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16 Surprising Things You Never Knew About the Emmy Awards

The glitz and glam of the Emmy Awards dazzle each year, but how much do you really know about this long-running awards ceremony?

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Primetime Emmy Awards - Historic Archive, Los Angeles, USA

Six awards were given out at the first ceremony

The very first Emmy Awards, held on January 25, 1949 at the Hollywood Athletic Club, was a low-key affair compared to today’s spectacle. Tickets to attend cost just $5, and only six awards were handed out that night. Original award categories included Most Popular Television Program, Best Film Made for Television, and Most Outstanding Television Personality, among others. Learn more about the humble beginnings of famous award shows.

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68th Primetime Emmy Awards - Governors Ball, Los Angeles, USA - 18 Sep 2016

Winners must pay $400 for their own statuette

Some Emmy award winners must fork over a pretty penny if they wish to take home a statuette. Because each trophy costs an estimated $400 to make, the Television Academy often charges extra fees if certain winners (such as large writing teams) want to receive multiple statuettes.

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65th Primetime Emmy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA
Phil McCarten/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

The shortest Emmy acceptance speech was 11 words long

Actress Merritt Wever pulled off a major win in 2013 for her supporting role in the TV show Nurse Jackie. But when she took the stage to accept the award, Wever kept her remarks short and sweet. Her acceptance speech totaled just 11 words: “Thanks so much. Thank you so much. I gotta go. Bye.”

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2018 Primetime Emmy Nominations Announcements, Los Angeles, USA - 12 Jul 2018
Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

The Emmy statuette is modeled after a TV engineer’s wife

Emmy Award founder Syd Cassyd rejected 47 design proposals for the Emmy’s famous statuette before he finally settled on the one we all know and love today. The design featured a woman with wings to represent the arts, holding an atom to symbolize the sciences. Louis McManus, a television engineer and the design’s creator, had modeled the figure after his wife.

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Television Academy's 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards - Show - Night 2, Los Angeles, USA - 10 Sep 2017

A ventriloquist won the very first Emmy

At the first Emmy Awards ceremony in 1949, 20-year-old Shirley Dinsdale became the first person to receive an Emmy (along with her puppet, named Judy Splinters) for her role as a ventriloquist in a popular variety show. The two leading ladies later starred in a children’s show named after the puppet.

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69th Primetime Emmy Awards - Red Carpet Stage, Los Angeles, USA - 17 Sep 2017

Networks pay up to $500,000 just to get nominated

Racking up Emmy awards isn’t all fun and games. In fact, television networks shell out big bucks just to get their series nominated for a prize. It is estimated that each network pays between $150,000 to $500,000 before they even arrive at the ceremony, covering the Television Academy’s fees and costs of producing and distributing DVDs (among other things).

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TOM UHLMAN/AP/Shutterstock

The yellow first-down line seen on NFL broadcasts won an Emmy

Actors and television shows are not the only winners on Emmy night; televised football’s yellow first-down line, also called 1st & Ten, was once honored too. Developed by technology company Sportvision and ESPN, the graphic debuted in 1998 during a game between the Baltimore Ravens and the Cincinnati Bengals. It won two Emmys for technical achievement that year.

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2017 Primetime Emmy Awards - Show, Los Angeles, USA - 17 Sep 2017

Saturday Night Live is the most-decorated show in Emmy history

Saturday Night Live boasts the most Emmy victories ever, beating out favorites like the Academy Awards itself and the Olympics broadcast. Since its first telecast in 1976, the sketch comedy show has received 76 wins and a whopping 270 nominations, in categories ranging from directing to writing.

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Matt Sayles/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

It takes over five hours to make one Emmy statuette

Employees at R.S. Owens, a Chicago-based manufacturing shop, spend five and a half hours molding and coating every statuette in copper, nickel, silver, and gold. At the end of the day, the statuettes weigh in at nearly seven pounds each.

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Jackie Kennedy, Washington, USA - 19 Jun 1961
Mark Shaw/AP/Shutterstock

Jackie Kennedy was the first (and only!) First Lady to receive an Emmy award

Jackie Kennedy’s famous televised tour of the White House in 1962 earned her an Emmy nod, making her the first and only First Lady of the United States to ever win the award. Lady Bird Johnson, the wife of then-Vice President Lyndon Johnson, was in attendance and accepted the award on Kennedy’s behalf. The statuette is now displayed at the JFK Presidential Library in Boston.

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VARIOUS New York, New York: 1963. L-R: Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Shore, Joan Sutherland perform on the Dinah Shore Chevy Show,
Underwood Archives / UIG/Shutterstock

There were once some very unusual award categories

Categories like Outstanding Lead Actor and Outstanding Drama Series might sound straightforward, but they have not always been that way. Back in the day, the Emmys tested an award for “Best Continuing Performance in a Series by a Comedienne, Singer, Hostess, Dancer, M.C., Announcer, Narrator, Panelist, or Any Person Who Essentially Plays Herself,” along with a similar category for males. Unsurprisingly, the two award categories were nixed the following year.

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1985 Emmy Awards

Someone nearly stole an Emmy onstage

In 1985, actress Betty Thomas won Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series for the TV show Hill Street Blues—but a mysterious man appeared onstage and accepted the Emmy before she could. The prankster was Barry Bremen, nicknamed “The Great Imposter,” who had pulled similar pranks at other large events like the Super Bowl. He ended up with a $175 fine and six months’ probation for the stunt. Relive some of the funniest Oscar moments of all time.

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Video Games Sofa Shoot
Philip Sowels / Future Publishing/Shutterstock

Two video game controllers have won Emmy awards

Believe it or not, even video game controllers can walk away with Emmys. Sony’s original DualShock Analog controller and Nintendo’s NES/Famicom controller received awards in 2007 at the 58th Annual Technology & Engineering Emmy Awards, which recognizes achievements in science, engineering, and technology for broadcast and personal television.

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Rich Fury/Invision/AP/Shutterstock

The “Emmy” was named after a video camera tube

Back in the 1940s, the Television Academy needed a title for its new awards ceremony. One member suggested “Immy,” the name of a tube inside video cameras that captures moving images. But the team wanted the title to sound more feminine, to match the female statuette, so they tweaked it to “Emmy.”

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A Supreme Court justice once hosted the ceremony

The 3rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards in 1951 had a special (and unusual!) host: Earl Warren, the governor of California at the time. Warren went on to become a chief justice in the United States Supreme Court, leading some people to wonder if he would have been a better Emmy judge instead.

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Press Room for the 1996 Emmy Awards

Betty White has received an Emmy nomination in six different decades—and has won in four

Over her nearly 80-year career, actress Betty White has racked up a over 20 Emmy nominations and took home five trophies. White’s most recent Emmy win, honoring her appearance as a host on Saturday Night Live in 2010, made her the oldest Emmy winner ever at 88 years old. In September 2019, she lost that title to Norman Lear, 97, who won for his TV specialLive in Front of a Studio Audience: Norman Lear’s All in the Family and the Jeffersons. Next, take a look back at the award show scandals that rocked the industry.

Brooke Nelson
Brooke Nelson is a tech and consumer products writer covering the latest in digital trends, product reviews, security and privacy, and other news and features for RD.com.