The award was first presented by the ACTRA Awards in 1972, as the award for best performance in a television film within the annual eligibility period. In the earliest years it was the only acting award presented by the ACTRA Awards, although it was later supplemented with an award for best performance in a television series. It was discontinued after 1983, and replaced with separate categories for performances by actors and actresses in television films; when the ACTRA Awards were taken over by the Gemini Awards beginning in 1986, the Earle Grey Award name was then revived as a lifetime achievement award.
Nominations for the award are presented by professionals within the Canadian television community and the decision of who will win the award is made by a special committee.
Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television Note: Awards by year articles are listed here by the year of eligibility for nomination; due to variable scheduling of the ceremonies, this is not always the same year in which the awards were presented.