comedy trophy.

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    'Modern Family' -

    "Modern Family" is an Emmy powerhouse. This year, it has 12 nominations, and has won outstanding comedy series three times, a category it is once again contending in.

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    'Girls' -

    HBO's "Girls" is up for five awards this year, including best comedy.

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    'Veep' -

    HBO's "Veep" is also contending in five categories, including best comedy.

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    2013 Emmy nominees

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    Jim Parsons -

    "Big Bang Theory" star Jim Parsons, who plays genius Sheldon Cooper, is once again in the running for lead comedy actor, a category he has won twice before for the role.

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    Alec Baldwin -

    Alec Baldwin, who stars as bumbling boss Jack Donaghy on "30 Rock," is nominated for lead comedy actor.

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    Louis CK is the creator, star, writer and director of the FX series "Louie." He is nominated for a total of nine awards, including lead comedy actor for his role as Louie on "Louie."

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    Jason Bateman -

    Jason Bateman returned to "Arrested Development" as the show came back via Netflix this year. He is nominated for lead comedy actor for his portrayal of Michael Bluth.

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    Don Cheadle -

    Don Cheadle was nominated for lead actor in a comedy series for his role as Marty Kaan in Showtime's "House of Lies."

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    Matt LeBlanc is nominated for lead comedy actor in Showtime's "Episodes" for playing ... himself.

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    Lena Dunham -

    Lena Dunham is nominated for two Emmys this year: lead comedy actress and directing for a comedy series.

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    Tina Fey, star of "30 Rock," is nominated for five Emmys this year, including lead comedy actress.

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    Julia Louis-Dreyfus -

    Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who stars as Vice President Selina Meyer on HBO's "Veep," is nominated for lead comedy actress.

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    Laura Dern -

    Laura Dern is nominated for lead comedy actress for her portrayal of Amy on HBO's "Enlightened."

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    Edie Falco -

    Edie Falco, who plays Jackie Peyton on "Nurse Jackie," is nominated for lead comedy actress.

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    Amy Poehler, who stars as Leslie Knope on NBC's "Parks and Recreation," is nominated for lead comedy actress

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    Adam Driver -

    Adam Driver earned his first nomination for supporting actor in a comedy series for his role as Adam Sackler on "Girls."

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    2013 Emmy nominees

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    Jesse Tyler Ferguson -

    Jesse Tyler Ferguson (pictured with Eric Stonestreet, right) is nominated for supporting comedy actor for his portrayal of Mitchell Pritchett on "Modern Family."

    ABC via AP / ABC via AP
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    Ed O'Neill -

    Ed O'Neill is nominated for supporting comedy actor for his role as Jay Pritchett on "Modern Family."

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    Ty Burrell -

    Ty Burrell is nominated for supporting comedy actor for his role as Phil Dunphy on "Modern Family."

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    Bill Hader -

    Bill Hader (in character as Stefon on "Saturday Night Live") is nominated in the supporting comedy actor category for his portrayal of various characters on "SNL."

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    Tony Hale -

    Tony Hale is nominated for supporting comedy actor for his portrayal of Gary Walsh on HBO's "Veep." This is his first Emmy nod.

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    2013 Emmy nominees

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    Mayim Bialik -

    Mayim Bialik is nominated for supporting comedy actress for her portrayal of Amy Farrah Fowler on "Big Bang Theory."

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    Jane Lynch -

    Jane Lynch is nominated for supporting comedy actress for her portrayal of Sue Sylvester on Fox's "Glee."

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    Sofia Vergara -

    Sofia Vergara, shown with Julie Bowen, is nominated for supporting comedy actress for her portrayal of Gloria Pritchett on "Modern Family."

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    Julie Bowen is nominated for supporting comedy actress for her portrayal of Claire Dunphy on "Modern Family."

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    Merritt Wever -

    Merritt Wever, who plays Zoey on "Nurse Jackie," is nominated for supporting comedy actress.

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    2013 Emmy nominees

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    Jane Krakowski -

    Jane Krakowski is nominated for supporting comedy actress for her portrayal of Jenna Maroney on "30 Rock."

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    Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Anna Chlumsky -

    Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Anna Chlumsky both star on HBO's "Veep," and each received a nomination for their roles this year: Louis-Dreyfus for lead comedy actress, Chlumsky for supporting comedy actress.

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    'The Amazing Race' -

    "The Amazing Race" is once again nominated for best reality competition, a category it has won every time between 2003 and 2012, except when "Top Chef" took the trophy in 2010.

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    "Dancing With the Stars" is nominated for best reality competition. It has yet to win in this category.

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    Fashion competition "Project Runway" is nominated for reality competition.

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    'So You Think You Can Dance' -

    "So You Think You Can Dance," which is nominated for reality competition, has 11 previous primetime Emmy wins, but has never won in this categories.

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    Bravo's cooking contest "Top Chef" is nominated for reality competition. It is the only show that has ever beaten "The Amazing Race" in this category.

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    "The Voice" is nominated for best reality competition.

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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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