On Monday night’s Emmy Awards, The Big Bang Theory‘s Jim Parsons won his fourth Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Seeing as Parsons wins that award pretty much always (four times in the last five years, interrupted only by Jon Cryer’s nod for Two and a Half Men in 2012), this wasn’t much of a surprise. What may shock you, however, is that if Parsons wins again next year, he’ll have more Best Actor Emmy awards than anyone else in the history of television. More than Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston, more than Frasier‘s Kelsey Grammar — even more than The Sopranos‘ James Gandolfini.
The Big Bang Theory is a wildly popular show (just ask your mom/uncle/grandparents for their thoughts), with nearly 20 million viewers tuning in every week. Parsons and co-stars Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting and Johnny Galecki were just given approximately $1 million per episode for its upcoming eighth season. But in terms of critical acclaim, the CBS comedy sits comfortably at the bottom of the barrel. So when Parsons won his fourth Emmy, people were understandably confused, and more than a little upset. Many of those people felt similarly when Modern Family — a show whose best days may be three or four years behind it — won awards for Outstanding Comedy Series (its fifth), Outstanding Supporting Actor (Ty Burrell’s second) and Outstanding Directing for a Comedy Series (Gail Mancuso’s second).
Knowing this, it’s little surprise that a recent study by USC professor Jeetendr Sehdev found that over 82% of Americans believe that the Emmys are less significant than the Oscars, 73% say they’re not “overly excited” by the award show and fewer than one in 10 are more inclined to watch a series because it has won an Emmy. Those are some pretty stunning numbers (maybe not as much so as the Parsons figure above, but still surprising).
For a show like Breaking Bad, which cleaned up at Monday night’s ceremony, entirely disregarding a show’s Emmy success might be a mistake, but the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences is far better known for its misses than its hits. People should feel free to watch whatever they choose, but the fact that Modern Family is completely bulletproof at the Emmys doesn’t mean viewers should choose it over Veep — and Parsons’ reign doesn’t make Theory any more worthy of its lofty Nielsen ranking.
Though the Academy has been criticized for its comedy choices in recent years, it’s had its fair share of drama-related foibles as well. The Wire was never nominated for Best Drama. Neither was Deadwood. Jon Hamm has never won a Best Actor award for playing one of the most iconic television characters of the 21st century — or any other — on Mad Men.
Point being, it can be difficult to get people to care about your awards when they don’t consistently award true excellence. This isn’t to say that the Oscars are flawless either — or that poor selections are the Emmys’ only problem (last night’s show featured way too many awards and didn’t bring quite enough funny to sustain a three-hour ceremony), but it’s as good a place as any to start.