Just over 91 years ago on July 2, 1928, the first commercially licensed television station in the United States, W3XK, began broadcasting. Though it took some time for the public to catch on to the exciting new medium, television has since become an instrumental part of life for most Americans. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 80% of Americans watch television daily, with the average American spending 2 hours and 47 minutes of their day in front of the “idiot box.”
Many Americans watch TV to keep up with the news, while others root for their favorite sports teams. For as long as there’s been broadcast television, however, there have been scripted dramas, comedies, and documentary series to entertain and inform viewers. These programs are recognized chiefly by the Emmy Awards, which have been given out every year since 1949. Though Regional and Daytime Emmys are given out to shows that meet those respective requirements, the most cultural discussion takes place around the Primetime and Creative Arts Emmys, which highlight outstanding achievement in the most-watched television programs.
Primetime Emmys award achievement in overall series quality, lead, and supporting acting, directing, and writing. Creative Arts Emmys recognize achievement in more technical fields, such as costumes, makeup, and special effects, as well as alternative programming, such as documentaries and variety shows. Despite the many categories, an Emmy win is a lifelong goal for many Hollywood stars, forming the ‘E’ in ‘EGOT,’ or the lifetime achievement of winning an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony.
Looking at the following list, it’s clear to see several distinct eras emerging, from the long-running sitcoms of the ’80s and ’90s to the new Golden Age of Television ushered in by the “Sopranos” and other premium programming. As streaming services like Apple TV+, Netflix, Disney+, and Amazon Prime Video join HBO in spending exorbitant sums on new content, it remains to be seen where television will go in the coming decade.
To generate a list of the most awarded television shows of all time, according to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, which administers the Emmy awards, Stacker has rounded up the top 25 Emmy-winning shows using the Emmys database. All drama, comedy, competition, variety, and limited series were considered, and shows were ranked by the number of Emmy wins, with ties broken by the number of nominations.
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- Wins: 16
- Nominations: 116
“Mad Men” is widely considered one of the best dramatic TV series of all time, despite being initially passed over by both HBO and Showtime before finding its home on AMC. Responsible for launching the careers of Jon Hamm, Elisabeth Moss, and Christina Hendricks, it won an Emmy for Outstanding Dramatic Series for each of its first four seasons. It won another three Primetime Emmys for Outstanding Writing (20082010), and Creative Arts Emmys in categories such as cinematography, art direction, hairstyling, and casting.
- Wins: 17
- Nominations: 58
“Space: the final frontier.” Those words, spoken by Patrick Stewart’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard, began every episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation,” the sequel to the original TV show. “The Next Generation” aired 178 episodes, with stories revolving around the crew of the starship Enterprise finding their place in an impossibly vast universe. “The Next Generation” never won a Primetime Emmy, though it was nominated for Outstanding Drama Series in 1994 for its final season. It did, however, win 17 Creative Arts Emmys in categories such as costume design, makeup, sound editing, and special effects.
- Wins: 17
- Nominations: 68
Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been praised as the “most successful sitcom star ever,” and though most Americans know her for her signature dance moves as Elaine from “Seinfeld,” it’s as “Veep’s” veep, Selina Meyer, that Louis-Dreyfus won six of her eight Primetime Emmy awards for acting, tied for the most ever. On the show, she plays a Machiavellian politician whose only goal is complete power, aided by her staff of various heartless politicos and senseless buffoons. The show has also won Primetime Emmys for its supporting actors, cinematography, writing, casting, and production design, while winning the coveted Outstanding Comedy Series Emmy three times.
- Wins: 17
- Nominations: 105
The only reality show on this list, “Dancing with the Stars” premiered in 2005 and has aired every year since then, racking up 437 episodes along the way. An American adaptation of the British TV show “Strictly Come Dancing,” each season sees a celebrity paired up with a professional dancer who are then eliminated by the audience and judges until only one pair remain. Emmy wins include Best Choreography, Outstanding Lighting Design, and Outstanding Technical Direction.
- Wins: 18
- Nominations: 34
The winner of three Outstanding Comedy Series awards, the sitcom “Taxi” aired for five seasons from 1978 to 1983, and focused on the lives of New York City taxi drivers and their demeaning dispatcher, Danny DeVito’s Louie De Palma. The show was known for tackling controversial and difficult issues, and won 15 more Emmys in lead and supporting acting, writing, directing, editing, and guest acting.
