Carrie Preston (‘Elsbeth’) will make Emmy history

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More than a decade after winning a guest acting Emmy for her work as quirky lawyer Elsbeth Tascioni on CBS’s “The Good Wife,” Carrie Preston is now seeking lead category recognition for reprising the character on the same network’s “Elsbeth.” If she is included the upcoming Best Drama Actress lineup, she will make Emmys history as the first performer ever nominated as a lead for a winning dramatic guest role.

Preston was awarded the 2013 Best Drama Guest Actress Emmy for her seventh of 14 “Good Wife” appearances, which were spread over six seasons. After landing a second bid for that series in 2016, she showed up in five episodes of the Paramount+ spinoff “The Good Fight,” with her last appearance occurring one month before the series finale in November 2022. “Elsbeth” premiered this February and has already been renewed for a second season.

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At this point, only three performers (all women) have received guest and lead Emmy nominations for their portrayals of single characters. The first was Cloris Leachman, who won comedy supporting (1974) and guest (1975) awards as Phyllis Lindstrom on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and then lost against Moore herself on her 1976 lead bid for the spinoff “Phyllis.”

Next came Shelley Long, who, after taking the 1983 Best Comedy Actress prize as Diane Chambers on “Cheers,” received two guest nominations for playing the character on said show (1993) and “Frasier” (1996). She was followed by Viola Davis, whose third drama lead notice for playing Annalise Keating on “How to Get Away with Murder” immediately preceded a 2018 guest bid for her work in a “Scandal” crossover.

An additional three performers have earned guest and supporting nominations for single roles across multiple programs. The first two were winning “Cheers” regulars Bebe Neuwirth (1990-1991) and Woody Harrelson (1989), who picked up one guest bid apiece for “Frasier” (in 1995 and 1999). They were then joined by William Shatner, who achieved guest (2004) and supporting (2005) wins for playing Denny Crane during the respective final and first seasons of “The Practice” and “Boston Legal.”

In terms of winning as a guest and then being nominated as a regular for the same role, Preston will have also been preceded by guest-to-supporting “The Handmaid’s Tale” cast mates Alexis Bledel and Samira Wiley. Other actresses who each received guest and supporting mentions for one drama series are Ellen Corby (“The Waltons”), Amy Brenneman (“NYPD Blue”), and Jean Smart (“24”).

Preston is one of two 2024 Best Drama Actress contenders who has already won an Emmy for her current role, the second of whom is 2006 lead champ Mariska Hargitay (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”). With all six 2023 nominees ineligible this year, the only other category veterans she has to worry about fending off are “The Morning Show” duo Jennifer Aniston and Reese Witherspoon.

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