For ‘Better Call Saul,’ it’s an honor just to be nominated. No, really

The Emmys don’t hand out participation trophies, but maybe they should. Because while it’s understandable in an awards culture prone to emphasize “snubs” and “surprises” that people would focus on “Better Call Saul” finishing its run without ever winning an Emmy, that puts the emphasis in the wrong place, ignoring the track record of sustained excellence that made that dubious record possible.

The ”Breaking Bad” spinoff ran six seasons, amassing 53 Emmy nominations in various categories without ever taking one home. At first blush that outcome sounds vaguely insulting, especially given that its sire won 16 Emmys, two of those for outstanding drama.

Still, even allowing for the sense the Bob Odenkirk vehicle was never quite as compelling as its predecessor (hardly a slight), focusing on its “losses” overlooks other factors that impact awards success, including the competitive landscape the show faced and the higher hurdles for projects airing on less prestige-hungry networks, in this case AMC, versus rivals like HBO and Netflix.

Specifically, “Better Call Saul” had the misfortune to play opposite “Game of Thrones,” a for-the-ages HBO drama that conquered the Emmys in unprecedented fashion. “Thrones’” final season coincided with the first of “Succession,” which amounted to an awards-collecting baton pass for the pay channel (which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery).

As if that weren’t bad enough, “Saul” also overlapped with Netflix’s “The Crown,” another awards darling with the splashiest possible subject matter, focusing on the British Royal family.

It’s also worth noting the AMC show is hardly the first acclaimed series to conclude its run without much hardware to show for it.

HBO's "The Wire," featuring Dominic West (left), is considered by some the best series ever and shares the distinction of never having won an Emmy. - Paul Schiraldi/IMDB
HBO's "The Wire," featuring Dominic West (left), is considered by some the best series ever and shares the distinction of never having won an Emmy. - Paul Schiraldi/IMDB

There’s perhaps no better example of that than HBO’s “The Wire,” hailed by many critics as the best TV show of all time, which received only two Emmy nominations (both for writing) and didn’t win either. Again, the show happened to overlap with Hall of Fame-type series like “The Sopranos,” “The West Wing” and “Lost,” and more subtly, likely faced racial overtones in terms of Television Academy voters singling out members of its sprawling cast.

In a broader sense, awards are seldom a particular good gauge of popularity, as the “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” gang wryly noted Monday in citing their lack of attention on Emmy night. Having enough fans to keep that show on the air for its record-setting run doesn’t equate to enough people who think it’s worthy of nominations, much less statuettes.

Granted, in a culture often defined by the late Raiders owner Al Davis’ mantra “Just win, baby,” finding the silver lining in mere recognition – the whole “It’s an honor just to be nominated” thing – might sound hollow. Susan Lucci, famously, “lost” 18 times before finally receiving a Daytime Emmy for “All My Children,” a long-running source of curiosity that tended to focus on the futility of that streak, not her talent and endurance.

Still, it really is an honor to be nominated, and inevitably, there are more also-rans than winners. There’s also no denying the significance of timing, as admirers of “L.A. Confidential” often lament, the 1997 film that received two Oscars but probably would have claimed several more had it not been swept aside by a “Titanic” wave.

Adopting that glass-half-full point of view, 53 Emmy nominations for “Better Call Saul,” and a robust six-year run? As a certain shady lawyer might say, “It’s all good, man.”

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