Outstanding Drama Series
Last season was all about comedy, with ABC's Modern Family and Fox's Glee reinvigorating the genre. This year, it's drama's turn. With so many good ones to choose from, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences voters have a slew of tough choices to make.
That said, the race is AMC's Mad Men's to lose. Critics considered the three-time winner's last season uneven, but it did have some strong episodes, particularly the remarkable pas-de-deux, "The Suitcase," in which Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss share some of the series' most honest moments.
"Even in an off-year, it's better than most," says Joanne Ostrow, television writer for The Denver Post.
If Mad Men manages to make it four wins in a row, it will join some of TV's most elite company, including The West Wing and Hill Street Blues, and L.A. Law, which won four non-consecutive trophies.
But CBS' The Good Wife could give AMC's darling a run for its money: "Smartest drama on broadcast TV," says Ostrow. "If it were on HBO, it would win everything."
The show's stunning season ! nale aired right before Emmy voters went to fill out their ballots, which could give the show an edge. And there are plenty of industry insiders who would love to see the Best Drama trophy return to broadcast after being dominated by cable since 2007.
Another strong contender is HBO's gorgeous period piece, Boardwalk Empire, which is peerless when it comes to sets, costumes and cinematography. Boardwalk Empire, produced by Oscar winner Martin Scorsese and The Sopranos' Terence Winter, won both the Golden Globe and the Screen Actors Guild Award, making it a force this Emmy season.
Caveats for Boardwalk are that even some critics found it boring, while others say it aired so long ago that voters won't remember it.
Voters' fond memories of some of those shows might also be dimmed by this spring's arrival of three dynamic dramas: AMC's dark wonder, The Killing; HBO's epic fantasy piece, Game of Thrones; and Showtime's lush and lusty The Borgias, starring Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons. And even without Breaking Bad in contention this year, AMC has one more program in the mix, zombie hit The Walking Dead, which attracted the largest adult 18-49 audience basic cable has ever seen.
Critics embraced The Killing from the moment it premiered. "I would push hard for The Killing as best drama," says Tom Jicha, South Florida Sun-Sentinel TV writer. "The masterful cast, who should also get Emmy attention, makes you feel the pain of the heinous crime."
Even having mentioned all of those possible selections, Emmy voters still have several shows to consider. Emmy has already demonstrated its love for Showtime's Dexter: Last year, the show won Emmys for Best Writing for a Drama and Best Guest Actor in John Lithgow, and lead actor Michael C. Hall has been nominated the past three years in a row.
FX's Justified just took home a Peabody, making it a certified contender as well.
NBC and DirecTV's Friday Night Lights-one of TV's most-loved but least-watched series- wrapped its run this season. NBC's emotionpacked Parenthood can't be considered a hit, but it's one of television's best written and acted series, with a capable ensemble cast.
Finally, Fox's mythology-packed Fringe is a highly unlikely candidate, but those who love the show love it with a fervent passion.
"It's the relationships, not the mythology, that make it a favorite," says Ostrow.
Best Actor in a Drama
Mad Men's Jon Hamm is the man to beat this year, especially with three-time winner Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad out of the picture. Last season, viewers saw Hamm's charismatic Don Draper bottom out before their eyes, exhibiting both power and deep insecurity in his performance.
But with all of the dramas to choose from this year, Hamm will have stiff competition.
Steve Buscemi of Boardwalk Empire won the Golden Globe this year for playing compelling and charismatic Enoch "Nucky" Thompson, a crooked Prohibition-era politician. Oscar-winner Jeremy Irons plays Pope Alexander VI with guile and gusto on Showtime's The Borgias, while Justified's Timothy Olyphant gets rave reviews as Marshal Raylan Givens.
Dexter's oft-nominated Michael C. Hall manages to make a serial killer sympathetic, while William H. Macy has a decent chance of earning a nomination for playing a blotto drunk on Shameless.
Hugh Laurie has been nominated five times for House, but has never won. Laurie is consistently brilliant but the show is aging, lessening his chances.
The appealing Kyle Chandler of Friday Night Lights was finally nominated for his portrayal of football coach Eric Taylor last year. With the series ending its run, Chandler might earn some sentimental votes.
Best Actress in a Drama
The leading contender in this category is Juliana Margulies, who plays lawyer and wronged political wife Alicia Florrick on The Good Wife. "Her best work ever," says Ostrow.
A couple of other good wives have a shot at getting nominated, including Friday Night Lights' Connie Britton and Monica Potter of Parenthood. And one not-so-good wife, Sons of Anarchy's Katey Sagal, has a huge following supporting her that Emmy has thus far ignored. Last year's winner, Kyra Sedgwick of The Closer, will likely win a nomination because her popular show is taking a bow after this season.
Mad Men's January Jones could be nominated again, although her role last season was much less meaty than it had been in prior years. The series' Elisabeth Moss contended in the supporting actress category last year, but with episodes like "The Suitcase," she could possibly be bumped up to leadcategory consideration.
Newcomer Mireille Enos is a popular choice of critics for her understated work as a police detective on The Killing, while Shameless' Emmy Rossum has a shot at a nomination for her portrayal of Fiona Gallagher, a girl who has been forced to become mother to her many siblings.
Best Reality Series
The TV Academy divided nonfiction series into two categories in 2010: Reality Series and Nonfiction Series. The latter includes any show that is purely factual, such as PBS' Frontline, while any show that manipulates the truth in any way automatically becomes a reality series.
Most broadcast reality series are of the competition variety, in which someone wins a prize, and those shows fall into a third Emmy category.
Broadcast mostly steers clear of the non-prize reality shows, but popular series such as CBS' Undercover Boss and Discovery's long-running Mythbusters are likely to be nominated again.
Cable will be competing across the board, with several networks preparing entries. Lifetime will submit Coming Home, which sees military spouses reunited with their families. A&E's The First 48, which has a loyal fan base, follows real-life homicide detectives as they try to solve cases within the first 48 hours of a crime's occurrence.
Best Nonfiction Series
Nonfiction is PBS' playground, with highquality offerings such as American Experience, American Masters, Nova, POV, Antiques Roadshow and Great Performances all on the slate. PBS won this category last year with Ken Burns' six-episode National Parks series.
Discovery also usually posts a slew of series nominated in this category. Last year, Deadliest Catch and Life were each contenders. History should be a player here as well courtesy of its 12-part series The Story of Us, and TLC might have an opportunity with Sister Wives, a show that was more sensationalistic in concept than execution.