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73 years of Emmy history

One month after network television was born, The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences was founded. The nonprofit organization dedicated itself to “the advancement of telecommunication arts and sciences and to fostering creative leadership in the telecommunication industry.” Today, more than 70 years on, the Academy remains the only major organization devoted to television and broadband screen entertainment industry.

The Television Academy is made up of more than 24,000 members who are subdivided into 30 different peer groups of various expertise: performers, writers, directors, producers, and art directors, as well as technicians, executives, and other artisans. It’s this body of professionals who are behind TV’s biggest, and most recognizable, awards ceremony: the Emmy Awards.

From the Primetime Emmy Award’s first iteration in 1949, the field of television has grown so extensively that the Emmys have now been divided into three separate events, all honoring different aspects of the industry. The Emmy Awards, both primetime and daytime, honor the best series, actors, writers, directors, costumes, and so on. These awards are the flagship event and the one that the Academy is best known for. The Creative Emmy Awards, which traditionally air a week before the Primetime Emmys, recognize excellence in technical, creative, and craft categories, while the Engineering Emmy Awards acknowledge accomplishments in the technology used to make television.

From groundbreaking moments, like Harry Belafonte’s 1960 win, to changes in procedure, like the first 1965 morning nomination announcements, to controversial years, like Stephen Colbert’s overtly political monologue in 2017, Stacker highlights some of the biggest and most interesting pieces of Emmys trivia. With data pulled from the Emmys’ website and other news sources, read on to see how the awards ceremony has grown and evolved over the years.

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The Emmy Awards were conceived in 1948 by the Television Academy’s founding fathers. The group struggled to find an appropriate name for their new trophy, until future Academy president, Harry Lubcke, suggested “Immy,” an industry nickname for a TV’s image-orthicon camera tube. The name was eventually feminized to “Emmy” to match the winged statuette, the muse of art holding up the electron of science.

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The inaugural Emmy Awards ceremony was held on Jan. 25, 1949, at the Hollywood Athletic Club. Hosted by radio legend Walter O’Keefe, tickets to the ceremony cost $5 and only Los Angeles area programs were considered by the governing body. As such, the very first Emmy, given in the category of Most Outstanding Television Personality, went to ventriloquist Shirley Dinsdale (and her puppet sidekick, Judy Splinters) for her work on “The Judy Splinters Show.”

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Lucky Strike // Internet Archive


The first Emmy Awards only gave out awards in five categories: Best Film Made for Television, Most Outstanding Television Personality, Most Popular Television Program, a technical award, a special one-time award, and the station award for Outstanding Overall Achievement. In 1950, the Academy added several categories, including one for best commercial, which went to cigarette company Lucky Strike.

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Harris & Ewing // Wikimedia Commons


In 1951, the 3rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards had an unusual host: a future chief justice in the United States Supreme Court. At the time, Earl Warren was the governor of California. It wasn’t until two years later, in 1953, after a failed presidential bid, that he was appointed the 14th chief justice of the United States Supreme Court.

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Hosted by Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the 1952 Emmy Awards were the first to consider shows outside of Los Angeles area programming. Previously, only shows that had been produced or aired in the L.A. area were eligible to win. But in 1952, “Your Show of Shows,” which was filmed in New York City and aired nationwide, won the trophy for best variety show.

[Pictured: Imogene Coca and Sid Caesar of “Your Show of Shows”]

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CBS Television // Wikimedia Commons


According to Variety columnist Sheilah Graham, the 1953 awards weren’t the Emmy’s best year. In her write-up she noted, “Nothing much happened at the Emmy Awards, apart from the stage proscenium falling down and conking a violinist on the head, and the mic going out of order for 10 minutes, silencing host Art Linkletter.” Another article in the magazine referred to the evening as “bedlam” because the waiters and kitchen staff at the new venue weren’t concerned with keeping the volume level down, which interfered with the ceremony itself.

[Pictured: “What’s My Line?” which won Best Audience Participation Program]

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1954 saw a major change in nominations for actors and actresses in both lead and supporting roles. Prior to that year, actors and actresses were simply nominated as individuals. But from the 1954 ceremony on, they were required to be nominated for their work within a specific show. 

