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Emmy Cliffhanger: Can Mad Men Set a New Record?

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The race for Best Drama Series is truly the biggest drama looming over the Emmys: Can Mad Men set a new record by winning for a fifth time?

Currently, Mad Men is tied for top champ with L.A. Law, Hill Street Blues and The West Wing, but it has a curious edge -- it's never lost and it may be unbeatable on Sept 23. Five of the 13 experts polled by Gold Derby predict that it'll prevail again: Mo Ryan (HuffPo TV), Debra Birnbaum (TV Guide Magazine ), John Kubicek (BuddyTV), Daniel Manu (TelevisionWithoutPity) and me.

Five other pundits pick Breaking Bad: Maria Elena Fernandez (Newsweek Daily Beast), Elena Howe (L.A. Times), Rick Porter (Zap2It), Paul Sheehan (Gold Derby) and Ken Tucker (Entertainment Weekly). Backing Homeland are Maggie Furlong (HuffPo TV) and Jill Serjeant (Reuters). Matt Roush (TV Guide Magazine) stands alone forecasting an upset by Downton Abbey.

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When all of the pundits' views are combined, the nominees are ranked thus, according to Gold Derby's race track odds:

1.) Mad Men -- 2/1
2.) Breaking Bad -- 21/10
3.) Homeland -- 5/1
4.) Downton Abbey -- 6/1
5.) Boardwalk Empire -- 50/1
6.) Game of Thrones -- 50/1

What makes this category so intriguing is that there are four serious contenders. That means a winner can emerge with a relatively small percentage of votes. Arguably, that boosts the hopes of Mad Men to set the new Emmy record because it's shown such consistent ballot support over four past years. But voter fatigue may be setting in at this point. Or maybe not. After all, Frasier won Best Comedy Series for its first five years on the air (1994-1998).

Downton Abbey and Homeland have the elitist appeal that Emmy voters usually demand. Like Mad Men, those shows have a stylish look. Homeland strongly resembles another past champ in this category -- slick espionage thriller 24 -- but it doesn't have as much uppity appeal as Downton Abbey. Personally, I believe that poses the most serious threat as spoiler. After all, Downton already proved to be a winner last year as Best Miniseries, then it got shuttled off to the drama category where it may be irresistible again to Emmy voters who are notorious snobs, especially for British fare.

But don't write off Breaking Bad. Being a gritty drama about drug thugs, it has zero snob appeal in terms of plotting, characters and graphic look. However, when you ask the Hollywood Cool Cats (TV critics, industry chiefs and hipsters) to name their favorite drama series, Breaking Bad is the No. 1 Politically Correct Answer nowadays, so that gives the TV show a different kind of snob appeal.

Oh, yeah, Breaking Bad may even deserve to triumph. It recently won the award for Best Drama Series bestowed by the TV Critics Association.

The Emmy winner will be determined by three groups of approximately 250 to 300 members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences who work in the TV biz. The judges agree to view two sample episodes of each nominated program, then they rank the nominees one (top score) to six on their ballots, which they mail in to accountants at Ernst & Young along with a signed affidavit attesting that they viewed all requisite episodes. The contender with the lowest score wins. (Read more about the Emmy voting process.)

Producers of the programs nominated for Best Drama Series submit a total of six sample episodes that are divided into three pairings that are distributed randomly to the 750-900 voters. Here is how the episodes were paired.