Everybody's GettingInto the Act

An embarrassment of acting performance riches could lead to wildcards among the favorites
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With more than 80 dramas and 60 comedies expected to vie for Emmy nominations, there is no shortage of talented actors to consider for television’s top prizes.

Actors who star in Emmy faves—AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad, ABC’s Modern Family—typically have an advantage. But last year, there were some surprises: Kyle Chandler earning the nod for Best Actor in a Drama Series for his emotional portrayal of Coach Eric Taylor in DirecTV’s Friday Night Lights, and Margo Martindale scoring a win for FX’s gritty Justified.

Chandler and FNL are out of the running this season, but the race for Best Actor in a Drama should once again be a nail-biter. MadMen’s Jon Hamm is a shoo-in to earn his fifth nomination after the show just turned in a very strong fifth season. But threetime winner Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad has won every time he has been nominated, and he’s back again after being out of contention last year. Boardwalk Empire’s Steve Buscemi—coming off a huge dramatic arc for his character, Nucky Thompson— also should pull in a second nomination.

Showtime’s rookie Homeland has been sweeping awards shows this year, winning the best drama Golden Globe, so Globe nominee Damien Lewis is likely to find his name among the contenders come Emmy night. And House’s Hugh Laurie, who has been nominated six times for his performance as the cranky Gregory House, could convince Emmy to give him the win as an acknowledgement of nine years of sterling work. Five-time Emmywinner Kelsey Grammer, who won a surprise Golden Globe last year for his portrayal of Boss’ corrupt Chicago mayor Tom Kane, also has to be considered a threat.

So far, Emmy has mostly ignored FX’s Peabody-winning Justified, with the exception of Martindale. Still, Timothy Olyphant is the center of that show, giving him a good shot at a repeat nod. Dexter’s Michael C. Hall, who has also been oft-nominated for his role as a serial killer on a moral mission, also remains a threat, but Dexter’s star is fading as that show ages.

The supporting actor categories are among the most competitive of any at the Emmys because there are so many actors in contention. Anyone who watched HBO’s Game of Thrones last season was thrilled to see Peter Dinklage, who turned in a pitch-perfect performance as Tyrion “The Imp” Lannister, take home the trophy. Dinklage was no less solid or central in the show’s arguably more compelling second season, making him a strong contender to repeat.

This year, however, Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul, the 2010 winner, is back in contention, making this a race to watch.

Last year, two of this category’s nominees came from CBS’ The Good Wife, with both Josh Charles and Alan Cumming in the running. Charles had several dramatic arcs to play out this past season, putting him in solid contention for a repeat nod. Mad Men’s John Slattery, who gets all of the show’s best lines, and Justified’s fan favorite, Walter Goggins, also could hear their names announced again.

Possible new entries to this category include Mad Men’s Jared Harris, who played the tragic Lane Pryce, and any number among Boardwalk Empire’s talented cast, including Michael Pitt, whose fate took a Sopranos-like turn in the show’s season-two finale.

There’s an equally strong contingent of dramatic actresses to consider this year, with last year’s winner, The Good Wife’s Juliana Margulies, back to compete again. This category could see some shake-ups with FNL’s Connie Britton out of the running, and other shows—AMC’s The Killing and NBC’s Harry’s Law and Law & Order: SVU—on the wane in terms of popularity. That said, it’s never a good idea to bet against Emmy favorites Kathy Bates of Harry’s Law and Mariska Hargitay of SVU, so both could again find their names among the nominees.

The smart money, however, is on Homeland’s Claire Danes—who won an Emmy in 2010 for her title character portrayal in Temple Grandin—with her breakout role as manicdepressive FBI agent Carrie Mathison.

The women of Mad Men—2011 nominees Elisabeth Moss and Christina Hendricks and newcomer Jessica Paré—all have a shot at making the list, as do The Good Wife’s two powerful females, 2010’s winner Archie Panjabi and veteran Christine Baranski. Also, the arrival of Downton Abbey into the drama category could bring nominations to Elizabeth McGovern, the incomparable Maggie Smith and British newcomer Michelle Dockery.

“The thing about Downton is that the entire thing is a pleasure,” says executive producer Gareth Neame. “Every year a British miniseries gets nominated, but it’s very rare to have such a mainstream British show. We make a very different noise than all of the other shows in this category.”