[Pictured: Vivian Vance, Desi Arnaz, and Lucille Ball]

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Hulton Archive // Getty Images


The 1955 Emmy Awards were the first Emmys to be broadcast nationally. Following a merger between the East Coast-based Television Academy and the West Coast-based Television Academy, the newly formed National Television Academy sold the broadcasting right to NBC. Viewers all over the country could now watch the show in real-time.

[Pictured: Television hosts Art Linkletter and Ralph Edwards]

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In 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower was honored with the first Governor’s Award in recognition of his use and encouragement of television. Today, the Governor’s Award is given to an individual, company, organization, or project for outstanding achievement in one aspect of TV. The award can be given on a cumulative basis (as President Eisenhower’s was), or for a single extraordinary act. 

[Pictured: The cast of “Caesar’s Hour”]

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In the last year of its run, sketch comedy show “Caesar’s Hour” made Emmy history by winning awards in all four major acting categories. The first show to do so, Sid Caesar, Nanette Fabray, Carl Reiner, and Pat Carroll all took home statuettes for their performances as various characters. In addition, “Caesar’s Hour” won Best Series, One Hour or More.

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CBS Radio // Wikimedia Commons


The number of Emmy categories has fluctuated over the years, from six in 1949 to 27 today. While today’s categories are fairly whittled down, covering all the basics without a hoard of superfluous extras, that hasn’t always been the case. For example, at the 1958 Emmys, a truly nonsensical division was added: Best Continuing Performance in a Series by a Comedienne, Singer, Hostess, Dancer, M.C., Announcer, Narrator, Panelist, or Any Person Who Essentially Plays Herself (and the male equivalent). Rumor has it, the category was created for Lucille Ball, but Dinah Shore won instead.

[Pictured: Dinah Shore and Gail Patrick]

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Michael Ochs Archives // Getty Images


Up until the 1959 Emmys, shows of all genres competed against each other for the same awards. During the 11th Emmy Awards, specific categories were put into place, which, for example, separated comedy and drama shows, as well as the actors who performed in them. Most would argue that this distinction, which still stands today, allows for a much more robust and fair show.

[Pictured: Charlton Heston at the 1959 Emmys]

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Alan Meek // Getty Images


Racial barriers were broken at the 1960 Emmy Awards when Harry Belafonte became the first African American actor or actress to win an Emmy. Belafonte took home the statuette for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series for his special “Revlon Revue.”

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Unknown // Wikimedia Commons


In 1961, “The Flintstones” cartoon made history when it became the first animated TV show to be nominated for Best Comedy Series. No other animated series would accomplish the same feat until “Family Guy” was nominated in 2009.

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CBS Photo Archive // Getty Images


The only first lady, to date, to win an Emmy Award, Jackie Kennedy took home her statuette for her famed televised White House tour. Michelle Obama came close to accomplishing the same feat in 2015 when her “Billy on the Street” segment earned a nod from the Academy.

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CBS Television // Wikimedia Commons


“The Dick Van Dyke Show” swept the 1963 Emmy awards. The sitcom, which aired for five years, won in the series, writing, and directing categories. One of the show’s stars, Mary Tyler Moore, would go on to make her own Emmy history just over a decade later.

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Gene Lester // Getty Images


Two network presidents, Fred W. Friendly of CBS News and Thomas W. Moore of ABC, boycotted the 1964 Emmy Awards. The men believed that NBC, which had nationally aired the program since 1955, was receiving favorable treatment from the Television Academy, and that more of its programs and actors were being nominated. As a result, the Emmys began airing on a rotating basis on all major networks.

[Pictured: The cast of “The Dick Van Dyke Show”]

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In 1965, the Television Academy held its first morning nominations announcement event on the West Coast. In that first year, a press release was handed out to local reporters and the Academy’s then-president, Robert Lewine, was on hand to answer questions about nominations and the upcoming ceremony. Today, the morning announcements are a much more showy affair, which lends the awards a more prestigious air. 

[Pictured: Barbra Streisand with the Emmy she won for Outstanding Performance]

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Chris Ware // Getty Images


In 1965, the Emmys changed their format, drastically cutting the categories from 26 to 11 and allowing for multiple winners in each. The change ended up being a disaster, and in 1966 the Emmys returned to their original format. 

[Pictured: British entrepeneur Peter Cadbury with the Emmy he won for “Wyvern at War”]

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Hulton Archive // Getty Images


In 1967, Don Knotts set the record for most Emmy wins by a single actor in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series. His ’61,’62, ’63, ’66, and ’67 wins for his work as Sheriff Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show” is a record that is still untouched today.

