Emmy Math: Why It's Better to Be a Perennial Loser Than a First-Time Nominee (Analysis)

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'Downton Abbey' (left), 'The Big Bang Theory'

The fact that 'Downton Abbey' and 'The Big Bang Theory' both have multiple best drama and comedy noms, but no wins, doesn't mean they are out of the running at all.

When the Emmy Awards nominations are announced July 14, the nominees who are also previous winners in the best drama and best comedy series categories will, statistically, be in the best position to claim those top prizes at the awards ceremony on Sept. 14.

But that doesn’t mean that a winner couldn’t emerge from among those shows that have been previously nominated but failed to win or from among the rookie nominees, who are being invited to the party for the first time.

In Thursday’s article, using Emmy data from 2003 on, I analyzed where the most champions come from — whether from previous losers, first-time nominees or past winners, which resulted in the following chart. 

Yellow represents shows that won, and blue means the show lost. So at a glance, the answer is clear: For both dramas and comedies, success begets success. And if you can’t be a show on a winning streak, it’s better to at least be a rookie than to enter riding a string of losses.

But that’s not the whole story. Let’s drill down into the left column, which represents nominees that have been on a losing streak. It represents a total of 79 nominees, more than half of all nominees from 2003 to 2015. Just seven of those shows went on to win, a weak nine-percent success rate considering the fact that among all nominees during that period 17 percent of all shows emerged victorious.

Just how bad were their losing streaks? Of the 57 nominees on one- or two-year losing streaks, only two took home the prize. That’s less than four percent, a terrible track record. The lone pair to break the trend were Everybody Loves Raymond in 2005 and The Sopranos in 2007, and both had previous wins under their belt, even if they entered those years after brief one-year losing streaks.

But of the 22 nominees on losing streaks of more than two years, a perfectly respectable six came out on top. That’s 27 percent, actually better the average, and even better than the rate for first-time nominees. So if you’re going to enter Emmy night on a losing streak, you better hope it’s a lengthy one.

What does all of this mean for this year’s potential crop of contenders? Veep and Game of Thrones will be the only two entering on winning streaks, both having won last year, so they will have to be considered the strongest nominees in their respective categories.

Should any first-timers crash the party, such as Master of None, Black-ish or Mr. Robot, they’ll also be in the running.

But the annual runners-up — Downton Abbey and House of Cards, which have four and three previous noms without a win, respectively, and The Big Bang Theory, which has gone zero-for-four noms in the best comedy category — should not be counted out if they wind up on the nominees list. In fact, if any shows are going to defeat Veep and Game of Thrones, these repeat losers will have a better chance of doing so than any rookie nominees that make the cut.

Ben Zauzmer (@BensOscarMath) uses math to predict and write about the entertainment awards for The Hollywood Reporter. He recently graduated from Harvard with a degree in applied math, and he now works as a baseball analyst for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

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