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Live ‘The Jeffersons,’ ‘All in the Family’ Special Poised to Shake Up Several Emmy Acting Races (EXCLUSIVE)

Michael Schneider

Marla Gibbs never won an Emmy for playing Florence Johnston on “The Jeffersons” for 11 seasons. But now she may get her chance.

Sony Pictures TV is submitting the cast of Wednesday night’s ABC special “Live in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s ‘All in the Family’ and ‘The Jeffersons'” for Emmy consideration — including Gibbs, who was a surprise, unannounced performer on the program, reprising her role as the Jeffersons’ maid.

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Live in Front of a Studio Audience” will compete in the outstanding variety special (live) race, which makes sense; the category is specifically for variety specials that are live, and the ABC event fits the bill.

But there is no category anymore for variety program performers, which poses a problem for events like “Live in Front of a Studio Audience.” Last year, NBC’s “Jesus Christ Superstar Live in Concert” successfully entered several of its stars in the outstanding limited series/TV movie performer categories (earning nominations for John Legend, Sara Bareilles and Brandon Victor Dixon), and that’s where Sony will submit the “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” players as well.

Specifically, being submitted in the outstanding lead actor and actress in a limited series/TV movie categories are Marisa Tomei (Edith Bunker), Woody Harrelson (Archie Bunker), Jamie Foxx (George Jefferson) and Wanda Sykes (Louise Jefferson).

In the outstanding supporting actor/actress in a limited series/TV movie categories, submissions will include Ellie Kemper (Gloria Stivic), Will Ferrell (Tom Willis), Kerry Washington (Helen Willis), Anthony Anderson (Uncle Henry), Fran Bennett (Mother Jefferson), Ike Barinholtz (Mike “Meathead” Stivic) and Gibbs.

The move could upend the limited series/TV movie acting races, adding some big names like Foxx, Harrelson, Tomei, Ferrell, Sykes and others to what is already a crowded field with A-list talent. Without them, the leading contenders in the limited series/TV movie actress race include Patricia Arquette, Amy Adams, Michelle Williams, Joey King, Julianna Margulies, Emma Stone and Connie Britton, while the actor race includes Mahershala Ali, Hugh Grant, Sam Rockwell, Ian McShane, Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro.

Sony is able to split genre categories because “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” fits the TV Academy’s loose definition of a television movie: “Defined as an original program, which tells a story with beginning, middle and end, and is broadcast in one part with a minimum running time of 75 minutes.” The special ran for 90 minutes, and the back-to-back “All in the Family” and “The Jeffersons” episodes had a loose thruline, as the Jeffersons appeared in both.

The ability to submit the “Live in Front of a Studio Audience” stars in limited series/TV movie categories also solves the issue of where to put the performers, as the TV Academy abolished a variety program performer category in 2008. Principal hosts and performers are allowed to be included on the entry for outstanding variety special (live), but there’s a limit of just five entrants. When executive producers like Jimmy Kimmel, Norman Lear and others are included, there’s no room for all the performers as well.

The original “All in the Family” did quite well at the Emmy Awards, winning outstanding comedy series in 1972, 1973 and 1978. In the lead comedy categories, Carroll O’Connor won four Emmys (out of eight nominations) for playing Archie Bunker, while Jean Stapleton, as Edith, was nominated eight times and won three of those.

Sally Struthers, as Gloria, was nominated five times as supporting comedy actress and won twice, while Rob Reiner, as Mike, was also nominated five times, and won two, in the comedy supporting actor field.

As for “The Jeffersons,” the show itself was never nominated for best comedy, but Isabel Sanford was nominated seven times for playing Louise Jefferson — and won the outstanding lead actress in a comedy Emmy in 1981. Sherman Hemsley, as George Jefferson, was nominated just once, in 1984, while Gibbs earned five nods as Florence during the show’s run.

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