When it comes to the annual TV celebratory dance of the Emmy Awards, "ER" used to be one of the most popular belles of the ball.
For years after the 1994 launch of the medical drama, several of its stars, including George Clooney and Anthony Edwards, were nominated for Emmys, and the series was a regular contender in the outstanding drama category, scoring the trophy in 1996.
Even though "ER" holds the record for the most Emmy nominations of any TV series -- 122 -- it has been more of a wallflower in recent ceremonies. The NBC series has been repeatedly passed over in marquee categories in favor of fresher dramatic fare. Last season, it earned only two nominations -- for guest actor and sound editing.
"We just sort of assumed that the dance had moved on to younger girls," quipped executive producer John Wells.
But the creative forces behind "ER," and a handful of other lauded shows that recently exited the airwaves, hope their last chance for Emmy glory will be realized Thursday when the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences unveils this year's nominations. Two shows in particular -- FX's "The Shield" and Syfy's "Battlestar Galactica" -- would like to see an Emmy nod in a major category paired with their widespread critical acclaim.
Also up for a final Emmy bow is ABC's "Boston Legal," a two-time nominee for outstanding drama. The series has reaped Emmy gold in the past for lead actor James Spader and supporting actor William Shatner. (Another noteworthy drama, Showtime's "The L Word," also marked its final season, but the lesbian-themed series has never been a major Emmy contender and is not expected to score any major nominations this time around.)
NBC executives are fairly confident that "ER" will do well on Thursday. Said Laura Lancaster, executive vice president of drama programming: "We feel it is very worthy of recognition. With all the beloved actors and characters coming back, it was a reminder of how great the show could be."
Wells in the meantime is approaching the possibility with a mixture of cautious optimism and lowered expectations.
"You never can tell -- there are so many wonderful shows out there," he said. "I would be happy and surprised if we did get nominated, but not horribly disappointed if we didn't. But the important thing is that there were so many blessings that came from 'ER' I've always been proud of the show, and we had the advantage with this season with doing all the things we hadn't been able to do before."
"The Shield" and "Battlestar Galactica" admittedly face bigger hurdles in their quest for Emmy honors. Though they pushed the boundaries in their respective genres, the dramas never achieved the mainstream popularity of "House," "24," "Grey's Anatomy" and other shows that have found favor with academy voters. "The Shield" has only won one major Emmy, awarded after the first season to Michael Chiklis for lead actor in a drama.
Both shows may wind up like HBO's "The Wire," a highly acclaimed series that some TV critics felt was one of the best series in recent years but was never nominated for outstanding drama series.
John Landgraf, head of FX, said, "I'm not terribly optimistic. I don't think 'The Shield' overlaps with the constituency who vote for the Emmys. It's a downscale show, violent and edgy. Shows that are highly serialized have a harder time. If you fall off along the way, it's harder to get back on. Qualitatively, its a landmark in the pantheon of drama. But it's a long shot."
Mark Stern, head of programming for Syfy, the network formerly known as the Sci-Fi Channel, said series such as "Battlestar Galactica" have a tougher time getting industry recognition due to "a general bias against science fiction, fantasy and supernatural fare. They're regarded as hokey entertainment. 'Battlestar' is so much more. If ever a show had an opportunity to break out of the genre ghetto and get recognition, this would be the time."
Though he feels the chances for "The Shield" are slim, Shawn Ryan, creator of FX's "The Shield," said he is prepared no matter what happens Thursday.
"I have no bitterness -- there are a lot of good shows out there," said Ryan. "There's a lot of good work on 'The Shield.' If someone wants to nominate us, I'll show up. But I'm not going to be depressed if we don't."