Few will dispute that voting members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences largely got it right this year. In most categories they chose the best shows and performers for Emmy nominations and kept their usual oversights to a minimum. That makes the competition tougher than usual and the winners more difficult to call, as we'll see on Sunday during the 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
Nowhere is this challenge more obvious that in the category of Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series. Bryan Cranston of AMC's "Breaking Bad" deservedly nabbed this one three years in a row, but "Bad" wasn't on during the qualifying period for this year's Emmys, so that leaves an open field for the three men who have repeatedly lost to him: Hugh Laurie of Fox's "House," Michael C. Hall of Showtime's "Dexter" and Jon Hamm of AMC's "Mad Men," plus Kyle Chandler of DirecTV/NBC's "Friday Night Lights" (who also lost to Cranston last year) and first-time nominees Steve Buscemi of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire" and Timothy Olyphant of FX's "Justified." Hamm is the front-runner here, but it can be argued that every one of these men has earned the award, especially Laurie, who inconceivably has never won, and Chandler, because the quietly brilliant "Lights" deserves some last-chance recognition.
Prediction: Jon Hamm or Steve Buscemi. Preferences: Jon Hamm, Kyle Chandler.
The category of Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series is no less challenging. Kathy Bates of NBC's "Harry's Law," Connie Britton of DirecTV/NBC's "Friday Night Lights," Mireille Enos of AMC's "The Killing," Mariska Hargitay of NBC's "Law & Order: SVU," Julianna Margulies of CBS' "The Good Wife" and Elisabeth Moss of AMC's "Mad Men" were all simply sensational, though I would have preferred to see Kyra Sedgwick of TNT's "The Closer" in Hargitay's place. A win for Margulies seems inevitable, but when I saw the first episode of "The Killing" I predicted that Enos would take home an Emmy, so I'll stand by that -- though part of me would like to see Britton win, for the same general reasons that have me rooting for Chandler.
Prediction: Julianna Margulies or Mireille Enos. Preferences: Connie Britton, Mireille Enos.
I think the award for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series comes down to Alan Cumming of "The Good Wife" and Andre Braugher of TNT's "Men of a Certain Age," with Cumming having a slight edge, though one should never underestimate the power of HBO, which makes Peter Dinklage of "Game of Thrones" a serious contender. Rounding out this category are Josh Charles of "The Good Wife," Walton Goggins of "Justified" and John Slattery of "Mad Men."
Prediction: Alan Cumming. Preferences: Peter Dinklage, Walton Goggins.
The nominees for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series are Christine Baranski of "The Good Wife," Michelle Forbes of "The Killing," Christina Hendricks of "Mad Men," Kelly Macdonald of "Boardwalk Empire," Margo Martindale of "Justified" and last year's winner, Archie Panjabi of "The Good Wife." I cannot imagine a scenario in which Martindale does not win for her uniquely powerful portrayal of deadly mountain woman Mags Bennett.
Prediction: Margo Martindale. Preference: Margo Martindale.
I think it will be (and should be) a fourth consecutive win for "Mad Men" as Outstanding Drama Series but, again, HBO has put all of its promotional power behind "Boardwalk Empire," so nothing is certain. A win for any of the other nominated series - "Dexter," "Friday Night Lights," "Game of Thrones" and "The Good Wife" -- would be a huge surprise, albeit a pleasant one.
Prediction: "Mad Men" or "Boardwalk Empire." Preference: "Mad Men" or "Friday Night Lights."
ABC's "Modern Family" will likely be honored with a second consecutive win for Outstanding Comedy Series, but the real winner of this category is broadcast television itself. Every one of the six series nominated -- "Modern Family," CBS' "The Big Bang Theory," Fox's "Glee" and NBC's "The Office," "Parks and Recreation" and "30 Rock" -- is on a broadcast network. When's the last time that happened?
Prediction: "Modern Family." Preference: "Modern Family."
The nominees for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series are Alec Baldwin of "30 Rock," Steve Carell of "The Office," Louis C.K. of FX's "Louie," Johnny Galecki of "The Big Bang Theory," Matt LeBlanc of Showtime's "Episodes" and last year's winner, Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory." Carell is the sentimental favorite, but don't rule out another award for the singularly sensational Parsons.
Prediction: Steve Carell or Jim Parsons. Preference: Jim Parsons, Louis C.K.
Laura Linney of Showtime's "The Big C" has the heat among the nominees for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series, but a second win for Edie Falco of the same network's "Nurse Jackie" won't be a surprise. Melissa McCarthy of CBS' "Mike & Molly" and Martha Plimpton of Fox's "Raising Hope" don't have a chance, but Tina Fey of the tiring "30 Rock" and Amy Poehler of cult hit "Parks and Recreation" are industry favorites, so this may actually be a four-way race.
Prediction: Laura Linney or Edie Falco. Preference: Edie Falco, Martha Plimpton.
Will "Modern Family" stars Ed O'Neill, Eric Stonestreet, Ty Burrell and Jesse Tyler Ferguson cancel each other out in the category of Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, leaving either Jon Cryer of CBS' "Two and a Half Men" or Chris Colfer of "Glee" to take home the award? I hope not, because as much as I admire the very gifted Colfer, I think Burrell is the most consistently funny of the group.
Prediction: Chris Colfer. Preference: Ty Burrell.
With apologies to her fellow nominees, Julie Bowen of "Modern Family," Jane Krakowski of "30 Rock," Jane Lynch of "Glee," Sofia Vergara of "Modern Family" and Kristen Wiig of "Saturday Night Live," how can beloved Betty White of TV Land's "Hot in Cleveland" not take home the Emmy for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series?
Prediction: Betty White. Preference: Betty White.