Among the most familiar faces at the Emmys in the 1990s were David Hyde Pierce and Bebe Neuwirth, honored for their iconic turns on Frasier and Cheers, respectively.
For his portrayal of Niles Crane, brother to Kelsey Grammer’s Frasier Crane, Pierce was a dominant force in the category of Comedy Supporting Actor, scoring 11 nominations – a category record – from 1994 to 2004, along the way picking up four trophies. His run tied John Larroquette’s quartet of victories from Night Court in the 1980s, with both just one trophy short of Don Knotts’ (The Andy Griffith Show) all-time category record of five.
Neuwirth, recognized for her turn as Lilith Sternin, Frasier’s wife (and later ex-wife), saw her Emmy run earlier in the decade, as she scored two consecutive Comedy Supporting Actress trophies in 1990 and 1991. A Comedy Guest Actress nomination in 1995 would follow for Frasier, as would one nom outside the Cheers–Frasier universe – in Limited Series Supporting Actress for Dash and Lilly in 1999.
Remarkably, despite these commanding runs, neither Pierce nor Neuwirth have since surfaced at the Emmys. That may be about to change this year as the stars find themselves once again in Comedy Supporting Actor and Comedy Supporting Actress contention, this time for their acclaimed performances on Julia. The new series finds Pierce and Neuwirth taking on the roles of Paul Child and Avis DeVoto, husband and lifelong friend to legendary chef Julia Child, here portrayed by Sarah Lancashire.
What are the odds Pierce and Neuwirth this year make Emmy comebacks? Let’s dive into their respective categories.
In both cases, Pierce and Neuwirth will be facing the most crowded of fields, jam-packed with fellow past winners and nominees. Seven of last year’s eight Comedy Supporting Actor nominees – Ted Lasso’s Brendan Hunt, Nick Mohammed, Jeremy Swift and winner Brett Goldstein; Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson and Bowen Yang; and Hacks’ Carl Clemons-Hopkins – are again eligible and will be plenty formidable in their bids for return nominations.
Also back in action are past winners Tony Shalhoub (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and Henry Winkler (Barry), a pair of Emmy favorites from programs certain to score heaps of Emmy recognition, plus several past nominees, including Brian Tyree Henry (Atlanta), Andre Braugher (Brooklyn Nine-Nine) and Anthony Carrigan & Stephen Root (Barry), who certainly cannot be counted out. Potential first-time Comedy Supporting Actor nominees include Harvey Gullen (What We Do in the Shadows), Ben Schwartz (The Afterparty) and LaKeith Stanfield (Atlanta).
To put it mildly, this is a chaotic field – and eyebrow-raising snubs are all but inevitable with so many formidable contenders in play. It’s easy to see how Pierce, whose program does not appear poised for a massive haul of nominations, could get overlooked.
Comedy Supporting Actor is a category, however, with a rich history of welcoming past Emmy mainstays back to the awards. Just last year, for instance, saw fellow ‘90s Emmy favorite (for Mad About You) Paul Reiser make a return with his Comedy Supporting Actor nomination for The Kominsky Method. Shalhoub and Winker also made their Emmy comebacks here after lengthy absences. Voters’ penchant for honoring familiar faces, coupled with Pierce’s plenty warm notices, could be enough to secure him a slot.
Perhaps even more packed and challenging to project is the field in Comedy Supporting Actress, where all seven of last year’s nominees – Ted Lasso’s Juno Temple and winner Hannah Waddingham; Saturday Night Live’s Aidy Bryant, Kate McKinnon and Cecily Strong; Hacks’ Hannah Einbinder; and The Flight Attendant’s Rosie Perez – are eligible. All but certain to return is The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel’s Alex Borstein, a two-time winner in this category.
Beyond these contenders are a plethora of past nominees and newcomers vying for nominations. Potential returning nominees include Zazie Beetz (Atlanta), Sarah Goldberg (Barry), Marin Hinkle (The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel) and Yvonne Orji (Insecure), with Janelle James, Sheryl Lee Ralph & Lisa Ann Walter (all of Abbott Elementary) and Amy Ryan (Only Murders in the Building) among those on the hunt for their first career Emmy nominations. Also not to be underestimated are past Emmy winners Cynthia Nixon (And Just Like That…) and Holland Taylor (The Chair).
Like Comedy Supporting Actor, Comedy Supporting Actress is destined to deliver some heartbreaking snubs on nominations morning – there are just so many great and formidable contenders. As is the case with Pierce, it may be challenging for a contender like Neuwirth, whose program isn’t on track to earn a plethora of nominations, to break through.
Nonetheless, there is also precedent for past Emmy favorites staging comebacks in this category. In 2018, for instance, past winners Laurie Metcalf (Roseanne) and Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) returned to the category without their shows otherwise netting significant recognition. And in the event Julia does have an all-around healthy showing in nominations, perhaps including a bid in Comedy Series, it’s easy to see the likes of Neuwirth and Pierce riding that wave to recognition.
Ultimately, are Pierce and Neuwirth shoo-ins to score Emmy returns? Hardly – but, then again, very few contenders here are sure bets. The exceedingly unpredictable nature of their categories, coupled with terrific reviews and voters’ penchant for bringing back past winners, makes them Emmy players who very much need to be taken seriously.
Photo: Seacia Pavao/HBO Max