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ABC Television // Getty Images


The first actor to win a posthumous Emmy award, Marion Lorne received top honors for her work as bumbling Aunt Clara on “Bewitched.” Lorne passed away just 10 days before the 1968 Emmy awards, and her co-star, Elizabeth Montgomery who played Samantha Stephens, accepted the trophy on her behalf.

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National Educational Television Network // Youtube


The 1969 awards marked the first time that the Outstanding Drama Series statuette went home to a studio that was not one of the big three. PBS predecessor, the National Educational Television Network, won the night with top honors for its show “NET Playhouse.” The anthology series would go on to be nominated two more times.

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British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)


In the first 21 iterations of the Primetime Emmy Awards, shows from the “big three” television networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC—had been the primary victors. But in 1970, their trophy sweep came to a halt when Susan Hampshire of “The Forsyte Saga” won the statuette for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: “The Forsyte Saga” aired on PBS.

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British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC)


Susan Hampshire at the 1971 Emmy Awards won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her depiction of Sarah Churchill in “The First Churchills.” The series centered around the first duke of Marlborough John Churchill and his wife. 

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ABC Photo Archives // Getty Images


By the early 1970s, the Emmy Awards were experiencing some growing pains. The New York Times writeup of that year’s event said, “the Emmy Awards managed to hit a new low for awards shows. And getting lower than that would be just about impossible.” The article’s author wasn’t impressed with the hosting (“too familiar”), the presenters (“couples that were either odd or irrelevant”), or the acceptance speeches (“one even confided that he had to go to the bathroom”).

[Pictured: Julie Andrews holding her Emmy Award]

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In 1973, Bob Fosse made Hollywood history with an unprecedented winning streak. In the span of less than two months, he won two Tony awards for “Pippin,” an Oscar for “Cabaret,” and three Emmys at the 25th Annual Emmy Awards for his choreography and directing work on “Liza with a Z.” 

[Pictured: Joel Grey and Liza Minnelli]

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ABC Photo Archives // Getty Images


Originally, both daytime and primetime TV shows were eligible for the Emmy Awards. However, in 1974 the first annual Daytime Emmy Awards took place. Game shows, soap operas, talk shows, and children’s shows were all moved to the newly minted ceremony, which helped to slim down the number of possible nominees for each category. 

[Pictured: Actor Hal Holbrook holds his Emmy award]

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It seems that producers hadn’t learned much from their format change-up flop in 1966, because in 1974 they tried it again. That year’s Emmy Awards, dubbed “The Super Emmys,” pitted winning performers from different genres (e.g., lead actor in a comedy series vs. lead actor in a drama series) against each other. The winner would be crowned the actor or actress of the year. The press and public hated the move, and by the 1975 ceremony typical order had been restored.

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MTM Enterprises // Getty Images


One of TV’s most-loved ensemble programs of all time, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” is also among the top Emmy-winning shows of all time. During its six-year run, the show won 29 Emmys in categories from writing to acting to directing. In 1976, the show took home its second of three consecutive trophies for Outstanding Comedy Series.

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In 1977, ABC’s wildly popular miniseries, “Roots,” received an unprecedented 37 Emmy nominations. While the show only ended up bringing home six trophies, it’s a feat that still hasn’t been touched by any other program. “Game of Thrones” came close with its 32 nominations in 2019.

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While the Emmy Awards don’t necessarily shy away from the political, they’ve never embraced politics quite as fully as they did in 1978. During that year’s awards ceremony, the show was halted for 30 minutes so that President Jimmy Carter, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and Egyptian President Anwar Sadat could broadcast the news of the signing of the Camp David Accords.

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Colin Davey // Getty Images


An iconic and hilarious Emmy moment took place in 1979. After finally being recognized for his work as a writer on “M*A*S*H,” Alan Alda was so excited that he cartwheeled down the aisle to accept his trophy. Video of the actor’s silly stunt can still be found on YouTube.

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The 1980 Primetime Emmy Awards were a rather quiet and somber affair. In an attempt to end a seven-week walkout, Screen Actors Guild‐American Federation of Television and Radio Artists television actors boycotted the annual ceremony. In fact, Powers Boothe was the only actor to accept his statuette on stage. [Pictured: David Doyle and Emmy-winner Ed Asner]

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Surprisingly, Emmy Awards aren’t free, even for the winners. Those who want to take their statuette home have to pony up a cool $400 for the gold-dipped metal. Even a lucky few outside of the television business have had the opportunity to bring one home—in early 2019 Mickey Rooney’s 1981 Emmy, which he won for his portrayal of Bill Stacker in the movie “Bill,” went up for public auction.

