Burning Question: Does Winning an Emmy Actually Make a Difference for a Show or Actor?

Lena Dunham and Jon Hamm at the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards (Getty Images)

Put it this way: Without the Emmys, some of the best shows on television would have remained undiscovered by, you know, actual TV viewers. And some of the most iconic actors and characters of the 20th century would have faded into anonymity, too.

Take one of the very people honored last night: Jean Stapleton. Her seminal show with Carroll O'Connor, the bitterly funny Norman Lear series "All in the Family," debuted in January, 1971.

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"It wasn't even in the Top 20 shows" at the time, notes Ron Simon of the Paley Center for Media. But all that changed when the show won an Emmy that year, in a category called Outstanding New Series. The show went to No. 1 and even changed time slots to accompany demand, moving from Tuesdays at 9:30 p.m. to Saturday nights at 8 p.m. (Seriously, that was an honor back then, Simon tells me.)

TV historians also credit the Emmys for saving shows ranging from the1980s drama "Hill Street Blues" to the quirky 1990s series "Picket Fences," the iconic "Cheers" and, more recently, "The Amazing Race" and "30 Rock."

Other signs of Emmy's impact are more subtle. And maybe a little more annoying. "Before last year's Emmys, I was surprised at how many people hadn't heard of Lena Dunham or 'Girls,'" Simon says.

But after last year's Emmys, friends of Simon's who were ignorant of the HBO show were practically experts.

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Technically, the HBO comedy hasn't gotten a hard viewership bump; numbers were about even in Seasons 1 and 2. But then again, the first season finale of "Girls" is thought to have been boosted by the popular "True Blood," an episode of which aired just before it. 

The Season 2 sendoff didn't have such support from the vampy nighttime soap, but it got the same viewership numbers anyway — an indication that something, perhaps notice from a certain TV Academy, has been giving the Dunham show a little help.

As for your favorite Emmy-winning actor, the benefits aren't so clear-cut. It's probably not safe to assume that an Emmy can launch, say, a film career, although Jon Hamm's multiple Emmy near-misses clearly aren't hurting him in the gigs department.

[Related: Emmy Winners: So They Won. Now What?]

Instead, Emmy-winning "Desperate Housewives" alum Felicity Huffman put it this way to the Hollywood Reporter a few years back: "People take your calls a little easier. People are a little more eager to meet you."

If an actor does benefit directly from an Emmy, it's more often through a paycheck. Some negotiate pay bonuses into their contracts for every Emmy they win. But more often, they simply gain the clout necessary for, say, a $3.5 million book deal, à la Dunham, or a mass pay raise, à la "Modern Family." After the show started raking in Emmys, the adults in that ensemble cast demanded, and got, hikes from $55,000 or $65,000 per actor per episode to $150,000 to $175,000, not including bonuses. (That agreement was reached last year, by the way; the cast's new deal also included raises for every season.)

But more often, it's a show that's the real winner. After "Mad Men" got its first 16 Emmy nominations, it picked up a little something extra, too: An additional million viewers.

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