In Main Series Races,It's Anyone's Guess

Rookies, veterans, favorites and dark horses leave categories competitive

It will be the rookies versus the veterans in this year’s Emmys series competitions. In the outstanding comedy series category, HBO newcomers Veep and Girls are taking on fellow-net vet Curb Your Enthusiasm, CBS’ The Big Bang Theory, NBC’s 30 Rock and the 300-pound gorilla, ABC’s Modern Family, which is looking to claim the comedy crown for a third straight year.

Competition for outstanding drama is perhaps the most competitive it’s ever been. After a fifth season that showed no decline in creative quality, AMC’s Emmy champ, Mad Men, is going for a record fifth win. But Men faces serious challenges from AMC’s other critical fave, Breaking Bad (which also has received raves for its intense fifth season) as well as HBO’s beautiful but brutal Boardwalk Empire and the premium network’s sweeping epic, Game of Thrones.

Last year’s surprise miniseries champ, PBS’ Downton Abbey, enters the drama series competition this year as well; with 16 overall nominations, it must be considered a top contender.

“[PBS’] Masterpiece has done these costume pieces for a hundred years, but it’s never had a Downton,” says Gareth Neame, one of the show’s executive producers. “It’s a little bit of Merchant Ivory and a little bit of Jane Austen, but the storytelling is highly contemporary and modern.”

Finally, Showtime’s Homeland, which won the Golden Globe in its maiden season, is definitely in a position to upset.

“The votes will come in close,” says John Leverence, senior VP of awards at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. “There’s a doubleedged sword here in which you get to strut your stuff by showing lots of episodes [to the judges], but you have to maintain that quality over three [judging] panels and six episodes.”

In fact, Leverence compares the fight to win the series categories to another brutal event: Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“All of these shows are in that ring together, with a chain-link fence around it,” he says. “There’s no referee, and the last nominee standing walks away with the championship belt. It’s really kind of a gladiator competition in there, very rough-and-tumble.”

And while it’s hard not to separate shows from their histories, Emmy judges are under strict orders only to judge each show based on the two episodes they are given—and nothing else.

“Over the years, I’ve talked to several judges who have said, ‘I had absolutely no intent to come out of that viewing room giving my No. 1 vote to this particular show, but when I went through the process I had to change my mind,’” says Leverence.

This means that even though drama includes one four-time winner and comedy one two-time winner, it’s still anybody’s game come Sept. 23, when the primetime Emmys air at 7 p.m. ET live from Los Angeles.

While the series that managed to earn nominations are all critical favorites, plenty of beloved shows were ignored in this year’s race for Emmy recognition.

On the comedy side, many critics were arguing hard to see Emmy recognition for NBC’s niche sitcoms Parks & Recreation (although series star Amy Poehler was nominated) and Community, which will launch its next 13-episode season with new producers at its helm. NBC’s The Office, which had been nominated six years in a row and won the trophy in 2006, also was ultimately overlooked.

On other networks, Fox’s New Girl managed to snag lead actress and supporting actor nominations for Zooey Deschanel and Max Greenfield, respectively, but New Girl failed to get an outstanding series nod. Fox’s Glee, once an Emmy darling, only garnered three nominations, none in any major category. And neither ABC’s Desperate Housewives nor Showtime’s Weeds, both of which once attracted big Emmy attention, received any love for this, their final year on the air.

Similarly, Louie’s Louis C.K. and Two and a Half Men’s Jon Cryer both were nominated for best actor, but neither of their shows were. And Don Cheadle, star of Showtime’s otherwise ignored House of Lies, snuck in to receive a best actor nod even though his show was nowhere to be seen on the big list.

Snubs were numerous among the dramas as well, with the five major broadcast networks all getting ignored and only PBS’ Downton Abbey earning a series nomination on the broadcast side. Left off the list this year were CBS’ The Good Wife, Fox’s House, Showtime’s Dexter, FX’s Justified and Sons of Anarchy and HBO’s True Blood, among others.

“I would very much like to win, of course,” says Downton’s Neame. “But I think we’re in a golden age of television, and this could be the best year ever for dramas. We couldn’t be in a more competitive year, but I’m such a fan of the other shows that we’re against. We’re really proud to be in their company.”

E-mail comments to and follow her on Twitter: @PaigeA