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Mike Lawn // Getty Images


Iconic actress Ingrid Bergman won her final award at the 1982 Primetime Emmys. Given in the category of Best Performance by an Actress in a Miniseries or Motion Picture Made for Television, the award recognized Bergman’s work in “A Woman Called Golda.” The trophy was the fourth posthumous Emmy ever awarded.

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20th Century Fox Television

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The 1985 Primetime Emmy Awards were marred by one huge scandal. When it was announced that Betty Thomas had won the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for her work on “Hill Street Blues,” a random man took to the stage to accept the award—even though Thomas was in the audience. The mystery man turned out to be Barry Bremen, also known as “the great imposter.” He’d pulled similar stunts before, but the near theft shook up the audience enough that Bremen was booked by police.

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Ruebsamen, James // Los Angeles Public Library Photo Collection


In 1986, Red Skelton, the comedy legend, won the Governor’s Award for his lifelong service to the entertainment industry. The award is the highest one given by the Academy of Television. The Los Angeles Times called Skelton’s win “a rare and wholly welcome acknowledgment of an authentic comedy genius, who remains a hero in the American heartland.”

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Garner-Duchow Productions


TV movie “Promise” made history at the 39th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards when it received five statuettes. The film took home the gold for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special, Outstanding Directing in a Miniseries or Special, Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Special, Outstanding Writing in a Miniseries or Special, and Outstanding Drama or Comedy Special. To date, no made for TV movie has ever won more Emmys.

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Alan Light // Wikimedia Commons


Following a rule change in 1988, cable television shows finally became eligible for the Emmys. HBO (“Mandela,” “The World According to Me”) and Showtime (“It’s Garry Shandling’s Show”) both had shows nominated in that first year. This also marked the end of the CableACE Awards. 

[Pictured: Actress Ann Jillian arrives at the 1988 Emmys]

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20th Century Fox Television // Getty Images


“The Tracey Ullman Show” was Fox Broadcasting Company’s second original series. Premiering in 1987, the comedy variety show brought the network it’s first Emmy win when it took home the 1989 trophy for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program.

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ABC Photo Archives // Getty Images

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Winning an EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony) remains one of the most elusive distinctions in the entertainment industry. To date, only 16 people have accomplished what’s been dubbed the grand slam of show business. In 1991, John Gielgud became the fourth person to do so after winning his Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Special Emmy for his role in “Summer’s Lease Masterpiece Theater.”

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While the Emmy Awards are designed to recognize the best of television, that doesn’t always mean that they honor the most iconic television work. Take for example, “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson.” A TV staple, it aired with Carson at the helm for almost 30 years. However, it only won the Emmy for Most Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Program in 1992—the year of Carson’s retirement.

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SCOTT FLYNN // Getty Images


Another great example of iconic TV shows not always being the most decorated TV shows is “Seinfeld.” In 1992 “Seinfeld” won its only Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. When he accepted the award, “Seinfeld” creator Larry David quipped, “This is all well and good, but I’m still bald.”

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KIM KULISH // Getty Images


Following its first season, “Fraiser” took home two major awards at the 1994 Primetime Emmys: Outstanding Comedy Series, and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series. Kelsey Grammer’s individual win placed him in an exclusive club: He became the first actor to receive multiple Emmy nods for playing the same character in three different series (Dr. Fraiser Crane in “Cheers,” “Wings,” and “Fraiser”).

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JEFF HAYNES // Getty Images


In 1995, Candice Bergen won her fifth and final Emmy for her titular role in “Murphy Brown.” Unusually, Bergen withdrew her name from Emmy consideration for the next three seasons of the show, feeling that she was being unfairly singled out among the series regulars. The move set the stage for Julia Louis-Dreyfus to hold the title for the actress with the Most Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series wins. 

[Pictured: Richard Frank and Betty White announce the 1995 Emmy nominees]

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At the 1996 Primetime Emmy’s, Angela Lansbury was nominated, once again, for Oustanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role as Jessica Fletcher in “Murder, She Wrote.” It was the show’s 12th and final season and Lansbury’s 12th and final nomination for the role. That year, Lansbury set the record for being the most nominated actress in the category (she’d had 18 total nominations), as well as the most nominated actress without a win. As of 2020, Lansbury has yet to add an Emmy to her impressive trophy shelf.

