Emmys 2011: Is it unfair that 'Modern Family' dominates the supporting categories?

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modern-family-emmy-ad2.jpgWhen the Emmy nominees were announced last month, one of the biggest "OMG!" reactions from fans and critics alike was the revelation that all six of the adult actors from "Modern Family" were nominated in the supporting actor categories.

That wasn't such a big deal in the supporting actress in a comedy category, where both Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara were nominated. The real impact was in the supporting actor in a comedy category, where four of the six slots were taken by "Family" cast members. While this isn't the first time a category has been dominated by one show -- five actors from "Hill Street Blues" excluded everyone else for supporting actor in 1982 -- it is a rare occurrence.

That result must have had a chilling effect in the acting community -- or, at the very least, their agents and managers. "Modern Family" is a show that's a bona fide hit and seems destined for a long run. And, at some point, some of the child actors could score a nomination too (our bet is on Rico Rodriguez). Because of these factors, it seems that there may only be one or two available slots in the comedy supporting actor category for the foreseeable future, which must be a frustrating prospect to anyone not named Jon Cryer or Chris Colfer.

On the surface, it would look seem that it's patently unfair that "Modern Family" actors should dominate this category. After all, it's under their control to determine whether they submit themselves as a lead or supporting actor -- just ask Rob Lowe about that -- and it would stand to reason that a few of the actors would want to submit themselves as leads, just to spread the wealth a bit -- and so they're not siphoning votes from each other in the supporting category.

But think about "Modern Family" for a second: Who do you think could safely say he was a lead actor on the show? Remember, all three families represented on the show get more or less the same amount of screen time. Ed O'Neill has been a lead actor in his past, of course, but he didn't even get nominated in the supporting category last year. Ty Burrell, because his character of Phil carries so much of the comedic load at times, could be thought of as a lead. But that's just a "feel" thing; there's no real evidence that one of the actors dominates over the others.

That's because "Modern Family" is a true ensemble. It's not like "Cougar Town" or "Parks and Recreation," ensemble shows that have one obvious "star" ( Courteney Cox and Amy Poehler, respectively). It's more akin to "Friends," where each of the stars could be considered lead or supporting actors.

Because of that, you often saw Matthew Perry, Jennifer Aniston and Co. go back and forth between lead and supporting categories; they figured they could get away with either, so they submitted wherever they thought they had the best chance. Sometimes it's a "no divas" situation, where all the stars agree to submit as either lead or supporting, just so there isn't any rivalry or hard feelings (are you listening, Rob Lowe?).

The "no one is better than anyone else" principle is what's going on with "Modern Family," and it's commendable. But it might not last. You never know; one year Burrell, O'Neill, Jesse Tyler Ferguson or even defending supporting champ Eric Stonestreet may feel that they did the work of a lead in a particular year, breaking the logjam. Or, at some point, the academy will turn its loving gaze onto another show, only nominating one or two "Family" members in a particular year.

In other words, this may look unfair right now, but the longer the show is on the air, the less of a chance there is of this happening again. All you need for evidence is the aforementioned "Hill Street Blues"; by the time the show left the air in 1987, the only actor still getting nominations was Betty Thomas.
Photo/Video credit: 20th Century Fox TV (via Emmy Magazine)