Snubbed: 10 Classic TV Shows That Never Won an Emmy
One of the buzziest and most critically acclaimed shows of recent memory, HBO’s Game of Thrones, took home an astounding 59 Emmy trophies during its eight-season run, a number exceeded only by the 82 wins of Saturday Night Live over its nearly 50 seasons.
But beloved and respected shows aren’t always favored by Emmy voters at the Television Academy, who can sometimes overlook a series for a variety of reasons. Take a look at these 10 classics that never received high honors during the event.
1. Star Trek (1966-1969)
Gene Roddenberry’s sci-fi pillar spawned an entire franchise long before the term was commonplace in entertainment. It was also socially and morally alert, tackling issues of racism, sexism, and equality at a time TV was too sheepish to confront such topics. But the Emmys failed to see beyond the rubber aliens. While the original series was nominated 13 times during its three season run in categories like Art Direction, Film Editing, and Supporting Actor (for the thrice-nominated Leonard Nimoy), it failed to capture any of them. The Trek franchise went Emmy-less until 1988, when Star Trek: The Next Generation scored for Outstanding Sound Editing, Costuming, and Make-Up.
Original Captain William Shatner wouldn’t get an Emmy until a 2004 guest spot on ABC’s The Practice. Shatner has said he braced for a win that year by looking at the presenter’s mouth and “looking for the ‘Woo.’”
2. The Wire (2002-2008)
David Simon’s nuanced study of crime in Baltimore has been dubbed by some as the best television show of all time—but come Emmy time, it was virtually ignored. The show earned just two nominations during its five seasons for Outstanding Writing for a Drama Series in 2005 and 2008, respectively. That means performers like Dominic West, Idris Elba, and the indelible Michael K. Williams went unnoticed.
Coastal prejudice may have played a part. One theory was that Los Angeles-based Emmy voters had little interest in a Baltimore-set drama.
3. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005-Present)
This lewd, crude sitcom about a gang of degenerates who (barely) operate a Philly pub is the longest-running live-action sitcom in American television history. While that seems like plenty of time to acknowledge its clever portrayal of moral bankruptcy, the show has managed just three nominations thus far—all for Outstanding Stunt Coordination for a Comedy Series or Variety Program, a category you probably didn’t know existed.
The show spoofed the dry spell in a season nine episode, “The Gang Tries Desperately to Win an Award,” in which Paddy’s Pub vies for best bar in the city. Actor Charlie Day told Indiewire in 2016 that the Emmys “still feels like some sort of high school party that we’re perpetually not invited to.”
4. Better Call Saul (2015-2022)
While sibling show Breaking Bad (2008-2013) needed a pick-up truck to collect its numerous Emmy wins, the spin-off about capricious, crooked lawyer Saul Goodman (Bob Odenkirk) failed to land a single win despite 47 Emmy nominations. The only Emmy awarded to the production was kind of a technicality: In 2020, a short web film on “legal ethics” starring Rhea Seehorn earned a trophy for Outstanding Short Form Comedy or Drama Series, though the series proper never gained the same kudos.
5. Parks and Recreation (2009-2015)
This NBC mockumentary sitcom about the municipal misadventures within a tiny Indiana town made stars of Chris Pratt and Aubrey Plaza. It also failed to get any Emmy attention, with 16 nominations and zero wins. Co-creator Michael Schur told Entertainment Weekly in 2015 that star Amy Pohler had been nominated so many times that “the world just thinks that she’s won.”
6. MacGyver (1985-1992)
Secret agent Angus MacGyver (Richard Dean Anderson) used wits rather than weapons to outfox adversaries in this action-adventure show that nevertheless failed to improvise an Emmy win, despite Anderson's solid leading work and the show featuring some of the better stunt and action choreography of the era. The show was nominated just five times in categories like costuming, stunt coordination, make-up, and sound editing. It did get one impressive honor: MacGyver entered the Oxford English Dictionary as a verb meaning “to construct, fix, or modify in an improvised or inventive way, typically by making use of whatever items are at hand.”
7. Mystery Science Theater 3000 (1988-1999; 2017-Present)
One of the biggest cult classic comedies in television history was a little too garage-band-obscure for the Emmy crowd. Originally hosted by creator Joel Hodgson and then Mike J. Nelson, MST3K pitted a marooned space janitor and his robot companions Crow and Tom Servo against a marathon of bad movies. It received just two nods for Outstanding Writing in a Variety or Music Program. It did, however, win the prestigious Peabody Award in 1993. Tom Servo was on hand to accept.
8. Chappelle’s Show (2003-2006)
Comedian Dave Chappelle has evolved from ‘90s stoner comedies like Half-Baked to becoming a monologist stirring both applause and controversy. In between was Chappelle’s Show, a Comedy Central sketch series that contributed some of the funniest material the medium has ever seen. Emmy voters didn’t seem to agree: The show got just three nominations: one for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series; one for Outstanding Directing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Program; and one for Outstanding Writing For A Variety, Music, Or Comedy Program.
9. Married…With Children (1987-1997)
Fox’s first breakout hit was a rude deconstruction of the family sitcom, with aggrieved patriarch Al Bundy (Ed O’Neill) struggling to reconcile his life as a shoe salesman with his stressful domestic existence. The show received seven nominations for categories like editing, costuming, and lighting, but no wins. O’Neill would later be acknowledged for his work on Modern Family, and was nominated three times but never brought home the gold. Christina Applegate, who played vapid daughter Kelly Bundy, got a win in 2003 for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy for a spot on Friends.
10. Leave It to Beaver (1957-1963)
The wholesome family sitcom about affable Beaver Cleaver (Jerry Mathers) was practically a Norman Rockwell painting. But it failed to capture Emmy attention, scoring one nomination for Best Writing and one for the now-defunct Best New Program Series of the Year.