The Emmys: The History of Outstanding Comedy - ABC

Last summer, I began a series of articles that reviewed how each network performed in the outstanding comedy Emmy category. I will be continuing this series starting with ABC. Before we get to that, you can read my past Emmy articles below.

The Emmys: The History of Outstanding Comedy - Introduction

The Emmys: The History of Outstanding Comedy - CBS

The Emmys: The History of Outstanding Comedy - NBC

Sherry Jackson and
Danny Thomas in
Make Room for Daddy.

The alphabet network had a rough start in the outstanding comedy category. In 1952 and 1953, they managed to get only one comedy nominated, The Herb Shriner Show and The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet respectively. In today's landscape, that would be quite a feat. But, with only 3 big networks at the time, it was rather disappointing. In comparison, CBS and NBC each had two comedies nominated in both years and both also managed to win the Emmy, NBC in 1952 and CBS in 1953. Things got even worse the following year where ABC didn't receive a single nomination in the category. But, ABC's fortune turned around in 1955 when Make Room for Daddy took home the award. It was the first win for the alphabet network, and it would be the only win of that decade. In 1956, Make Room for Daddy was once again nominated, but it couldn't manage to win a second year in a row. The following year, the series moved to CBS and was renamed as The Danny Thomas Show. This new incarnation managed to get nominated in 1959 and again in 1960, but it was no longer ABC's property. For the remainder of the 50's, ABC had 0 nominations and 0 wins. Things wouldn't brighten up for ABC in the following decade and it became clear that the network wouldn't be much of a threat in the category.

Wins: 1

Nominations: 4

Elizabeth Montgomery and Dick Sargent in Bewitched. 
The 60's were arguably a worse decade than the 50's for the network. To begin, ABC was entirely absent from the outstanding comedy category in 1960. In 1961, The Flintstones became the first animated series to be nominated for an outstanding comedy and it marked ABC's first nomination of the decade. After yet another year of absence, ABC regained momentum in 1963 with a nomination for McHale's Navy. The following year, the series was nomination once more alongside The Farmer's Daughter. This marked the first time that ABC got two comedies nominated in the category. Unfortunately, neither would make an appearance again. No comedy was nominated or given the award in 1965, but ABC once again saw two comedies nominated in 1966, Bewitched and Batman. While Batman would not receive another nomination, Bewitched was nominated until the decade's end. Overall, while Bewitched got 4 Emmy nominations in total, it never actually won the award. In all, ABC didn't get a single win in this category for the decade. This bad luck would continue for a while, but things would soon turn around for the alphabet network.

Wins: 0

Nominations: 9

The Cast of Barney Miller. 
CBS was a powerhouse in this decade with the bulk of Emmys being won by either All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show. In total, a CBS comedy received the award 8 out of 10 times from 1970 to 1979. ABC managed to get 3 comedies nominated in 1970, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Love, American Style, and Room 222. All three were in their first seasons, but none managed to win. Love, American Style was nominated once more in 1971 alongside The Odd Couple. The latter was the only comedy from ABC to receive a nomination for a while. It got one again in 1972 and 1974, but the network was entirely absent in 1973 and 1975. ABC made a comeback in 1976 as cop comedy Barney Miller and Welcome Back Kotter both took home nominations. Barney Miller would receive a nomination once more the following year. In 1978, ABC once more had three nominated comedies. Barney Miller, Soap, and Three's Company were all nominated, but yet again, none managed to win. Finally, in 1979, 24 years after their last win, ABC took home an award for the Judd Hirsch and Danny DeVito vehicle, Taxi. Alongside Taxi, Barney Miller received its fourth nomination while Mork and Mindy, Robin Williams's first sitcom, also got its first nomination. While ABC got a win, it had only ever won twice in the category at the time which paled in comparison to NBC and CBS. Nevertheless, things would only get better for the alphabet network in the following decade.

Wins: 1

Nominations: 16

The title card for The Wonder Years.
Unlike the previous decades, ABC started the 80's off in strong fashion. Right off the bat, Taxi won the Emmy for the second year in a row. In the same year, Barney Miller was nominated for the fifth time and Soap received its second nomination. Taxi continued its streak in 1981, winning for the third time in a row. At the time, it tied several other sitcoms (including All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show) for the most consecutive wins in the category. Barney Miller and Soap were yet again nominated. This marked the 6th consecutive time that Barney Miller got a nomination in the category. Finally, after being nominated for every season sans its first, Barney Miller took home the award in 1982 for its eighth and final season. Taxi was still nominated this year, but Soap was not eligible as it had been canceled after four seasons. From 1979 to 1982, ABC won double the amount of Emmys that it had won in the span of 26 years. Unfortunately, ABC's streak came to a screeching halt. Taxi was nominated the following year but the series had made a network switch to NBC, so ABC ended up being entirely absent in 1983. It was beginning to look like ABC was back to square one as not a single ABC comedy was nominated from 1984-1987. Finally, in 1988, The Wonder Years won the award in its first season. While it wouldn't win again, it was nominated once more in 1989. Overall, it's safe to say that the 80's was ABC's best decade in this category for the time being. While they didn't receive any nominations for a couple of years, they garnered a total of four wins, more than the other decades combined. It's also safe to say that the 90's would go down as one of their worst.

