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Sneak peek at the Emmy battles looming over TV's best dramas

March 16, 2009 | 10:50 am

Maybe it's wacky to tackle this so early — nominations don't come out till July — but I just invited our gutsy forum posters to start forecasting the next Emmy lineups. So let's add some Gold Derby perspective too.

Nominees for this TV award are a lot like TV reruns. They come back again and again, year after year, but now there's a radical revamp in the voting process that may trigger somewhat different results. Among new series, "The Mentalist" has been a hit but is perhaps too fantastic and eerie for the safe taste of Emmy voters, who usually aren't too welcoming to crime procedurals anyway. Voters often do embrace new HBO series, whatever they are, but a stake may be driven through the Emmy hopes of "True Blood" (which was nominated for best drama at the Golden Globes), considering how that superhit "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was once so cruelly shunned by the TV academy.

"Kings" gets praise from some TV critics and mixed reviews from others. The L.A. Times calls the modern update of the Old Testament tale of David and Goliath "an interesting muddle of a show," but it's pretentious, so that's a plus with those notorious Emmy snobs. Read this L.A. Times article about a few more dramas premiering in midseason.

In recent years, nominees were selected using a two-stage voting process. In 2006, 2007 and 2008, 10 series and actors in each category (15 in the acting races in 2006) were chosen by academy members using a popular ballot. Then the semifinalists were whittled down to the final nominees after sample TV episodes were screened by judging panels that convened at the TV academy and the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

24_kiefer_sutherland_mad_men_true_b

This year the TV academy just made the terrible decision to kill off the judging panels in an effort to save money. That means we're right back where we started prior to 2006, with lower-rated underdog contenders getting screwed. In other words, Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") might be back this year because he gained stature after winning best drama actor last September, but don't expect other critically hailed work on little-seen, brilliant cable shows to get a fair shot.

However, this new system does make predicting the Emmys much simpler, since pundits need only to focus on the most popular faves. In an effort to help the small fries a bit, the academy has increased the number of nominees in each race to six (sometimes seven), up from the usual five.

Let's start off dishing the battles in the top drama categories for series, actors and actresses. See more noodling and predix in The Envelope's Gold Derby forums.

* = Nominee last year

BEST DRAMA SERIES
(Favorites)
"Boston Legal" *
"Damages" *
"Dexter" *
"House" *
"Lost" *
"Mad Men" * (last year's winner)
"No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency"
"24"

Due to an accounting quirk, there were six nominees in this race last year and five of them will probably be back: "Damages," "Dexter," "House," "Lost" and "Mad Men." "Boston Legal" is vulnerable now that it's saying bye-bye. Past champ "24" (2006) wasn't eligible last year, so there's a good chance it'll nab a bid now that it's jumping back into the derby. "The Tudors" made the top 10 rundown last year and "Big Love" in 2006, so they could make the next top six or seven. "In Treatment" didn't make the 2008 semifinalist list, but it could be buoyed now by its two Emmy victories last September for best supporting actress (Dianne Wiest) and guest star (Glynn Turman). Maybe in an alternate universe the critically praised "Battlestar Galactica" might have a shot. What about "Dollhouse"?

A few of our forum posters think past champ "ER" has a shot since it's experiencing a comeback in its final season. Among new series, HBO's "No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency" hasn't premiered yet, but reviews from U.K. where it aired last week are strong. "The Mentalist" is a relative ratings success, "True Blood" was nominated at the Golden Globes, and "Kings" reigns among some TV critics.

BEST DRAMA ACTOR
Gabriel Byrne, "In Treatment" *
Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad" * (winner)
Michael C. Hall, "Dexter" *
Jon Hamm, "Mad Men" *
Hugh Laurie, "House" *
James Spader, "Boston Legal" *
Kiefer Sutherland, "24"

Past champ Kiefer Sutherland will be back because "24" has been much missed. Denis Leary ("Rescue Me"), Kyle Chandler ("Friday Night Lights") and Patrick Dempsey ("Grey's Anatomy") made the top 10 runoff last year, so that tells us they have a strong base of popular support. Jonathan Rhys-Myers ("The Tudors") didn't make the runoff in 2008, but he may soon be forgiven for weighing 300 pounds less than the real King Henry VIII and being infinitely more pretty. Bill Paxton ("Big Love") made the run-offs a few years ago, but not since. This year's newbies who might break through include Ian McShane ("Kings"), who was nominated in this Emmy race for "Deadwood" in 2006,  Patrick Swayze ("The Beast") and Simon Baker ("The Mentalist").

BEST DRAMA ACTRESS
Glenn Close, "Damages" * (winner)
Sally Field, "Brothers & Sisters" *
Calista Flockhart, "Brothers & Sisters"
Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: SVU" *
Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace" *
January Jones, "Mad Men"
Elisabeth Moss, "Mad Men"
Anna Paquin, "True Blood"
Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer" *

Among last year's top 10 finalists who could rally despite not getting nominated in 2008 are Patricia Arquette ("Medium"), Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men") and Mary McDonnell ("Battlestar Galactica"). However, Moss seems to have been upstaged this season by January Jones on the hot cable series that won best drama last September. Maybe she'll dip down to supporting? Being a past Oscars champ ("The Piano"), Anna Paquin could be among newbies nommed, especially since she just won the Golden Globe for "True Blood." Jill Scott and Anika Noni Rose could be nommed for HBO's new drama series "No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency," but it's not yet known if both will compete in the lead race.

RELATED POSTS

Can 'Battlestar Galactica' finally conquer the Emmys?

Could 'Kings' star Ian McShane rule at the Emmys?

Emmys make good and very bad changes in the voting process

As usual, Showtime launches first major campaign of Emmy season

George Clooney and the rest of the returning 'ER' cast can't compete as guest stars at the Emmys

Can Oscar winner Susan Sarandon earn an Emmy for guesting on tonight's 'ER'?

Meryl Streep no-go on '30 Rock,' but Susan Sarandon joins George Clooney on 'ER'

Photos: (clockwise) Fox, AMC, NBC, HBO

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