Star Maker or Doorstop? Emmy Winners on the Value of the Award

For actors like Melissa McCarthy, winning an Emmy is a big deal. But others question the award’s value outside of bragging rights.
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Are Melissa McCarthy and Peter Dinklage now household names? The plus-sized actress walked off with the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series, beating out veteran funny women, including past winners Edie Falco (Nurse Jackie) and Tina Fey (30 Rock). And the 4'5" Dinklage nabbed the supporting drama actor statue for HBO's Game of Thrones, his first Emmy after a career as a journeyman player.

“I’d never had [a lead role] before,” gushed a still overwhelmed McCarthy backstage at the Nokia Theatre.

McCarthy was literally crowned -- with a diamond tiara and a bouquet of red roses -- the Emmy winner. And her heartfelt acceptance speech (“Wow! It’s my first and best pageant ever! Holy smokes!”) delighted the A-list crowd.

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Asked backstage what value winning the Emmy will have on his career, Dinklage mused: “That will be interesting. You never know going into anything how it will affect the public.”

During his acceptance speech, Dinklage thanked his fellow nominees: Mad Men’s John Slattery; Andre Braugher from Men of a Certain Age; Justified’s Walton Goggins and The Good Wife’s Josh Charles and Alan Cumming. “Come on, any of you guys could be up here,” said Dinklage.

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Sure, nabbing the Emmy means weeks if not months of bragging rights for the recipient and an instantly recognizable marketing trademark to slap on network promos and DVD sets.

Matthew Weiner’s Mad Men has won the outstanding drama Emmy each of the four seasons it has been on. No mean feat, Weiner told The Hollywood Reporter.

“It was huge. It literally translates into publicity for the show,” says Weiner.

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Julianna Margulies picked up the Emmy for lead actress in a drama for The Good Wife, an award she was also nominated for last year. But this year, CBS is moving Good Wife from the Tuesdays to Sundays at 9 p.m. where it will have to compete with marquee dramas on cable including HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

“Everyday is a fight over ratings,” said co-creator and executive producer Robert King. “So anything like that is good. With our move to Sunday we really want a higher profile.”

Laura Linney -- who was the odds-on favorite to win the comedy Emmy that ended up in McCarthy’s hands -- says for a first year show, a nomination let alone a win, can be an entre for viewers who may not have considered a show that treats breast cancer as a comic device.

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“For our show [The Big C], which was considered a risky undertaking, it validates that something about it is working,” Linney told THR. “That’s very nice. And hopefully [that] will give people who are a little nervous to watch it… permission to tune in.”

PBS' Downton Abbey dominated the newly combined movie and miniseries category, winning four Emmys on Sunday night, including outstanding miniseries and supporting actress (Maggie Smith), more than Mildred Pierce or any of HBO’s additional entries. The category heretofore played at the Emmy telecast like a mid-show commercial for HBO. Creator and writer Julian Fellowes characterized Downton’s win as a David and Goliath story.

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“HBO has tremendous marketing and advertising muscle behind it,” said Masterpiece executive producer Rebecca Eaton. “This is about a show that stands on its merits and the Academy recognized that. I’m very proud of it.”

Fellows said that the Emmy is “recognition for your work.” And with the second season of Downton Abbey coming in January 2012, that awareness can be critical. “When you make these programs you so want them to find their audience and register,” he said.

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And if you suddenly find yourself out of work, a recently won Emmy could be a nice calling card.

“To be selected [from] among so many fabulous actors feels very gratifying,” said Margo Martindale, who at 60 years old picked up her first Emmy for FX’s Justified and will be seen this season in the CBS drama A Gifted Man. But, adds Martindale, “[I’m] not getting more offers because I’m not available.”

But unlike an Oscar -- which sends consumers to the box-office -- the Emmy does not appear to have much quantifiable value beyond the branding benefit of the television industry’s good housekeeping seal of approval.

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“I think its value is questionable,” said David Nevins, president of entertainment, Showtime Networks.

Nevins’ is an executive producer on Friday Night Lights, which finally garnered Emmy recognition for lead actor Kyle Chandler and executive producer Jason Katims, who nabbed the Emmy for drama series writing.

“It’s a little bit more questionable for network shows but for Showtime, there’s no question that it enhances prestige and the perception of quality. That’s what we sell as a subscription, we want people to feel like the best shows in television are on Showtime.”

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For some series, the Emmy can keep be part of a life-extending regimen if not a ratings bonanza. Fox’s Arrested Development picked up five Emmys in 2004 for its first season including outstanding comedy series, but it never became a ratings hit. NBC’s 30 Rock has been a perennial Emmy darling and is still a ratings also-ran.

“Anything that’s very legitimate and mainstream that says ‘good’ is very positive for a show that’s small from a small network,” says Louis C.K., who was nominated as outstanding actor in a comedy for his semiautobiographical FX series Louie.

“It doesn’t necessarily mean more people will watch it, but it will extend our time a little more, maybe. And it’ll reward the network and the people that let me do it, that’s what matters.”

Whatever the Emmy does -- or doesn’t do -- for his career, Dinklage does have one practical use for the six-pound gold-plated piece of hardware.

“It’s going to wind up holding a door open at my house."