I'm approaching the annual Emmy Awards from a different perspective this year, because for the first time in the two decades that I have been writing about television programming I don't care who wins! It's not that I've lost interest. It's simply a reflection of the state of the art. Yes, I'm calling it art. There were so many terrific series on television last year and so many exciting performances that this time around the recognition that really matters came in being nominated.
Just look at the nominees in the categories listed below and then tell me it isn't damn near impossible to single out one show or performer in each that are significantly better than the rest. That said, it's time for the increasingly hazardous annual ritual of predicting the shows and performers that will win, while also indulging in one last opportunity to state who or what should win.
Outstanding Drama Series
Breaking Bad (AMC)
The Good Wife (CBS)
Mad Men (AMC)
True Blood (HBO)
Prediction and Preference: Mad Men
Nothing sucks the excitement out of the Emmys faster than for the same show (or performer) to win year after year after year, but there's no getting past the fact that AMC's endlessly engaging period piece is one of those handful of shows in the history of the medium that simply gets better with age. While even the best shows begin to ripen and rot by their third or fourth season, Mad Men creator Matthew Weiner isn't afraid to make major changes to his narrative structure each year, with consistently spectacular results.
As much as I support Mad Men, AMC's other red-hot drama, Breaking Bad, may be the winner here, because it delivered two of the three best individual hours of television drama during the Emmy eligibility period. Those would be One Minute and Fly. (The other top hour was The Son, an emotionally dismantling episode of DirecTV/NBC's Friday Night Lights that towered above all else.)
All praise for AMC's dazzling dramatic duo aside, I'll be equally pleased if CBS' unashamedly grown-up legal drama The Good Wife takes home the prize. It certainly deserves whatever love the industry chooses to send its way, and a big broadcast win in this all-important category might silence those insiders who continue to carp about cable programs dominating the Emmys. No matter that they generally deserve to do so.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad (AMC)
Matthew Fox, Lost (ABC)
Michael C. Hall, Dexter (Showtime)
Jon Hamm, Mad Men (AMC)
Hugh Laurie, House (Fox)
Prediction: Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Preference: Jon Hamm, Mad Men
If Michael C. Hall is ever to receive an Emmy for his work on Showtime's Dexter it will happen this Sunday, because he's coming off wins at the Golden Globe Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Hall excitingly stepped up opposite a bone-chilling turn by the incomparable John Lithgow as the latest serial killer to invade his character's domain. But my own choice would be Jon Hamm who, like fellow nominees Hall and Hugh Laurie, is seriously overdue for recognition here. And then there's Bryan Cranston, as much a potential three-peat winner as Mad Men. It's not his fault that he's so fine in the role of a lifetime.
Come Sunday, I really shouldn't complain about a win for any of these talented guys over the rest -- and neither should you!
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights (DirecTV/NBC)
Glenn Close, Damages (FX)
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (NBC)
January Jones, Mad Men (AMC)
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife (CBS)
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer (TNT)
Prediction: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Preferences: Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer; Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights
If anyone is going to block the formidable Glenn Close from a third consecutive win for Damages its Good Wife star Julianna Margulies, like Michael C. Hall already a Golden Globe and SAG winner for her work during the nomination period. She's certainly deserving of the honor, but I've been waiting forever for Kyra Sedgwick to take home an Emmy for her uniquely entertaining work on The Closer and for Connie Britton to simply be nominated for her sublime portrayal of a small town working mother on Friday Night Lights, so I'm standing by them.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age (TNT)
Michael Emerson, Lost (ABC)
Terry O'Quinn, Lost (ABC)
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad (AMC)
Martin Short, Damages (FX)
John Slattery, Mad Men (AMC)
Prediction: Martin Short, Damages
Preference: Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
I'm reasonably certain that the competition here comes down to Martin Short's revelatory work on Damages and Aaron Paul's harrowing and heartbreaking efforts on Breaking Bad. Both are excellent choices, but I'm thinking that Emmy voters will lean toward Short because he's been around a lot longer than Paul and has never done anything quite like his portrayal of a cunning, conflicted, cut-throat lawyer with daddy issues on FX's legal drama. Meanwhile, don't underestimate the big love Emmy voters have for Andre Braugher, the best actor on Men of a Certain Age.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife (CBS)
Rose Byrne, Damages (FX)
Sharon Gless, Burn Notice (USA Network)
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men (AMC)
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men (AMC)
Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife (CBS)
Prediction: Christine Barnaski, The Good Wife
Preference: Sharon Gless, Burn Notice
Christine Baranski's elegant, controlled, razor-sharp work in The Good Wife makes for exactly the kind of performance Emmy voters love to honor, and I think they will do so. But I also think Sharon Gless' nail-tough turn as a mother who insists on being a part of her son's dangerous life as a burned spy, no matter how personally perilous, defines the term "supporting." A win for her would be almost as surprising as one for Rose Byrne, who certainly deserves something for holding her own opposite Glenn Close for three years.
