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Emmy envy: Why not one and you're done?

Oscar and Tony are one-shot awards, but repeat TV winners hog the spotlight.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Nothing against Allison Janney. I love Allison Janney. As C.J. Cregg on “The West Wing,” she was the cat’s meow.

What’s more, I bow to no one in my admiration for “The West Wing,” concluding its seven-season term as one of TV’s best-ever series.

But I’m also aware that love and admiration can harden into blind habit and missed opportunities. Which brings me to the Emmy Awards.

Consider: First eligible for her “West Wing” role in 2000, Janney has missed just one year as a nominee and won four times. Now here she is again this year, up for best lead actress in a drama series.

Meanwhile, “The West Wing” is up for best drama series — its sixth time — after previously winning four Emmys.

When does recognition become wretched excess?

“The 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards” will air Sunday at 8 p.m. EDT on NBC, and paving the way for what’s inevitably billed as “television’s biggest night” was a much-heralded revamping of the awards rules.

But despite the Television Academy’s effort to shake up the selection process, Lauren Graham remains the poster child for chronic Emmy myopia. Through this sixth season of her popular and critically acclaimed drama, “The Gilmore Girls,” Graham has never been cited. The series overall has received a grand total of one nomination: for outstanding makeup in 2004 (it won).

Well, I have a remedy of my own for spreading around all that Emmy bling. I propose no more re-Emmying.

Here’s my idea: Any program, and the individuals attached to it, get one shot apiece at an Emmy. One and done. Only a clear and demonstrable change in a series, or in a character or other aspect of the series, could warrant Emmy reconsideration.

I came up with this solution — simple, elegant, effective — nearly a decade ago. Now, in a growing cable universe of worthy programs with robust ensembles that often comprise as many as a dozen deserving actors, I believe in my plan more than ever.

Look at it this way: The Broadway musical “Phantom of the Opera” didn’t qualify for the Tonys last spring. No, “Phantom” had its turn when it opened, way back in 1988. Similarly, any book, record or film gets its one crack at a Pulitzer, Grammy or Oscar the year it’s released.

Unlike any other art form, TV consists mostly of open-ended series that unfold narratively with no predetermined finish line. That’s the nature of the medium. Except this has somehow bred a system where each series can qualify for more awards with every lap of its run.

The prime-time Emmys, bestowed for 58 years, celebrate excellence in television. But in Emmy’s eyes, excellence is often mistaken for stamina and dependability — not the burst of inspiration that may have launched a series and its characters many seasons earlier, but since then settled into routine. Too often, Emmy celebrates not excellence, but an excellently maintained status quo.

Let’s recall that in 1996, Candice Bergen withdrew from consideration as a nominee for her starring role in “Murphy Brown.” By then, she had raked in five Emmys and wanted to give others a chance. Enough was enough, she reasoned.

Enough times five, I would suggest.

Of course, I realize my notion would be about as popular among those in charge, and be as eagerly adopted, as term limits for members of Congress. Whether we’re talking Washington or Hollywood, the people that would most directly benefit are outsiders, not the incumbents.

Besides, a half-century of systematic re-Emmying has conditioned us to treat the Emmys not unlike a football rivalry, where one much-rewarded contender clashes with another each fall, while we fans watch from the sidelines to see in whose favor the balance tips this time.

Complaining about the new Emmy rules recently, TV Guide critic Matt Roush lamented “the shocking bloodletting.” He noted that various winners from last year including “Lost,” Felicity Huffman (part of a total “Desperate Housewives” shutout), James Spader and Patricia Arquette were “all MIA.”

While Roush may decry this “bloodletting,” I say, great! New blood is what’s needed. An end to re-Emmying would ensure it.

And put a halt to repeatedly honoring work done years earlier, on which the winner may have coasted ever since.

This year “The West Wing” and “The Sopranos” (its sixth nomination, having won in 2004) are both up for best drama. Jane Kaczmarek landed her seventh nomination for best comedy actress on “Malcolm in the Middle.” And Tony Shalhoub could win his third Emmy as best comedy actor on “Monk.”

Nothing against Shalhoub. I love Shalhoub. His character, Detective Adrian Monk, is a brilliant creation, for which he was duly rewarded his first season. Enough. Now Monk, like any established character, is obliged to stay in character. This means Shalhoub’s ongoing performance, however demanding or admirable, consists of variations on the same theme.

A ban on re-Emmying would guarantee that fresh, new themes get the attention they deserve. What the Emmys need is an annual transfusion.