Among TV’s funnymen, The Big Bang Theory’s Jim Parsons should three-peat, especially after a season in which the show held its own on CBS on Thursdays at 8 p.m., beat American Idol head-to-head and became a blockbuster in syndication.

Unlike the women, few men broke out in comedy this year, which should allow actors such as Louie’s Louis C.K. and Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Larry David to earn repeat nominations.

“Last year Louie was the most critically acclaimed show in America,” claims John Landgraf, president of FX. “Even though basic cable has broken through in the Best Drama area, part of what you are dealing with is the sense that things that look beautiful on their face, that scream excellence, are easier to recognize than shows in which excellence is buried under a rougher exterior.”

Big Bang
’s Johnny Galecki and 30 Rock’s two-time Emmy winner Alec Baldwin also could be nominated again.

And a few long shots: The Office’s Ed Helms, who took over from the multi-nominated Steve Carell, and Community’s Joel McHale, who is a critical favorite on the lowrated sitcom.

It’s the women who are really going to have to battle it out among the comedy categories, with so many new female-led shows.

It’s been widely documented, but 2012 continues to prove that women can bring the laughs. That’s a continuation of a trend that started last year, when Bridesmaids was such a breakthrough hit and Melissa McCarthy— star of both that movie and CBS’ Mike & Molly—brought home the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series.

With new series such as Fox’s New Girl and CBS’ 2 Broke Girls breaking out on the networks, and HBO’s female-centric Veep and Girls getting critical buzz, selecting the funniest female is going to be challenging.

Likely to score a repeat nomination is 30 Rock’s Tina Fey, who has been nominated every year for her starring role in the sitcom she created, writes and produces; 30 Rock is entering a final 13-episode season.

“It’s amazing how greedy a person can get,” jokes Robert Carlock, executive producer of 30 Rock, whose show has won the comedy series Emmy three times. “Ending it is bittersweet, but the thing that’s always been most important to me and to Tina was to end the show on our terms creatively. That doesn’t get to happen for a lot of shows, so we’re happy that we get to know when it’s ending.”

Showtime’s three female power comedies— Nurse Jackie, The Big C and Weeds— continue to straddle the line between laughs and drama. Jackie star Edie Falco is a previous winner for this part (and for her iconic turn as Carmela Soprano). The Big C’s Laura Linney is an Emmy favorite and a potential Oscar nominee this year.

“I think it’s hard to predict in any given year why the Emmys make the choices they do,” says Richie Jackson, executive producer of Nurse Jackie.

All three of Showtime’s dramedies are aging and may be upstaged by HBO’s two upstarts, Veep and Girls.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who has won Emmy awards for both Seinfeld and The New Adventures of Old Christine, could sneak in and upset in her role as a largely clueless vice president. And Girls’ 26-year-old Lena Dunham is such a tour de force this year—creating, writing, producing and starring in HBO’s homage to hipsters—that she is going to be difficult to ignore.

Parks & Recreation’s Amy Poehler also wrote and directed two episodes of the fan favorite, in which she plays endearing city employee and newly elected City Council member Leslie Knope.

“Amy is a natural at everything she does,” says Parks & Rec executive producer Mike Schur. “If she doesn’t win an Emmy, I’m going to be upset.”

Several new entries on the broadcast side could show up in this category as well: New Girl’s Zooey Deschanel is a strong contender, and 2 Broke Girls’ Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs are both possibilities.

In the supporting categories for both actors and actresses, Modern Family has dominated for the past two years, with the entire cast being nominated last year and Ty Burrell and Julie Bowen winning. Modern Family didn’t weaken a bit in its third season, so expect repeat nominations for that entire cast.

Other possibilities include Glee’s Jane Lynch, who won in 2010, and Kurt Colfer, who was nominated last year. Parks & Rec’s entire cast probably deserves nominations, with special mentions to Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Nick Offerman and Asiz Ansari.

“Chris probably doesn’t have a chance in hell of being nominated,” says Schur, “but he is probably the funniest person on television.”

Other top supporting comedy actors include John Krasinski and Rainn Wilson from The Office and Community’s Danny Pudi and Donald Glover.

Among the supporting women, 30 Rock’s Jane Krakowski has already been nominated three times. Saturday Night Live’s Kristen Wiig has a good shot at a fourth nomination for her multi-faceted performances on the late-night show. Wiig has decided to leave SNL, giving Emmy a good opportunity to honor her.

E-mail comments to palbiniak@gmail.com and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA

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