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TIZIANA SORGE // Getty Images


For 20 years, the Primetime Emmy Awards had been held in the same location. Beginning with the 29th annual ceremony in 1977, TV’s greatest had been gathering at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium to celebrate their achievements. The 49th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards marked an end to that residency. The following year, the awards would move on to the Shrine Auditorium in downtown Los Angeles. 

[Pictured: Demi Moore presents an Emmy to Alfre Woodard]

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Intel Free Press // Wikimedia Commons


Now a standard part of any NFL game, the yellow first-down line made its debut on Sept. 27, 1998, during a Baltimore Ravens vs. Cincinnati Bengals game. That same year, the line, which is a partnership between technical company Sportvision and ESPN, won two technical awards at the 50th Annual Primetime Emmys.

You may also like: The best streaming services for football in 2021

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SCOTT NELSON // Getty Images


Television writer David E. Kelley is the man behind some of TV’s greatest hits, like “Big Little Lies,” “Ally McBeal,” “Boston Legal,” and “The Practice.” In 1999, he made history when he took home trophies for Outstanding Comedy Series (“Ally McBeal”) and Outstanding Drama Series (“The Practice”). He’d later go on to be inducted into the Academy of Television’s Hall of Fame in 2014.

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Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images


Often ranked among the greatest television shows of all time, “The Sopranos” took home some major Emmy gold over its six-season run. In 2000, James Gandolfini brought HBO its first lead actor award when he was recognized for his work as Tony Soprano. A year earlier, Edie Falco earned the cable network its first lead actress award for her portrayal of Carmela Soprano.

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Brian Pobuda // Getty Images


The most-nominated show in Emmy history is “Saturday Night Live.” Over its 43-year run, the show has racked up 270 nominations and over 60 wins. In 2001, the variety sketch comedy series was nominated for both Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing in a Variety, Music or Comedy Series. 

[Pictured: Cast and crew of the “Sex and the City” backstage after winning Outstanding Comedy Series]

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Vince Bucci // Getty Images


In 2002, Oprah Winfrey became the first winner of the Bob Hope Humanitarian Award. Presented to her by Tom Hanks, the award is one of the highest honors given by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. It recognizes the social and political work done by some of TV’s biggest stars.

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Vince Bucci // Getty Images


Marking a sudden (although not unprecedented) change, the 2003 Emmys did not have a host. The 54th Annual Primetime Emmys aired on Fox, and history repeated itself when Fox hosted the show again in 2019, again without a host.

[Pictured: Actress Jane Kaczmarek congratulates actor Michael Chiklis]

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Vince Bucci // Getty Images


We’ve discussed the most Emmy nominated show of all time, but what about the most Emmy-nominated individual of all time? That honor goes to “Saturday Night Live” creator and executive producer, Lorne Michaels. To date, Michaels has earned 94 nominations for his work on a variety of shows. As of 2020, he has won 19. 

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Scott Gries // Getty Images


Ellen DeGeneres has been tasked with hosting the Emmys during difficult years. For example, she hosted the 2001 Emmy Awards, which were held a month and a half after 9/11, as well as the 2005 Emmy Awards, which took place three weeks after Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast. She’s been lauded for her ability to shine a light on the tragedy and advocate for victims, while still entertaining audiences with humor.

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Vince Bucci // Getty Images


Typically, the Emmy Awards have a two-step voting process: Thousands of initial entries are voted upon by the Academy’s professional members; then, out of the top five nominees, a winner is chosen by a smaller panel of peer-group members. But in 2006, in an effort to be more inclusive, an intermediate step was added, which whittled that huge initial group down to 10–15 before the professional members voted on the five official nominees. This resulted in some major shows, like “Desperate Housewives” and “Gilmore Girls” being snubbed.

[Pictured: Julia Louis-Dreyfus accepts the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series]

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There have been some shocking Emmy winners throughout the years, but perhaps two of the most off-the-wall winners came in 2007. At the Technology and Engineering Emmy Awards, two video game controllers, Sony’s DualShock Analog controller and Nintendo’s NES/Famicom controller, walked away with top honors.

