In Lead Acting Categories, a Range of Possibilities

Breadth of performances will decide winners in tight competitions

The key to catching the Television Academy’s attention,
come Emmy time, is range, says John Leverence, senior
vice president of awards at the Academy
of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) in
Los Angeles.

“One of the things I have been told by performers
when they are taking a look at these
blue-ribbon panel tapes is that there is a great
appreciation for a range of performance,”
Leverence says.

And come this year, that plays right into
the hands of actors such as three-time Emmy
winner Bryan Cranston, who keeps audiences
on the edge of their seats with his Jekyll-and-
Hyde portrayal of Breaking Bad’s Walter White,
a high school chemistry teacher who evolves
into a ruthless drug lord.

Cranston, who has already tied an Emmy record
with his three wins, remains the favorite
to take the trophy for outstanding lead actor in
a drama series when they hand out the awards
on Sept. 23.

“Are there actors who are delivering equivalent
performances to Bryan Cranston’s? His is a unique role, but everyone
nominated certainly deserves to be nominated,” says Bill Carroll,
vice president, director of programming, Katz Television Group. “Still,
I think any oddsmakers would pick him as the potential winner.”

Cranston finds himself in a distinguished field of nominees, including
Mad Men’s Jon Hamm—nominated for a fifth time—who
plays cool character Don Draper; Boardwalk Empire’s Steve Buscemi,
whose character, like Cranston’s, is growing ever more brutal; Dexter’s
Michael C. Hall, who plays a serial killer with a moral mission;
Hugh Bonneville as Downton Abbey’s likeable patriarch, the Earl of
Grantham; and Damian Lewis, who plays Nicholas Brody on Showtime’s
critically acclaimed Homeland.

“It sounds like a cliché, but all of these nominees are worthy,”
says Brad Adgate, senior vice president, director, Horizon Media. “I
wouldn’t have a problem with any of these guys winning.”

While Cranston is the favorite among the men, most expect Homeland’s
Claire Danes, a first-time nominee in this category, to take the
trophy for lead actress in a drama series. “She’s gotten too much critical
acclaim for the Academy not to take her seriously,” says Adgate.
“She’s probably the odds-on favorite.”

Danes faces competition from last year’s winner, The Good Wife’s
Julianna Margulies; Michelle Dockery as Downton Abbey’s Lady Mary
Crawley; Elisabeth Moss as Mad Men’s Peggy Olson; Kathy Bates as
Harriet “Harry” Korn on NBC’s canceled Harry’s Law; and Glenn Close
as Damages’ Patty Hewes, a role for which Close
has twice won in this category.

Like Cranston on the drama side, The Big Bang
’s Jim Parsons is expected to three-peat
for his role as Sheldon Cooper among leading
comedy series actors. “Big Bang is such a popular
show, and he’s really the star of it,” says Adgate.
“He hasn’t done anything to diminish his role.”

Moreover, Big Bang is considered to be on a
strong creative streak, with the producers expanding
the show’s romantic story lines and
deepening the female characters. As a result, Parsons’
costar, Mayim Bialik, earned herself a nomination
as best supporting actress in a comedy.

“[Big Bang] has all of those really great supporting
characters, but it’s Mayim who clearly is
the most neurotic,” says Leverence. “[In a sense]
Jim is not on the same show that he’s been
nominated and won for before. That show has
changed so much.”

Parsons’ competition includes Louis C.K.,
star, writer and executive producer of FX’s critically adored Louie;
perennially nominated Larry David, who similarly stars in, writes
and executive produces HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm; Two and a Half
’s Jon Cryer, who has won before in the supporting actor category;
30 Rock’s Alec Baldwin, who has won in this category two times; and
House of Lies’ Don Cheadle, the charismatic star of a little-seen show.

“The character Cheadle plays is unlikable, but he has an awful lot of
range,” says Leverence. “If we’re looking at a range of acting opportunities,
I don’t see anyone having the kind of opportunity that Don has.”

TV’s funny women are facing a tough fight, with seven nominees on
the ticket. Last year’s winner, Mike & Molly’s Melissa McCarthy, will
have a hard time repeating that win with competition from rookie
Zooey Deschanel of Fox’s New Girl; Parks & Recreation’s Amy Poehler,
who also wrote and directed episodes last season; Nurse Jackie’s Edie
Falco, a previous winner in this category; and 30 Rock’s Tina Fey, also
a previous winner. HBO also has two entries in this category: Girls
triple-threat Lena Dunham and Emmy vet Julia Louis-Dreyfus of Veep.

“This category is a revolving door,” says Adgate. “There’s no strong
incumbent in this category.”

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