Wins: 4

Nominations: 10

Tim Allen, the star
 of Home Improvement.
The 90's marked the start of ABC's signature TGIF sitcom lineup. Despite this, none of those comedies even garnered a nomination. The Wonder Years was nominated again in 1990 and 1991 for its third and fourth seasons respectively, but would not return again. The following year, Tim Allen's Home Improvement took home a nomination for its first season. It would receive one again in 1993 and 1994, but it never managed to win. ABC would not make an appearance in the category from 1995-1999. Newer faces began appearing in the 90's like HBO which managed to score a couple nominations for The Larry Sanders Show and FOX which managed to win the award for the Ally McBeal show in 1999. Things were looking absolutely awful for the alphabet network, but the worst was still yet to come.

Wins: 0

Nominations: 5
The cast of Desperate Housewives. 

There's almost nothing to say about this decade. ABC wouldn't even reappear in the category until 2005, eleven years after its last nomination. Desperate Housewives was the series that received it, even though it was more of a dramedy than a comedy. ABC would receive a nomination for another dramedy in 2007, Ugly Betty, but that would be the only other nomination for the decade. Clearly, ABC had hit rock bottom. Younger networks like HBO and FOX had both won the award once and had many more nominations. But, like their comeback in the 80's, ABC would have a renaissance in the following decade.

Wins: 0

Nominations: 2

The title card for Modern Family. 
In 2009, Modern Family arrived on a comedy-starved ABC and instantly became a critical and commercial success. In 2010, for the first time in 22 years, ABC took home the Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series for Modern Family. That was not the end of its Emmy career. Modern Family would win a total of five consecutive times, tying NBC's Fraiser for most consecutive wins. In 2015, Modern Family finally lost the crown to HBO's Veep. Last year, ABC's Black-ish received a nomination for best comedy alongside Modern Family. Those two ended up being the only network sitcoms to be nominated for the 2016 ceremony. In an instant, ABC went from the network that was fading into obscurity to the only broadcast network to receive nominations against an onslaught of cable networks and streaming services. CBS and FOX have mostly faded away with their last nominations being in 2014 and 2012. Even NBC, which was a powerhouse in the 2000s, didn't receive a single comedy nomination last year. ABC has already passed every other decade in number of wins, so even if they don't get a sixth win, this decade still goes down as a massive success.

Wins: 5

Nominations: 8

The Breakdown
In total, ABC has won 11 Emmys for outstanding comedies and been nominated 54 times. Below are two graphs showing ABC's trend in the category.

Judging by this data, it's clear that there is absolutely no trend. ABC has gone more than two decades at a time without a win and several years without a nomination, but somehow, it's managed to turn things around.

It's tough to say if ABC is a winner in this category. It has been around just as long as NBC and CBS, but it has less than half the nominations that the other two have (54 vs 113 and 110 respectively) and only 11 wins while the other two have had 26 and 22 wins respectively. Aside from its stint in the 80's, ABC was never really at the same competitive level as the other two. This may be because that ABC was never home to powerhouse critical darlings like the others. For example, CBS had a variety of different Emmy winners (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, I Love Lucy, MASH) as did NBC (Cheers, Friends, Fraiser, The Golden Girls, Murphy Brown). All shows listed won multiple Emmys. While shows like Barney Miller and Taxi are still recognizable today, they were never as relevant and well-known as the shows listed above. It makes sense that ABC only won 6 Emmys in the category from 1952 to 2009. Still, it looks like ABC is getting the last laugh. It's the only broadcast network that has a fighting chance at winning the Emmy this year and has become a legitimate threat to the new generation of Amazon and Netflix. Sure, Modern Family is just one show, but they even got Black-ish in the ring. While it was commonplace for broadcast networks to have two or even three of their shows nominated, it's unheard of for one to have two in an era where streaming and cable are kings. CBS, NBC, and FOX couldn't even score one nomination and haven't been a real threat in a while. In the end, maybe ABC wasn't much of a competitor back in the day, but it's really showing up the other networks in today's landscape. 

As always, leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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