For any TV fan, the Emmy Awards are like the Oscars: A night to either have a viewing party with friends, or curl up on the couch solo with some wine or hot cocoa, a bag of popcorn, and the remote to see which stars and series will take home the big awards. Or, for those not quite as passionate, to check their news feeds the next day to see who the big winners were.
The most coveted awards, beyond the Best Actors ones, are the Outstanding Series awards, and two are doled out each year: Outstanding Drama Series and Outstanding Comedy Series.
Over the last 20 years, there have actually been only 10 drama winners. Many shows took home back-to-back awards and some even won as many as four times. But how do these 10 series rank? Here’s a countdown, according to their Rotten Tomatoes scores.
The Practice (1999, 1998, 1997) – no rating
Perhaps it’s a sign of the times: This series aired in the late ’90s, prior to the new millennium and clearly too early for critics and viewers to have submitted their Rotten Tomatoes ratings.
Metacritic, another review aggregate site, shows a rating of 74 for this legal drama, while IMDB has The Practice at a 7.7/10; therefore, it’s safe to assume this series ranks 10th among the last 10 Emmy winners. The series, which spawned the spin-off Boston Legal that starred James Spader and William Shatner, centered around lawyers at a Boston law firm and their constant struggle with legal ethics versus personal morality. It starred Dylan McDermott, Lara Flynn Boyle, Ron Livingston, and Spader, among others.
The West Wing (2003, 2002, 2001, 2000) – 75%
This Aaron Sorkin serial political drama paved the way for many more political dramas that came after it and popularized the filming method of “walking and talking” down long hallways. It had a star-studded cast that included Martin Sheen, Rob Lowe, Allison Janney, Mary McCormack, Jimmy Smits, Alan Alda, and Kristin Chenoweth, among many others.
Yet The West Wing, which aired for seven seasons from 1999 through to 2006 and tends to be considered as one of the best TV series of all time, still isn’t rated as highly as most of the others on this list.
Lost (2005) – 85%
It’s a wonder this series, which aired for six seasons, didn’t win the best series award more than just once for its first year (season one began in September 2004, just before the awards ceremony in early 2005). Alas, Lost was beaten by 24 the following year, then The Sopranos, and, well, the list goes on.
And indeed, both those aforementioned series rank higher than Lost according to Rotten Tomatoes scores. The series was intriguing, melding elements of drama with sci-fi, psychological horror, and more. Co-created by J.J. Abrams, Lost went down as one of the most talked-about series of that decade.
Homeland (2012) – 85%
Homeland aired for eight seasons, only just wrapping up this year. Claire Danes starred as a CIA officer suffering from bipolar disorder. The story began when Damian Lewis’ character, a U.S. Marine Corps Scout Sniper, was believed to have been “turned” after becoming a prisoner of war by Al Queda.
The series has a pretty decent rating but only won an Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series in its first year. Still, Homeland won many other Emmys through its run, including two for Danes, one for Lewis, and several nominations for others in the cast, including Mandy Patinkin.
24 (2006) – 86%
The name Jack Bauer has become part of common vernacular, known as the lethal counter-terrorism agent who took down enemies with a vengeance and always played by his own rules. 24 had an original concept, with each episode occurring in real-time, showing one hour of a seemingly very, very long day. There was also a ticking clock between every commercial break that kept the timer going.
The series was so popular, it sparked a ninth season six years after it was originally canceled, along with a short-lived spin-off with new characters.
The Handmaid’s Tale (2017) – 88%
Based on Margaret Atwood’s 1985 dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale will make viewers wince at every turn. In a near-future world, a totalitarian state known as Gilead has overthrown the U.S. government and created a terrifying, cruel, and archaic patriarchal society.
Women of child-bearing age are made to serve as handmaids for wealthy couples who are unable to conceive, bearing children for them. Others, meanwhile, are made into servants, sent to an unlivable labor camp, brutally tortured, murdered, and more. The series might have been rated higher had it not been for ratings dropping for the most recent seasons. Nonetheless, The Handmaid’s Tale is set to continue for a fourth season.
Game Of Thrones (2019, 2018, 2016, 2015) – 90%
It’s hard to believe that Game of Thrones, which was seemingly beloved by all, only ranks fourth highest among the last 10 Emmy winners for Outstanding Drama Series. Starting from 2015, it won four times over the next five years, only being knocked off its perch for the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale.
Perhaps it was the polarizing ending to the series that dropped Game of Thrones‘ rating down a few points. Nonetheless, a 90% rating is nothing to laugh at, and the spectacular story, costumes, acting, and production value easily justify its multiple wins.
The Sopranos (2007, 2004) – 92%
Edging into the number-three position, this crime drama starring the late James Gandolfini told the stories of an Italian-American mobster and his attempts to balance his role in the criminal organization with his family life.
Airing for six seasons, The Sopranos‘ finale was one of the most talked-about of the decade. Even today, the show is considered to be one of the best of all time.
Mad Men (2011, 2010, 2009, 2008) – 94%
It might come as a surprise to learn that, of the last 10 Emmy-winning shows, Mad Men ranks second. While it took forever for Jon Hamm to finally win Best Actor for his role as Don Draper, the show itself took home award after award, four years in a row, in fact.
The period drama, set in the ’50s and ’60s, took viewers inside the world of advertising and the debauchery that took place, from drinking in the workplace to torrid affairs, ad campaigns for cigarettes, and societally accepted misogyny. It was fun, dramatic, and intriguing. Week after week, viewers couldn’t wait to see what clever ad campaign Don would come up with next, or what woman he would seduce.
Breaking Bad (2014, 2013) – 96%
There’s no question this series would rank number one. Widely considered one of the best TV shows ever made, in any genre, Breaking Bad chronicles the downward spiral of a depressed high school chemistry teacher who, upon being diagnosed with cancer, decides to seek out a former student and drug dealer to help him start making and selling crystal meth. He would pursue this just long enough so he can build a nest egg to leave behind for his family before he passes away.
Except Walter White gets way too caught up in the drug underworld and his highly respected status in it. His transformation is one of the most epic character arcs ever to grace the small screen. Not to mention that the series finale goes down as one of the best ever as well.