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Kevin Winter // Getty Images


At the 2008 Emmys, a new category was announced: Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program. The five nominees, Tom Bergeron, Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel, Jeff Probst, and Ryan Seacrest, were also that year’s hosts. At the end of the night, it was Jeff Probst who went home with the trophy.

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Michael Loccisano // Getty Images


And now, for the individual with the most Emmy wins of all time, Sheila Nevins. The producer and president of HBO Documentary Films, Nevins has more than 30 individual Primetime Emmy wins under her belt and dozens more Creative Emmy Wins. In 2009, she was awarded the Governor’s Award during the Creative Emmy Awards ceremony for her impact on television.

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Kevin Winter // Getty Images


Betty White has had an impressive Emmy run over the years. She’s the only actress to receive nominations in six different decades (the ’50s, ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, ’00s, ’10s) and to win in four (’70s, ’80s, ’90s, and ’10s). In 2010 she took home the statuette for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy Series for the episode of “Saturday Night Live” that she hosted. The win made the actress, who is older than the awards themselves, the oldest actress to ever win an Emmy at 88.

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Kevin Winter // Getty Images


On more than one occasion over the years, the Emmys have been criticized for their lack of diversity and inclusion. But in recent years the awards ceremony has taken major steps to correct their previous oversight. For example, in 2011 the governing body announced the ceremony’s second-ever lesbian host, “Glee” actress Jane Lynch.

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Kevin Winter // Getty Images


There was a British Invasion at the 2012 Emmy Awards. London-born Damian Lewis won Outstanding Leading Actor in a Drama Series for his role in “Homeland” and Dame Maggie Smith, who played Violet Crawley in “Downton Abbey,” won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series.

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Jesse Grant // Getty Images


In 2013, Netflix’s original programming finally became eligible for the Emmy Awards. In the first year, “House of Cards,” “Hemlock Grove,” and “Arrested Development” all earned nominations, and the streaming service ended up taking home a handful of trophies. In 2018, Netflix surpassed HBO in the number of nominations within a single year, ending the cable network’s 17-year run of being the most-nominated network. [Pictured: The cast of “Arrested Development”]

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Kevin Winter // Getty Images


Historically, the Emmys have aired on a Sunday night in September. But in 2014, they aired on a Monday in August in order to avoid conflict with the VMAs and Sunday Night Football. This was the first time since 1976, and only the second time in history, that the primetime ceremony hadn’t been held on a Sunday. 

[Pictured: “Breaking Bad” wins Outstanding Drama Series]

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Mark Davis // Getty Images


Another major diversity hurdle was surmounted in 2015 when Viola Davis won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for her role in “How to Get Away with Murder.” Although Isabel Sanford had won the corresponding comedy category back in 1981 for her role in “The Jeffersons,” the drama category had been won by white performers for 67 years. Davis’s moving acceptance speech, which talked about race and opportunity, brought many in the audience to tears.

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Frazer Harrison // Getty Images


At the 2016 Primetime Emmy Awards, “Game of Thrones” took home the trophy for Outstanding Drama Series following its fifth season. By the end of its eight seasons, the HBO drama had amassed 164 Emmy nominations. “Game of Thrones” won a total of 59 times. Peter Dinklage took the Emmy for Best Supporting Actor four times.

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Kevin Winter // Getty Images


Stephen Colbert hosted the 2017 Emmy awards, and his opening cameo included a number of jokes about President Donald Trump, which set an unusually political tone for the rest of the evening. Notably, former White House press secretary, Sean Spicer, made a brief appearance on stage and Alec Baldwin offered the president his Emmy, which he earned for his comedic portrayal of the commander in chief on “Saturday Night Live.”

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Kevin Winter // Getty Images

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Santiago Felipe // Getty Images


In 2019, Billy Porter made history when he became the first openly gay winner for Outstanding Lead Actor in a drama series for his performance in FX’s “Pose.”  Porter’s acceptance speech was among the most memorable moments of the night. He quoted James Baldwin, reminding Hollywood, and the world, of everyone’s right to exist and to be seen.

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“Watchmen,” “Succession,” and “Schitt’s Creek” dominated the 2020 Emmys, which were held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While it’s mostly the shows and outsize personalities behind them that take center stage at the Emmys, in 2020 it was the ceremony itself that was notable, both for the never-before-done format and for the combination of intimate glimpses into Hollywood’s living rooms and surreality of a mega-watt production moved to computer screens.