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Emmy predix: Why James Spader will win his fourth Emmy

September 16, 2008 | 10:20 pm

Expect to hear a lot of groans this Sunday night when "Boston Legal" star James Spader — who's gone undefeated at the Emmys in the past — wins best drama actor for a fourth time.

Yes, brace yourself for one of those bizarre Emmy moments to repeat again. I and Gold Derby 's two other Emmy experts — our forum moderators Robert "Rob L" Licuria ( and Chris "Boomer" Beachum — all predict Spader will pull off another jaw-dropper. Rob's and Boomer's expanded predix, rankings and analysis are below, but, first, let me offer my own explanation.

Remember how Emmy voting works: Nominees pick a sample episode of their best work and submit it to about 50 to 70 judges, all fellow actors, who watch the DVD screeners at home and rank the contenders.


Spader keeps winning because "Boston Legal" producer David E. Kelley — a whiz at snagging Emmys and a former lawyer in real life — usually gives Spader one of those big, showboating courtroom speeches at the end of his Emmy episode that wins over judge and jury. Including Emmy judges.

This year Spader gives his hottest firebrand speech ever. He gets to argue a case before the U.S. Supreme Court and he uses the occasion to scorch justices for being lackeys of the conservative White House, at one point chastising Clarence Thomas for not paying attention to him as he rants: "Put down that magazine!"

"Who are you people?" Spader roars. "You've transformed this court from being a governmental branch devoted to civil rights and liberties into protector of discrimination, guardian of government, a slave to monied interests and big business and today, hallelujah, you seek to slay a mentally disabled man!"

How can Hollywood lefties resist voting for that?

If Spader actually manages to lose, it's hard to say who'll beat him. All competing episode submissions are superb and, with six nominees in this race, all a contender needs to win, theoretically, is 17% of the vote.

Both Boomer and Rob believe that Hugh Laurie is in second place and that's possible. In the "House's Head" episode of "House" he gives a big flashy turn as he battles temporary amnesia while struggling to recall which fellow passenger he diagnosed with a life-threatening medical problem just prior to a bus crash. I think this episode has a drawback, though. Normally, House is a cranky character — in an appealing way. Here he's downright nasty, a bully. Some voters inevitably will be turned off.


Personally, I would put Jon Hamm ("Mad Men") in second place. His Emmy episode, "The Wheel," isn't, well, as ham-fisted or emotionally flashy as Hugh Laurie's. In fact, Hamm is rather laid back through most of it, but he gets a big crying scene — voters are often suckers for that.

In "The Wheel," hotsy-totsy advertising exec Don Draper (Hamm) suddenly redeems himself for being a sly alley cat when we see him give a slide show to Kodak while advising the company on what to call its new, round slide projector. He makes his pitch while showing them slides of himself with wife and kids during happier days years ago. Seeing these images again makes Draper cry in the dark while he urges the execs to change the name of "The Wheel" to something else that "takes us to a place where we ache to go," he says, tearing up, voice cracking as he shows off old, happy photos of him and his wife. "It's not called 'the wheel.' It's called 'the carousel.' It lets us travel the way a child travels, around and around and back home again — to a place where we know we are loved."

A similar parallel can be drawn to Michael C. Hall's performance — which is also quite passive except for a big grand finale. In Hall's case, the emotional contrast is even more interesting. What makes his acting so seductive is its smoldering volcanic fire. Serial killers don't like to draw attention to themselves so he's always holding back, drawing us near. Very powerful, especially at the end of this "Dexter" episode, "There's Something About Harry," in which he discovers that his father committed suicide when he learned that his son was a murderer. Dexter screams, "I killed my father!" It's the episode where Dexter keeps his nemesis, James Doakes, locked up in a cage out in the Everglades and it's so taut and gripping that it could definitely bring Hall the Emmy.

But Hall not only needs to get by Spader, Laurie and Hamm, but Bryan Cranston and Gabriel Byrne too. I agree with Rob and Boomer that Byrne's turn is just too talky and pretentious. He's out. But Cranston really does have hope here. I think Boomer makes a big mistake ranking him last. In the pilot episode of "Breaking Bad," Cranston is riveting as a science teacher who resorts to making crystal meth to earn a quick fortune when he learns that he's dying of cancer. Cranston has a real chance to win too. Only Byrne is out of this race, methinks.

But let's check in with what Rob and Boomer think. First, Rob.

1. James Spader, "Boston Legal" ("The Court Surpreme")
2. Hugh Laurie, "House M.D." ("House's Head")
3. Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad" ("Pilot")
4. Michael C. Hall, "Dexter" ("There's Something About Harry")
5. Jon Hamm, "Mad Men" ("The Wheel")
6. Gabriel Byrne, "In Treatment" ("Paul and Gina: Week 4")

ROB'S COMMENTARY: The actors I have in third to sixth place should really all be tied for third place. I can't separate them really — they're all that good — and are all in with a shot in this years number-one killer category.

Gabriel Byrne is touching and vulnerable in an episode where the camera is almost entirely focused on him. Bryan Cranston OWNS this character in the pilot of "Breaking Bad," and is so perfect that he is the spoiler. Michael C. Hall is really captivating in his episode, and has lots of buzz to go with it. So does Jon Hamm, the Golden Globe winner from earlier this year, who has the best scene of the category in the "Carousel" presentation towards the end of his episode. Hugh Laurie is wonderful in "House's Head," and everybody knows that he is way overdue for some Emmy recognition.


And then we have James Spader, who has already won three of these puppies. He receives a lot of flack in the media and by people like us because of this, and also because many (including me) don't see what is so good about this show, apart from the right-wing bashing that is sometimes amusing. Still, when you see his episode "The Court Supreme," you'll understand why the winner will most probably, once again, be James Spader.

1. James Spader, "Boston Legal" ("The Court Surpreme")
2. Hugh Laurie, "House M.D." ("House's Head")
3. Jon Hamm, "Mad Men" ("The Wheel")
4. Michael C. Hall, "Dexter" ("There's Something About Harry")
5. Gabriel Byrne, "In Treatment" ("Paul and Gina: Week 4")
6. Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad" ("Pilot")

BOOMER'S COMMENTARY: If the voters are strictly going by the six episodes they watch, there is no question in my mind that Spader will remain undefeated at the Emmys. He gets to deliver a grandstanding speech to the U.S. Supreme Court members and has much more screentime and emotion than when he surprisingly won last year. I am hoping that the judging panel members stray beyond their instructions, though, and give another guy a chance this time. Spader has won more than his share.

All of the other performances in this category are well-chosen Emmy submissions and have a decent shot at winning. Laurie has more than earned his Emmy over the past few seasons and would be my personal top choice this time. He has a well-designed mystery that becomes very personal at the end. Hamm is a superstar on the rise, but he disappears for large chunks of time on his episode. He probably has the single greatest scene of any of these n ominees with his description of the new Kodak Carousel. I enjoyed Hall, Byrne and Cranston but just don't think they will take home the Emmy this time.

(ATAS, Fox, AMC, Showtime)