40th Primetime Emmy Awards

40th Primetime Emmy Awards
  • August 28, 1988
  • August 27, 1988
    (Creative Arts Awards)
LocationPasadena Civic Auditorium, Pasadena, California, U.S.
Presented byAcademy of Television Arts and Sciences
Hosted byJohn Forsythe
Most awardsThirtysomething (3)
Most nominationsL.A. Law (15)
Outstanding Comedy SeriesThe Wonder Years
Outstanding Drama SeriesThirtysomething
Outstanding MiniseriesThe Murder of Mary Phagan
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy ProgramIrving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration
Television/radio coverage
Produced byLorne Michaels
← 39th · Primetime Emmy Awards · 41st →

The 40th Primetime Emmy Awards were held on Sunday, August 28, 1988. The ceremony was broadcast on Fox from the Pasadena Civic Auditorium in Pasadena, California. The ceremony was pushed back from its newly established September date because of the 1988 Summer Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. Cable stations HBO and Showtime received their first major nominations at this ceremony.

Despite a season that consisted of only six episodes, newcomer series The Wonder Years won Outstanding Comedy Series. After winning his fourth consecutive Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, John Larroquette requested to have his name taken off of the ballot for future ceremonies. Frank's Place became the most recent show whose only season was nominated for Outstanding Comedy/Drama Series.

In the drama field L.A. Law came into the ceremony as the defending champ and with 15 major nominations, (second most ever by a drama series at that time), it was seen as the heavy favorite. However, it was upset by another first season show, Thirtysomething which won three major awards on the night including Outstanding Drama Series. L.A. Law only won one major award. The duo of Cagney & Lacey won Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series for the sixth consecutive year. This tied The Mary Tyler Moore Show's record for acting categories, which still stands. (It stood for all categories until The Daily Show with Jon Stewart won ten consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Series.) With the wins for Bea Arthur and Estelle Getty, The Golden Girls became the most recent show to have all of its cast members win Emmys. It became the second series to do so, following All in the Family. Three other programs would accomplish this feat: Will & Grace in 2003, The Simpsons in 2014, and Schitt's Creek in 2020.

There was controversy during the nomination process regarding the PBS series Rumpole of the Bailey. The series was initially placed in the miniseries field, but soon after the Academy disqualified it and placed it in the drama series field. Its slot in the miniseries category was filled by The Bourne Identity.

Winners and nominees




Lead performances


Supporting performances

  • Larry Drake as Benny Stulwicz in L.A. Law (NBC) (Episodes: "The Brothers Grimm" + "Full Marital Jacket")
  • Patricia Wettig as Nancy Krieger Weston in Thirtysomething (ABC) (Episode: "Therapy")
    • Bonnie Bartlett as Ellen Craig in St. Elsewhere (NBC) (Episode: "Their Town")
    • Polly Draper as Ellyn Warren in Thirtysomething (ABC) (Episode: "Nice Work If You Can Get It")
    • Christina Pickles as Nurse Helen Rosenthal in St. Elsewhere (NBC) (Episode: "Down and Out of Beacon Hill")
    • Susan Ruttan as Roxanne Melman in L.A. Law (NBC) (Episode: "Leaping Lizards")

Individual performances




  • Jackie Mason on Broadway (HBO) - Jackie Mason
    • Late Night with David Letterman 6th Anniversary Special (NBC)
    • The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour 20th Anniversary Reunion (CBS)
    • The Tracey Ullman Show (Fox): "Ginny Redux"

Most major nominations

Networks with multiple major nominations
Network Number of
NBC 69
CBS 32
ABC 24
Programs with multiple major nominations
Program Category Network Number of
L.A. Law Drama NBC 15
Cheers Comedy 9
Baby M Miniseries ABC 6
The Golden Girls Comedy NBC
St. Elsewhere Drama
The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank Special CBS 5
Thirtysomething Drama ABC
Billionaire Boys Club Miniseries NBC 4
Foxfire Special CBS
Lincoln Miniseries NBC
Beauty and the Beast Drama CBS 3
Frank's Place Comedy
It's Garry Shandling's Show Showtime
Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration Variety CBS
Late Night with David Letterman 6th Anniversary Special NBC
The Murder of Mary Phagan Miniseries
The Tracey Ullman Show Variety Fox
The Ann Jillian Story Special NBC 2
Cagney & Lacey Drama CBS
China Beach ABC
The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd Comedy NBC
Great Performances: "Celebrating Gershwin" Variety PBS
Hooperman Comedy ABC
Inherit the Wind Special NBC
Irving Berlin's 100th Birthday Celebration Variety CBS
Newhart Comedy
Night Court NBC
Onassis: The Richest Man in the World Special ABC
The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour 20th Anniversary Reunion Variety CBS
The Taking of Flight 847: The Uli Derickson Story Special NBC
The Wonder Years Comedy ABC

Most major awards

Networks with multiple major awards
Network Number of
NBC 11
Programs with multiple major awards
Program Category Network Number of
Thirtysomething Drama ABC 3
The Golden Girls Comedy NBC 2
Inherit the Wind Special
  1. ^ a b "Major" constitutes the categories listed above: Program, Acting, Directing, and Writing. Does not include the technical categories.

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