Bill Maher’s Long (and Losing) Emmy Track Record

Carl Lynn is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the June 5 issue of AwardsLine.

Ah, to be victorious—at losing. Susan Lucci was famous for it. So was Angela Lansbury. But the dubious crown of distinction now graces Bill Maher, host and executive producer of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, the reigning champ with 29 Primetime Emmy nominations and 0 wins. Both Real Time (15 total Emmy noms, 0 wins) and its predecessor, ABC’s Politically Incorrect (8 variety series noms, 0 wins), have garnered noms every single year they’ve been on the air, going back to 1995.
But they’re in good losing company. In what’s become an odd phenomenon in the variety series category, Real Time annually goes neck and neck with Comedy Central’s The Daily Show With Jon Stewart and the newer fake newsguy, The Colbert Report (which also has received consecutive nominations since 2006)—only to see The Daily Show sweep the Emmys for a solid decade.
“Perhaps the hidden agenda of the TV Academy is to make sure that no one challenges Bill for this record,” jokes Scott Carter, executive producer of Real Time. “We (at Real Time) love Jon Stewart too. But eventually Susan Lucci won.”
But John Leverence, senior vp of awards for the TV Academy, says the Emmy voting process does not allow for hidden agendas. He explains that the first round, which produces nominations from the entrants, is voted on by the approximately 15,000 active members, and the second round—which declares a winner—is voted on by members who volunteer to serve on panels. “These volunteers are rigorously vetted for any conflict of interest before the panels are established,” Leverence says. “Panelists cannot serve more than two consecutive years on any given panel. So if there’s a question about, ‘Do you essentially have the same people voting year after year, and hence you get the same results year after year?’, the answer is no. There’s a very significant churning of people who are volunteering for and allowed to serve on those panels, especially over the course of 10 years of Daily Show wins. It is, simply, a democratic process in which the nomination that receives the most votes will be the winner.”
But could there be some other factor at play? Demographics, for example? Again, Leverence disputes this, citing that, in the general program categories such as variety series, panel volunteers/voters come from all 15,000 Academy members (unlike individual achievement categories, which are voted on by peer groups). Leverence acknowledges that the majority of the TV Academy members are on the West Coast, with one out of every seven or eight voters residing in the New York area. This blows the theory that perhaps the New York-based Daily Show would have a special resonance. (Of course, if that were the case, the quintessential New Yorker David Letterman would be sweeping it.)
Could age be a factor? Would the volunteer voters naturally skew older because they have the time to volunteer—unlike, say, staffers? Leverence contends that were that the case, you’d likely see The Tonight Show sweeping it, based on its demographics.
“The Board of Governors has mulled over putting caps on the number of wins that any given program can get,” Leverence explains. “But they come to the same conclusion every time it gets brought up, that it would diminish the field in such a way that you would almost have to put an asterisk next to the name of the winner, noting they weren’t up against (the reigning champs) this year. It would diminish the intent and significance of the awards. You’ve got to allow all of the players to come out and play on any given day.”

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