They say it’s an honor just to be nominated, and that must be especially true for these actors. While the Emmys have given awards to many deserving performers, some of the most iconic TV characters and best performances have failed to win, despite multiple nominations. Here are 25 of the best performances that were nominated, but never won.
#26 Current Stars Who Haven’t Won an Emmy (Yet)
My list of 25 is entirely based on stars from shows that have ended, but there are plenty of current stars who, if they don’t win an Emmy, will be worthy of joining this list. Here are 10 examples of stars who have yet to win an Emmy as of 2010 despite getting multiple nominations.
Steve Carell as Michael Scott on The Office
Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute on The Office
Neil Patrick Harris as Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother
Mary-Louise Parker as Nancy Botwin on Weeds
Hugh Laurie as Dr. Gregory House on House
Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan on Dexter
Jon Hamm as Don Draper on Mad Men
John Slattery as Roger Sterling on Mad Men
Sandra Oh as Dr. Cristina Yang on Grey’s Anatomy
Chandra Wilson as Dr. Miranda Bailey on Grey’s Anatomy
#25 Jason Alexander as George Costanza on Seinfeld (7 nominations)
It seems kind of fitting that one of television’s biggest losers is also an Emmy loser, but when looking back, it’s hard to believe Michael Richards won three Emmys as Kramer but George got nothing.
#24 Peter Boyle as Frank Barone on Everybody Loves Raymond (7 nominations)
Just like Alexander, Boyle had more overall nominations than his co-star Brad Garrett, but it’s Garrett who won three times while the late, great Peter Boyle got nothing as the lovable curmudgeon.
#23 Lorraine Bracco as Dr. Jennifer Melfi on The Sopranos (4 nominations)
Tony’s wife Carmela may have won Edie Falco a slew of Emmys, but just as good was his therapist who didn’t get anything. After missing out on an Emmy the first three times as a Lead Actress, she switched to Supporting Actress and still didn’t win.
#22 Kim Cattrall as Samantha Jones on Sex and the City (5 nominations)
Cattrall’s sex-crazed Samantha was the most over-the-top character on the show, and while that typically leads to Emmys, Cattrall was shut-out while co-stars Sarah Jessica Parker and Cynthia Nixon won.
#21 Frances Conroy as Ruth Fisher on Six Feet Under (4 nominations)
The matriarch of the Fisher clan, Conroy was perfect as the repressed mom, but like the rest of this amazing cast, she never won.
#20 Julia Duffy as Stephanie Vanderkellen on Newhart (7 nominations)
The spoiled, rich maid, Duffy was the epitome of an Emmys bridesmaid, getting nominated every year but never winning.
#19 Calista Flockhart as Ally McBeal on Ally McBeal (3 nominations)
She may have been on the cover of Time as the face of feminism, but this revolutionary TV character never matched up to her groundbreaking female predecessors like Emmy winners Mary Tyler Moore, Lucille Ball or Bea Arthur.
#18 Victor Garber as Jack Bristow on Alias (3 nominations)
The beloved spy daddy added gravitas to this action series and his complex relationship with his daughter was well-acted, but sadly, Emmy voters couldn’t see past the fact that Alias was an action series.
#17 Jennifer Garner as Sydney Bristow on Alias (4 nominations)
Bad-ass Sydney Bristow was the role that made Jennifer Garner a star, and she delivered a multi-faceted performance that included family drama, romantic trouble and serious action. Yet despite saving the world, Emmy voters never gave her the award she deserved.
#16 Marla Gibbs as Florence Johnston on The Jeffersons (5 nominations)
The sassiest housekeeper in the history of TV, Gibbs stole the show, but sadly, never won the Emmy.
#15 John Goodman as Dan Conner on Roseanne (7 nominations)
Goodman played one of the best TV dads in history and stood toe-to-toe with Roseanne on the comedy, but he somehow never made it to the Emmy stage.
