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 Theory’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 Men’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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Spectrum of Possibilities

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