The last time a traditional, highly rated sitcom won an Emmy was in 2005, when "Everybody Loves Raymond" took home the trophy in its final season. With that multi-camera comedy's departure came the critics' declaration that sitcoms were officially dead and that in the future, niche single-camera shows like "Sex and the City" would rule comedy.
For a while, the Emmy voters went along with that, bestowing the best comedy statue to lower-rated programs like NBC's "The Office" in 2006 and to NBC's "30 Rock" for the last two years, despite the fact that the No. 1-rated comedy on TV has been "Two and a Half Men" on CBS since "Raymond" went off the air.
But this award season, Tina Fey's popularity notwithstanding, there's been more buzz about the group of nerds on CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" than the wacky late-night crew on "30 Rock," which hauled in the most Emmys ever for a comedy series last year. Industry observers are predicting such multi-camera comedies with broader appeal and bigger ratings may stage a comeback when the Emmy nominations are announced Thursday.
They will certainly have more chances to be recognized as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences expanded the number of nominations for best comedy and best drama this year from five to six.
"There does seem to be a resurgence of the classic, old-fashioned sitcom style," said John Leverence, an academy senior vice president. "I think that's something that culturally has come back like Gucci dresses. Statistically, the odds are better because there is a resurgence of that type of show. If you have more squirrels hunting in the forest for a nut, the odds are the nuts are going to be found."
Sophomore series "The Big Bang Theory" has been on a roll this year, growing its audience by 20% and building confidence at CBS to renew it for two more years. The show has made many of the critics' lists of picks, with special attention focused on Jim Parsons, whose turn as the obsessive-compulsive Sheldon has all of the makings of classic TV.
Motivated by the heightened attention, Warner Bros. Television, which produces "Big Bang," "Two and a Half Men" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine," decided to lobby Emmy voters more heavily this year.
"There's a lot of great programming out there and you need that industry buzz," said Sharan Magnuson, a senior vice president at Warner Bros. Television. "But you also need to compete. Some of these shows have gotten the nominations, but they have struggled to win and we'd like to help them get to that point."
"Men" and its two lead actors, Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer, have been nominated for the last three years. Supporting players Holland Taylor and Conchata Ferrell have been nominated three times and two times, respectively. "Old Christine" has never been nominated, but actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus won in the lead actress category in 2006 and has been nominated two other times.
Another comedy picking up momentum, CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" -- which blends multi-camera and single-camera filmmaking -- has never been nominated. But Neil Patrick Harris has received two nominations in the supporting actor category.
"Big Bang" co-creator Chuck Lorre, who also co-created "Men," would love for his shows to be recognized, but says a recent trip overseas drove home the point that trophies are not the endgame.
"You see that the shows have reach," said Lorre, who visited Turkey and another nearby country. "That people have made them a part of their lives. I mean, I don't even know how people in Kyrgyzstan get 'Big Bang.' They're so enthusiastic about it, and it's really nice to experience that up close.
"It's encouraging to have the extra attention this year," he said. "But I don't want to lose sight of what's important, which is that we put on a good show every week and earn the loyalty of an audience."