Talk to anyone who works in television, and they'll likely use the word "family" to describe how it feels to create art for the small screen. They speak about the closeness of cast and crew; the enduring affiliation they feel with the network executives who first took a chance to greenlight their show; and, for a lucky few, the fraternal sensibility that grows from knowing they are part of one of the world's most exclusive and enduring clubs: Emmy winners.
On these pages, THR salutes a rare selection of those in the industry who not only represent the best of the TV Academy's Emmy honorees but also have continued to shape and improve the medium since earning their first golden statuette.
We celebrate the fabled television careers of sitcom darlings Mary Tyler Moore and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, rare comedy-drama crossovers Edie Falco and Bryan Cranston, three wily animators who reinvigorated (and made intensely more risque) the enduring genre of our youth, the man and muse behind TV's most groundbreaking and controversial variety show, three behemoth network chiefs who transformed the landscape forever and others whose work behind and in front of the camera changed a medium that in no way can be classified as small anymore.
Michael J. Fox (13 noms, 5 wins)
When Michael J. Fox revealed in 1998 that he had been suffering from early-onset Parkinson's disease, most assumed his acting career was over. But he has stayed in the game. This year, he received his 13th Emmy nomination for a guest arc on the CBS drama "The Good Wife."
And in 2009, he bagged his fifth Emmy for playing the wheelchair-bound love interest of Tommy Gavin's wife, Janet, on "Rescue Me." The prize earned Fox some facetiously chagrined ribbing from pal Denis Leary, the co-creator and star of the perpetually Emmy-snubbed series. "Yeah, he hates me," laughs Fox. "That show is the poster show for Emmy-neglected work."
When Leary called Fox to ask him if he would do "Rescue Me," explains Fox: "His idea for the character was this misanthropic, alcoholic, drug-addicted a--hole. And I said, 'And what made you think of me?' And then Denis said, 'And the best part is, he's paralyzed.' And I said, 'OK, you're aware that I can't stop moving?' "The most noticeable side effect of treatment for Parkinson's is muscle tremors, an unavoidable reality that Fox has necessarily embraced in his work: For his role as wily litigator Louis Canning on "Wife," his affliction was written into the storyline as the neurological disorder tardive dyskinesia, which Canning uses to disarm hostile witnesses and elicit sympathy from jurors. (He'll reprise the role for multiple episodes in the drama's third season as well.)
"It's part of who I am," says Fox, who infused his condition again into playing a spoofier version of himself in Sept. 11's season finale of HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm." "I can't act it away, so I have to incorporate it. I don't get to work that much anymore, so when I do, any kind of acknowledgment that it's watched and appreciated means a lot to me. It's truly one of those things where the nomination is the big prize."
It's hard to imagine it's been 25 years since Fox, 50, won his first Emmy in 1986 for his role as Alex P. Keaton, the Reagan-worshiping oldest child of recovering hippies in the NBC comedy "Family Ties" (1982-89). That first win, he says, came during a career hot streak: "Ties" was a huge hit and he was also basking in the blockbuster success of the first "Back to the Future" movie. "It was a year where you were waiting for someone to bang on the door and say, 'Just kidding, give it all back.' "
He would win three consecutive Emmys for "Ties" and credits his wife, Tracy Pollan — whom he met when she joined the show in 1985 in a recurring role as Alex's girlfriend, Ellen — for raising his game and getting him noticed by the Television Academy. "She was so good, and she brought me to a different place," he says. He won his fourth comedy Emmy for "Spin City" in 2000 — his last year as a regular on the ABC sitcom and two years after revealing that he had been suffering from Parkinson's. Since then, he's raised millions of dollars for research through the Michael J. Fox Foundation. Finding a cure for Parkinson's, he says, has become his life's work. "When you live with a condition like this, it just becomes a part of who are."
The triple threat
Bryan Cranston (6 noms, 3 wins)
Not since Bill Cosby stunned the business with three consecutive Emmy wins for "I Spy" during the late 1960s has an actor's domination of a category been such a shocking surprise.
Bryan Cranston's out-of-nowhere lead drama actor win for AMC's "Breaking Bad" in 2008 broke every rule of expectation: The series wasn't nominated, the network was barely on anyone's radar, the actor was mostly known to TV audiences as the goofy father on Fox's "Malcolm in the Middle" and smarmy dentist Tim Whatley on "Seinfeld," and the "Bad" role — cancer-stricken chemistry teacher turned meth cooker — was so dark, it made Tony Soprano look like Mister Rogers.
"I knew it was going to change my life, and it has," says Cranston, 55, who gives full credit to series creator Vince Gilligan's vision for "Bad's" slow-buzz cult following. "To start a show with a family man, who never got a parking ticket, become a hardened criminal was something no series had done before, he adds. "He changes from Mr. Chips to Scarface."
Cranston's recent Emmy kudos also have given his film résumé a serious jolt: He has 14 movie roles slated through 2012, including playing military official Lyle Haggerty in "Contagion." "I'd always wanted to work with Steven Soderbergh," says Cranston. "It turns out he was a fan of 'Breaking Bad.' "
The comedy queen
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (10 noms, 2 wins)
"What those stats really say is that I'm more of an Emmy loser than an Emmy winner," jokes Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Hardly, as she finds herself in rather elite company: With legend Betty White, Louis-Dreyfus is Emmy's most-nominated comedy series actress, having scored a dozen mentions for her supporting turn as Elaine Benes on NBC's "Seinfeld" and as the bumbling titular divorced mother on CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine," which earned her a supporting and lead comedy actress Emmy, respectively.
Juggling work and family is familiar territory for the mother of two (her husband of 24 years is comedy writer Brad Hall, with whom she worked on "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1980s). "It's an easier lifestyle for me to keep one foot in my family life and the other in my job," says Louis-Dreyfus, 50, who can be seen next playing U.S. Vice President Selina Meyer in the HBO single-camera comedy "Veep." "I like the pace of it. Getting an episode done in five days feels bouncy and works well with my comedic sensibilities."
Ever modest about her Emmy track record, Louis-Dreyfus credits the "unsung heroes" of her comedies' casts and crews and admits to being amazed by her staying power, wondering aloud, "Who would have thunk it?"
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