- Wins: 18
- Nominations: 62
“Murphy Brown,” and its beloved protagonist by the same name played by Candice Bergen, were common sights in American households between 1988 and 1998, airing 247 episodes over that decade, though a 2018 revival was cancelled following a single season. The sitcom focuses on Brown’s life as an investigative journalist, news anchor, and later, controversially, a single mother. Bergen won the Emmy for Lead Actress five times; the show also won Emmys for guest acting, best comedy series, writing, directing, editing, and costuming.
- Wins: 18
- Nominations: 91
Like “Murphy Brown,” Eric McCormack’s Will Truman and Debra Messing’s Grace Adler returned to TV screens after a long hiatus, but unlike “Murphy Brown,” the revival of “Will & Grace” was successful and the sitcom will culminate with its eleventh and final season next year. The show revolves around the friendship of its titular characters, Will, a gay lawyer, and Grace, an interior designer. The show is notable for its inclusion of a principal LGBTQ+ character and has won Emmys for outstanding show, lead and supporting acting, cinematography, art direction, guest acting, and editing.
- Wins: 20
- Nominations: 56
The PBS biography series “American Masters” has aired hundreds of episodes on writers, musicians, artists, and other figures who have had distinct impacts on American culture. Subjects include Maya Angelou, Aaron Copland, David Hockney, and 32 seasons’ worth of others. The show has won the Emmy for Outstanding Documentary or Nonfiction Series 10 times, along with awards for sound mixing and directing, among others.
- Wins: 20
- Nominations: 57
One of several HBO shows on this list, “Boardwalk Empire” won 20 Emmys across its run for directing, acting, casting, and art direction, among other categories. The critically acclaimed show followed Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson, a mob boss based upon the life of Enoch L. Johnson, who ascends to power in Atlantic City, N.J., in the 1920s and ’30s.
- Wins: 20
- Nominations: 68
The central conceit of “24” is as well-known as it is outlandish: Each episode tracked an hour of real time, and a full season of the show detailed a full day in the life of Kiefer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer, an agent of the fictional Counter-Terrorism Unit in Los Angeles. Though the characters rarely ate, slept, or went to the bathroom on camera, the series was praised for its nonstop action and gripping performances—it attracted criticism for its favorable portrayal of torture, however. The series would go on to win 20 Emmys in categories like writing, lead and supporting acting, editing, directing, and sound editing, along with one win for Outstanding Drama Series.
- Wins: 20
- Nominations: 84
The police procedural is an established TV drama, from the long-running “CSI,” “NCIS,” and “Law & Order” franchises to newer comedies like “Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” “NYPD Blue” ranks among the most beloved of them all, with critical acclaim spanning its twelve seasons; in 2013, Variety complained that broadcast television “lost its edge” after the show’s cancellation. The show racked up 16 Primetime Emmy wins for acting, writing, and directing, and four Creative Arts Emmy wins for casting, editing, and art direction.
- Wins: 21
- Nominations: 112
Few television shows have had as transformative an impact on the entertainment industry as “The Sopranos,” which established HBO as a dominating force in culture over its six seasons. Starring James Gandolfini as Tony Soprano, a mob boss balancing the demands of his particular line of work with his obligations to his family, the show was named the best-written TV show of all time by the Writers Guild of America and the best television show of all time by TV Guide and Rolling Stone. The show won Emmy awards for acting, writing, casting, editing, and makeup, winning Outstanding Drama Series in 2004 and 2007.
- Wins: 22
- Nominations: 55
Produced by nonagenarian legend Norman Lear, “All in the Family” was a sitcom that followed a working-class American family as they dealt with controversial issues such as racism, abortion, homosexuality, and the Vietnam War, which were considered taboo for a TV comedy. The series, which starred Carroll O'Connor, Jean Stapleton, Sally Struthers, and Rob Reiner, aired for nine seasons and earned 22 Emmys, including in categories such as acting, writing, directing, and sound mixing.
- Wins: 22
- Nominations: 82
“All in the Family,” throughout the ‘70s, presented Americans with an authentic depiction of a working-class family, and “Modern Family” took up that mantle by presenting three different types of families: one nuclear, one stepfamily, and one with same-sex parents. The sitcom was originally met with critical acclaim for its witty writing and charming performances, and has won 22 Emmys for acting, directing, writing, sound mixing, and casting, receiving the Outstanding Comedy Series award five times.
