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Emmy Icons Reveal 10 Tips For Hollywood Greatness

In the The Hollywood Reporter's special 4-cover Emmy issue, an elite group explain how the sometimes life-changing Emmy helped them make a real impact on their industry.

Michael J. Fox Emmy Icons Portrait - H 2011
Wesley Mann

Getting an Emmy nomination is a career changer. Winning an Emmy is a life changer. And then there's the select circle of Emmy winners whose names and accomplishments transcend their 30 seconds at the awards podium. These are the Emmy Icons.

In anticipation of Sunday's 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards, THR gathered some of these distinguished Emmy-winners together to recall what their wins meant to them and how it altered the path their careers have taken since then.

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Not every Emmy is the same, so these winners came together in different groups. There's the Drama Kings and the Network Gods, the groundbreaking Lady Cops and the tough guy Jersey Boys. There's one Emmy winner who's continued to collect trophies even as he's had to incorporate his ongoing battle against Parkinson's disease into his most recent roles. And another who cast off his lucrative nice guy image to take a chance on the dark side and still collected Emmy gold.

As they joked and reminisced about the Emmy Award and their careers, they shared the kind of keen insight that can only come from entreating one of Hollywood's most elite circles.

Here are some of the most fascinating facts from this week's THR cover story:

1. EMMY WINNERS KNOW HOW TO HIRE TALENT

David Milch (24 noms, 4 wins) and Steven Bochco (34 noms, 10 wins) gave 24 creator Joel Surnow (7 noms, 2 wins) his first job in TV as a writer on their short-lived series Bay City Blues. Surnow remembers, "It was 1983… and I knew nothing about TV. Watching David and Steven orchestrate the writers room and throw ideas around was my intro to television. I feel everything I need to know I learned there."

2. IN MODERN TV ANIMATION, ALL ROADS LEAD TO 'THE SIMPSONS'

Family Guy, American Dad and The Cleveland Show creator Seth MacFarlane (12 noms, 3 wins) gives full credit to Simpsons creator Matt Groening (31 noms, 12 wins) for paving the way. "Matt has influenced every primetime animated series that came after it. He reinvented the genre," he says. The Simpsons continues to make its mark -- it's 23rd season will begin on Sept. 25 as it heads toward its 500th episode.

3. NOTHING CAN BEAT GOOD TEAMWORK

Cagney & Lacey ran from 1981 to 1988 and during that time its two stars Tyne Daly (16 noms, 6 wins) and Sharon Gless (10 noms, 2 wins) dominated the drama actress category for six years. Gless won her first in 1986 and remembers it well: "When you've lost to Tyne Daly three years in a row and you finally hear your name, it's explosive," she says. "I remember I was wearing a yellow gown."

4. AWARDS ARE GREAT, BUT THEY'RE DANGEROUS

Sopranos creator David Chase (23 noms, 6 wins) offers a blunt appraisal of Hollywood's penchant for self-congratulation. "It's like being a rat in a box," he says. "It's like drugs, a real rush of endorphins. If it goes on too long, it can actually become habit-forming." Chase has said he's done with series TV. He's moved on to features, with his first film set to star Tony Soprano himself, James Gandolfini.

5. SMART CAREER MOVES ARE NOT ALWAYS OBVIOUS

Former NBC West Coast president Don Ohlmeyer remembers the scathing Time magazine article published on his first day at the job, Feb. 3, 1993. "Cosby was gone, Cheers was leaving, Letterman had gone to CBS -- they had no chance of ever coming back," the retired executive says of the article's thesis. "I remember sitting in my office thinking, 'What the f-- have I done?' " Twenty-two months later, NBC had soared to No. 1 on the strength of such hits as Friends and ER.

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6. THE ODDS ARE NOT ALWAYS ON THEIR SIDE

Michael Chiklis (2 noms, 1 win) was on a tiny cable series, The Shield, up against the network TV juggernauts The West Wing and 24 when he won in 2002. "I remember [former FX president] Peter Liguori calling me the night before and saying: 'I'm pulling for you, but you probably can't win this. We only have nine voting members of the academy at FX. You need a mass,' That was the greatest thing: We were giant-killers."

7. THERE ARE SOME THINGS EVEN AN EMMY WINNER WON'T DO

Lily Tomlin (16 noms, 4 wons) didn't join Rowan and Martin's Laugh In until 1969, when the show had already established a reputation for pushing boundaries and "taking hypocrites and abusers to task." She says, "Even with my limited politics, I would still say things that I might not say 10 years later. But even in the old days, I would tell George, 'I can't say this joke, it's sexist!' And George would say, 'Babe, you don't have to,' and yell out, 'Jo Anne!'"

8. ROLE MODELS CAN BE FANS TOO

Sitcom legend Mary Tyler Moore (15 noms, 6 wins) is now is a tireless spokeswoman for diabetes and international chairwoman of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. And while her charity work keeps her busy (she's an animal rights activist too), Moore still finds time to watch shows like The Office and Mike & Molly and declares 30 Rock star Tina Fey "wonderful." Says Moore of her fellow funny ladies. "For a long time, people thought women couldn't get laughs, so every time I see a woman get one, I'm personally tickled."

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9. NICE GUYS FINISH FIRST; BAD GUYS, TOO

Bryan Cranston (6 noms, 3 wins) took a chance when he transitioned from nice guy dad on Malcolm in the Middle to a nice-guy-turned-bad-guy on AMC's hit series Breaking Bad. "To start a show with a family man, who never got a parking ticket, become a hardened criminal was something no series had done before, he adds. "He changes from Mr. Chips to Scarface." Cranston's recent Emmy kudos also have given his film résumé a serious jolt: He has 14 movie roles slated through 2012, including playing military official Lyle Haggerty in Contagion. "I'd always wanted to work with Steven Soderbergh," says Cranston. "It turns out he was a fan of Breaking Bad."

10. DRAMATIC LIFE CHANGES DON'T END CAREERS

When Michael J. Fox (13 noms, 5 wins) revealed in 1998 that he had been suffering from early-onset Parkinson's disease, most assumed his acting career was over. But he has stayed in the game. This year, he received his 13th Emmy nomination for a guest arc on the CBS drama The Good Wife. For his role as wily litigator Louis Canning, his affliction was written into the storyline as the neurological disorder tardive dyskinesia, which Canning uses to disarm hostile witnesses and elicit sympathy from jurors. (He'll reprise the role for multiple episodes in the drama's third season as well.) "It's part of who I am," says Fox. "I can't act it away, so I have to incorporate it. I don't get to work that much anymore, so when I do, any kind of acknowledgment that it's watched and appreciated means a lot to me. It's truly one of those things where the nomination is the big prize."