Outstanding Comedy Series
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Modern Family (ABC)
Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
The Office (NBC)
30 Rock (NBC)
Preference: Modern Family
ABC's sparkling freshman hit Modern Family really does deserve this award, on account of it being the funniest comedy series on television during the Emmy qualification period and all, but I just spent four weeks in Los Angeles and it was my observation that one can't walk into an entertainment industry event or hit a Hollywood hot spot without running into someone who over-the-moon adores Glee, so I have to assume that the momentum in the industry is so huge there is no way this show won't win. Plus, it was just honored as Program of the Year and Outstanding New Program by the Television Critics Association and you can't beat that! I have nothing against Glee, but I'll be thrilled if my prediction is proven wrong.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock (NBC)
Steve Carell, The Office (NBC)
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Matthew Morrison, Glee (Fox)
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Tony Shalhoub, Monk (USA Network)
Prediction: Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock or Tony Shalhoub, Monk
Preference: Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Tony Shalhoub already has three Emmys for his work in Monk, while Alec Baldwin has two for 30 Rock, making them obvious Academy favorites. And since they were both as strong as ever last season, I see no reasons why one of them won't win again this year. Baldwin has the industry momentum, coming off two consecutive wins (and because the now wildly uneven 30 Rock remains an industry darling), but Shalhoub gave a powerful performance during the two-part Monk series finale, so I'm calling this one a toss-up. As always, Jim Parsons was way funnier than either of them, but he has never been honored by the Academy, so I'm not holding out much hope.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Toni Collette, United States of Tara (Showtime)
Tina Fey, 30 Rock (NBC)
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine (CBS)
Lea Michele, Glee (Fox)
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation (NBC)
Prediction and Preference: Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
I'd say Showtime can look forward to a win in this category, because if Toni Collette doesn't take home a second consecutive award for her outrageously demanding role of a woman with multiple personalities, then Edie Falco ought to get it for her portrayal of a harried wife, mother, nurse, mistress and drug addict. I'm going with Falco, because she has done something I didn't think possible with her work on Nurse Jackie - she has shoved aside (without compromising) all memories of her career-defining role as Carmela Soprano.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Ty Burrell, Modern Family (ABC)
Chris Colfer, Glee (Fox)
Jon Cryer, Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family (ABC)
Neil Patrick Harris, How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family (ABC)
Prediction: Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family
Preference: Ty Burrell, Modern Family
My prediction that Eric Stonestreet will take home the award is based on nothing more than the fact that his performance in Modern Family is almost as over the top as Jane Lynch's in Glee, and she seems to be everyone's choice for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series. But the truth is I haven't a clue which actor is going to receive the award. I'd like to see Ty Burrell win for his perfect portrayal of a perfect idiot, but any one of these guys could take it, including last year's surprise winner Jon Cryer or multi-talented scene-stealer Chris Colfer, often the heart and soul of Glee. And then there's Neil Patrick Harris, who received two Emmys at last week's Creative Emmys ceremony (one for hosting last year's Tony Awards, the other for his guest stint on Glee) and is clearly much adored by voting members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen, Modern Family (ABC)
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock (NBC)
Jane Lynch, Glee (Fox)
Holland Taylor, Two and a Half Men (CBS)
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family (ABC)
Kristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live (NBC)
Prediction: Jane Lynch, Glee
Preference: Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Check it out: Each of the Big Four networks has a nominee in this category!
Moving on -- only an idiot would bet against Jane Lynch here, but if it were up to me Julie Bowen would take home the award. Nothing against the phenomenon that is Ms. Lynch, but Bowen has been a revelation right from the start as the straight woman surrounded by colorful characters who more than holds her own while unexpectedly earning her share of laughs amid the merry madness of her family's modern misadventures. As far as I can recall, the last actress who successfully pulled that off to such grand effect was Mary Tyler Moore on her classic Seventies sitcom.
Outstanding Reality Competition Series
The Amazing Race (CBS)
American Idol (Fox)
Dancing with the Stars (ABC)
Project Runway (Lifetime)
Top Chef (Bravo)
Prediction and Preference: The Amazing Race
I can't argue with the fact that The Amazing Race is a marvel of modern television production, but after seven consecutive wins - and with no end to its supremacy in sight - I sometimes wish the Academy would just hand it some kind of Ultimate Emmy and free up this category. Then again, I have trouble thinking of the other four contenders in this category as especially award-worthy, so I guess I'm okay with an eighth triumph for CBS' global competition masterpiece. (Had CBS' Survivor or Fox's So You Think You Can Dance been nominated I might feel otherwise.)
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series
The Colbert Report (Comedy Central)
The Daily Show (Comedy Central)
Real Time with Bill Maher (HBO)
Saturday Night Live (NBC)
The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien (NBC)
Prediction: The Daily Show
Preference: The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien
I'm just indulging myself here: The Daily Show is clearly the best of this bunch and I hope the Academy upholds its standards. But how much fun would it be to see Conan O'Brien receive an Emmy live on NBC six months after the network screwed him over and two months before he returns to late night television on TBS? For what it's worth, I thought O'Brien's version of Tonight was just awful, except for those last couple of weeks when host and staff alike turned their guns in the direction of their soon-to-be former employer. But I'd still like to see him get an Emmy and hear what he has to say about it.
Outstanding Made for Television Movie
Georgia O'Keeffe (Lifetime)
The Special Relationship (HBO)
Temple Grandin (HBO)
You Don't Know Jack (HBO)
Prediction and Preference: Temple Grandin.
This HBO biopic was easily the most affecting and illuminating television movie of the season.
The Pacific (HBO)
Return to Cranford (PBS)
Prediction and Preference: The Pacific.
PBS' Return to Cranford was lovely, but HBO's uncompromising World War II masterpiece was one for the ages. More than just the season's best miniseries, The Pacific was also the Program of the Year for 2010.
Follow Ed Martin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/PlanetEd