- Wins: 23
- Nominations: 60
Though “The Daily Show” has had three hosts over its tenure as the longest-running show on Comedy Central, all but one of its Emmys were won during Jon Stewart’s tenure as the sardonic, wise-cracking host of the political satire show. The show helped launch the careers of correspondents such as Steve Carell, Stephen Colbert, John Oliver, and Samantha Bee, and it won 23 Emmys in categories such as Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music or Comedy Program.
- Wins: 23
- Nominations: 124
TV’s counterpart to the police procedural is the medical drama, of which there have been countless iterations and new spins. “ER” is the second-longest-running medical drama, only surpassed by “Grey’s Anatomy,” in the history of television, and helped to launch the career of George Clooney, who received two Emmy nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor for his work on the show. “ER” won 23 Emmys, seven of them Primetime Awards.
- Wins: 25
- Nominations: 70
One of two sketch comedy programs on this list, “The Carol Burnett Show,” helmed by Carol Burnett, ran for 288 episodes, making Burnett a household name and establishing her as a comedy legend. With 25 Emmy wins, “The Carol Burnett Show” is an important staple of the sketch comedy genre and an honorary lifetime achievement Golden Globe award now bears Burnett’s name.
- Wins: 26
- Nominations: 95
While some shows launch their stars further into stardom, “The West Wing” is perhaps most responsible for the ascendance of Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the show and the lead writer for nearly all of its first four seasons, who’s known for his clever and quick dialogue and has since written for several television shows, movies, and plays. The show followed the cabinet of fictional President Josiah Bartlet, and has been influential not just in entertainment, but in the political world too, winning 26 Emmys over its seven-season run.
- Wins: 26
- Nominations: 98
Over 146 episodes, “Hill Street Blues” followed the lives of workers at a police station on the eponymous road in an unnamed city. Its record of eight Emmy wins for a single season was only beaten by “The West Wing,” which it tied for Emmy wins overall. Influential for its gritty and realistic portrayal of city life, the series hold several Emmy records; at the 34th Emmy Awards, all five nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actor hailed from “Hill Street.”
- Wins: 28
- Nominations: 117
The bar “where everybody knows your name” became a household staple throughout the ‘80s as “Cheers” dominated the airwaves. Led by performances from Ted Danson, Kelsey Grammer, Woody Harrelson, and Kirstie Alley, among others, the sitcom was nearly cancelled during its first season, eventually soldiering on to 28 Emmy wins.
- Wins: 29
- Nominations: 67
Candice Bergen recently said that there would be no “Murphy Brown” without “The Mary Tyler Moore Show,” which starred Moore as Mary Richards, a similarly career-focused, unmarried woman. With support from Edward Asner, Valerie Harper, and Betty White, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” broke barriers over its seven-season run, and won 29 Primetime Emmys, along with launching three spinoffs.
- Wins: 33
- Nominations: 92
The only animated series on this list, “The Simpsons” has an undeniable place in the pantheon of American television, being the longest-running sitcom of all time. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, and Maggie have graced American screens for over 30 years with their satirical depiction of middle-class, middle-American life. “The Simpsons,” helmed by creator Matt Groening, has won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Animated Program 10 times and the award for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance 16 times; the other seven awards are for its music and animation.
- Wins: 37
- Nominations: 107
It’s not often that a spinoff or sequel becomes even more beloved and successful than the original show; such is the case with “Frasier,” which follows the life of “Cheers” character Frasier Crane, a psychiatrist who returns to his native Seattle. Starring Kelsey Grammer in the title role, the show was praised for its wit and comedic timing. “Frasier” held on to the record for most Primetime Emmy wins until 2016, when it was overtaken by the next show on this list.
- Wins: 47
- Nominations: 160
An adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s sprawling, unfinished series, “A Song of Ice and Fire,” HBO’s “Game of Thrones” places among the most beloved fantasy series in television history. Over eight seasons, viewers were introduced to an expansive roster of characters and quickly learned not to get too attached, as even fan favorites weren’t spared from the possibility of sudden death and destruction. The series has won the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series three times out of eight consecutive nominations, and has also been recognized for its acting performances, directing, writing, costumes, makeup, and many more Creative Arts fields.
- Wins: 62
- Nominations: 260
Thousands of sketches. Hundreds of unique celebrity guests. Countless laughs. This is the legacy of “Saturday Night Live,” NBC’s decades-long sketch show that has launched superstars in acting, writing, and music. From controversial events broadcast live to millions of viewers to presidential elections being satirized by the show’s ever-changing cast, Lorne Michaels’ “SNL” has established its place as a top influence upon American culture over its 44 years and 871 episodes, winning more Emmy awards than any other television show in history.
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