While voting members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences are busy poring through submissions for this year's potential Emmy Award nominees, here are my thoughts about which shows and actors should be nominated in the drama series categories, as well as my picks for the winners. It's always very satisfying to assemble such lists, if only to acknowledge the best of the best, but it can also be quite challenging. This is such an extraordinary time for television content that it is often near impossible to select only six nominees in each category, the maximum number allowed in the Emmy nomination process.
As always, the shows and actors named here represent one man's opinion. If you think there are any glaring omissions, please make them known in the comments section.
Outstanding Drama Series: AMC's Breaking Bad, PBS' Downton Abbey, CBS's The Good Wife, Showtime's Homeland, FX's Justified, AMC's Mad Men.
Also worth consideration: HBO's Boardwalk Empire, HBO's Game of Thrones, FX's Sons of Anarchy, TNT's Southland.
My personal choice in this category would be Breaking Bad, a series as dark and unsparing as any ever produced for American television and an extraordinary showcase for some of the finest acting in the medium. But a fifth consecutive win for Mad Men would be perfectly fine, as well. Many critics thought Men slipped a bit in its fifth season; my only complaint was that we didn't get enough of the former Betty Draper, one of the most consistently fascinating characters on television, and also one of the truest.
One might say that Downton Abbey deserves the top honor because it was a genuine phenomenon that brought millions of viewers to PBS and introduced a new generation of young people to period drama. (One might also assert that Abbey is a miniseries rather than an ongoing series, and thus does not belong in this category, but such decisions are out of our hands.) Many people will complain about my decision to exclude Game of Thrones from my primary contenders, but that's only because season two wasn't as focused as season one. Similarly, it can be argued that Sons of Anarchy had its strongest season yet and may be more deserving of a nomination than Justified, but I just can't bring myself to make that switch. I'll be good with their decision if Academy members do.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Steve Buscemi, HBO's Boardwalk Empire; Bryan Cranston, AMC's Breaking Bad; Kelsey Grammer, Starz' Boss; Jon Hamm, AMC's Mad Men; Damian Lewis, Showtime's Homeland; Timothy Olyphant, FX's Justified.
Also worth consideration: Michael C. Hall, Showtime's Dexter; Dustin Hoffman, HBO's Luck; Charlie Hunnam, FX's Sons of Anarchy; Hugh Laurie, Fox's House; Matt Smith, BBC America's Doctor Who.
Bryan Cranston already has three Emmys for his fascinating portrayal of terminally ill chemistry teacher turned drug lord Walter White. There is no reason to believe he won't collect a fourth this year, unless the Academy chooses to honor Kelsey Grammer for taking on a pay-cable role that is so all-consuming it actually overrides memories of his iconic portrayal of the pompous Dr. Frasier Crane on two classic broadcast comedies.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Glenn Close, DirecTV's Damages; Claire Danes, Showtime's Homeland; Julianna Margulies, CBS's The Good Wife; Elisabeth Moss, AMC's Mad Men; Katey Sagal, FX's Sons of Anarchy; Kyra Sedgwick, TNT's The Closer.
Also worth consideration: Kathy Bates, NBC's Harry's Law; Michelle Dockery, PBS' Downton Abbey; Mireille Enos, AMC's Mad Men; Emmy Rossum, Showtime's Shameless.
This is one of those circumstances in which no discussion is necessary. Every one of these women was simply extraordinary, including those who didn't make my primary list, but Claire Danes will be nominated and she will win. (P.S. I believe Danes' primary competitor next year in this category will be Chloe Sevigny of DirecTV's profoundly engrossing drama about a transgender killer for hire, Hit & Miss.)
This column continues over on MediaPost.