#14 Jane Kaczmarek as Lois on Malcolm in the Middle (7 nominations)
At a time when the Lead Actress for a Comedy race was incredibly diverse (Kaczmarek lost to six different women during her seven nominations), it’s slightly understandable how this great performance as a domineering mother could go overlooked, but that doesn’t make it right.
#13 Peter Krause as Nate Fisher on Six Feet Under (3 nominations)
Nate Fisher was the true lead of the series and it helped prove that Krause (who won over critics on Sports Night) could be a dramatic leading man. Sadly, like Conroy and all of his co-stars, this strong acting ensemble came up empty at the Emmys.
#12 Angela Lansbury as Jessica Fletcher on Murder, She Wrote (12 nominations)
That’s right, Cabot Cove’s most famous crime-solving old lady has been nominated 12 times for the role and never won. Even stranger, Lansbury has a total of 18 Emmy nominations in her career, with no wins.
#11 Hal Linden as Barney Miller on Barney Miller (7 nominations)
The captain of the 12th Precinct was nominated for seven straight years, but the star of one of TV’s most memorable police comedies never got the win.
#10 Elizabeth Montgomery as Samantha Stephens on Bewitched (5 nominations)
Montgomery was a staple at the Emmys in the early ‘70s, but while competing against the likes of Mary Tyler Moore and Lucille Ball, all the nose-twitching in the world couldn’t help TV’s most iconic witch.
#9 Bob Newhart as Dick London on Newhart (3 nominations)
If I told you Bob Newhart has never won an Emmy, you probably wouldn’t believe me, but it’s true. And with just three nominations for this series (and six total nominations), it’s one of the biggest Emmy crimes.
#8 Jerry Seinfeld as Jerry Seinfeld on Seinfeld (5 nominations)
How can Seinfeld not win for Seinfeld? The show helped guide Michael Richards and Julia-Louis Dreyfus to Emmys, but the man at the center got nothing.
#7 Garry Shandling as Larry Sanders on The Larry Sanders Show (5 nominations)
A revolutionary show that existed before cable was the hot new place for all shows, Shandling was a comedic genius as is proven by the fact that he also earned six nominations as a producer for Outstanding Comedy Series and seven nominations for writing, all for this show, and yet the only thing he won is a single Emmy for writing.
#6 Martin Sheen as President Jed Bartlet on The West Wing (6 nominations)
You’d think the president could get enough votes to win, but Sheen has more nominations without a win than any other leading actor in a drama.
#5 Jeffrey Tambor as Hank Kingsley on The Larry Sanders Show and George Bluth on Arrested Development (6 nominations total)
On two great shows, Tambor had brilliant and memorable roles that earned him a combined total of six nominations. Not winning for both is OK, but not winning for either is a travesty.
#4 Sam Waterston as Jack McCoy on Law and Order (3 nominations)
Waterston also got three nominations and no wins for his work on I’ll Fly Away, but it was his brilliant summations that helped Law and Order rule TV for so long, and it’s a shame he never got the verdict he deserved from Emmy voters.
#3 George Wendt as Norm Peterson on Cheers (6 nominations)
Everyone really did know his name, and Norm is easily the most iconic figure to come out of this TV show. Despite the fact that Cheers won Emmys for Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley, Shelley Long, Bebe Neuwirth, Rhea Perlman and Woody Harrelson, Norm didn’t get any love.
#2 Vanessa Williams as Wilhelmina Slater on Ugly Betty (3 nominations)
As the villainous queen bee of Mode, Williams delivered the kind of campy, extreme performance that almost always wins Emmys, but she was tragically shutout.
#1 Noah Wyle as Dr. John Carter on ER (5 nominations)
As the actor who appeared in more episodes of ER than anyone else, Wyle was the backbone of the show and an emotional entry point for viewers. Despite great work as the worthy surgery apprentice at the start of the series, Wyle, like everyone except for Julianna Margulies, failed to win for his role.