Culture

Playing Emmy Roulette

This year's Emmy nominations were, by and large, so surprisingly on the mark that I even followed the Creative Arts Emmys. That's the ceremony that takes place before the main Emmy telecast, the one nobody usually gives a whit about. The big stars usually don't attend, even when nominated, and most of the awards go to bespectacled people no one recognizes. But I'm so caught up in Emmy fever, I'll take every scrap I can get. And now I'm even more engaged because some of the winners announced on Creative Arts night reflect my hopes, fears, joys and concerns over what might take place when the rest of the awards are handed out this Sunday.

Glynn Turman, who did two episodes of "In Treatment" as a grieving father, nabbed the guest actor in a drama category. It was Turman's first time winning the Emmy after decades in the industry, and he upset more obvious choices like Robin Williams's appearance in "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit." On the other hand, there's Kathryn Joosten's win for guest actress in a comedy. Joosten, who plays neighborhood curmudgeon Ms. McCluskey on "Desperate Housewives," won in 2005 and now again by surpassing a more deserving trio of actresses who appeared on "30 Rock" (Edie Falco, Carrie Fisher and Elaine Stritch). And then you have Cynthia Nixon's victory in guest actress in a drama, for a spot on "SVU" in which she played a woman who fakes multiple personalities to get out of a double-murder rap. When I saw Nixon in last season's "SVU" premiere, I told everyone who would listen that she had the category locked, just so I 'd like to go on record as having said it.

So from the Creative Arts Awards, I took these conclusions: sometimes the Emmy voters get it right, other times wrong, and I may actually be able to accurately predict which way it will go. That said, here's my take on the major categories, an analysis that hopefully serves both my idealist and cynical urges.

DRAMA CATEGORIES

Lead Actor
Gabriel Byrne, " In Treatment "
Bryan Cranston, " Breaking Bad "
Michael C. Hall, " Dexter "
Jon Hamm, " Mad Men "
Hugh Laurie, " House "
James Spader, " Boston Legal "

Spader hasn't lost this category any of the three times he's been nominated. Last year, he looked as baffled as anyone to be collecting it yet again, and no one would be surprised if he took home No. 4. But this is exactly why I think he could be vulnerable. He's won the award three times, but never two years consecutively. I think there will be an upset, and while any of these nominees would be deserving, Hamm seems the most likely to coast to a victory based on the deafening critical buzz around his show. On the other hand, he submitted "The Wheel," the season finale that gave him a huge emotional speech that loses its impact if you didn't see everything that preceded it. Emmy loves "House," so Laurie seems a likely choice.

Lead Actress
Glenn Close, "Damages"
Sally Field, "Brothers and Sisters"
Mariska Hargitay, "Law and Order: Special Victims Unit"
Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace"
Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer"

Another category full of deserving competitors, but there's no good reason to think Close doesn't have this in the bag. Her performance as civil-action litigator Patty Hewes was ferocious, and it's worth noting that of all the nominees, Close is the only one nominated for her performance in a pilot. That episode provided her with top-shelf material—Close's is the only show also nominated for Best Writing.

Supporting Actor
Ted Danson, "Damages"
Michael Emerson, "Lost"
Zeljko Ivanek, "Damages"
William Shatner, "Boston Legal"
John Slattery, "Mad Men"

This one is between Danson and Emerson, both of whom have a good shot at winning. Emerson's performance as Ben Linus is one of the most complex and unnerving I've ever seen, but somehow he lost last year to his castmate, Terry O'Quinn. With "Lost" back on the upswing, this might be the year to recognize him. On the other hand, Emmy voters have a soft spot for Danson dating back to his "Cheers" days. His dark turn as millionaire Arthur Frobisher is the best work of his career, and who doesn't love a comeback story? I'm giving him the slight edge. However, don't rule out two dark horses: Shatner, whose show Emmy loves for some indiscernible reason, and Ivanek, who was equally spectacular in "Damages."

Supporting Actress
Candice Bergen, "Boston Legal"
Rachel Griffiths, "Brothers and Sisters"
Sandra Oh, "Grey's Anatomy"
Dianne Wiest, "In Treatment"
Chandra Wilson, "Grey's Anatomy"

I'm going to go head over gut on this one. My gut is telling me Wilson will win. But while I don't really get the whole "Boston Legal" thing one bit, it's very well represented among the nominees, so I can't imagine it'll walk away with nothing. Bergen's performance seems likely simply because the other nominees have some negatives. Wiest's show is too talky, Griffith's performance is a bit too subtle, and Wilson and Oh are on a show that seems to have fallen out of Emmy's good graces.

Series
"Boston Legal"
"Damages"
"Dexter"
"House"
"Lost"
"Mad Men"

Were it up to me, I'd give the thing to the criminally underappreciated "Dexter," which is finally getting a little recognition after being shut out following its first season. But the show is too dark for many, the violence too off-putting. I think it's between "Mad Men" and "Damages," the shows that shocked the television industry by becoming the first from basic cable to be nominated here. "Damages" could pull off an upset, but it seems unlikely simply because the show is so highly serialized, it's hard to imagine a voter being able to make heads or tails of it after watching a half-dozen nonsequential episodes. "Mad Men" is ponderous and snail-slow, but here it's an advantage. It's hypnotic, but not quite as demanding.

COMEDY CATEGORIES

Lead Actor
Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"
Steve Carell, "The Office"
Lee Pace, "Pushing Daisies"
Tony Shalhoub, "Monk"
Charlie Sheen, "Two and a Half Men"

This is one of the toughest to call. Baldwin seems likely to win. His episode submission, "Rosemary's Baby," features a virtuosic scene in which he impersonates different members of Tracy Jordan's (Tracy Morgan) family to hilariously offensive effect. But then you have Carell, who despite the accolades and awards for his show, has never won the Emmy for his performance. His submission, "Goodbye, Toby" is just as strong. Moreover, it was an hourlong episode, so there's just more of him to love. I think Baldwin will edge him out, but I'd be just as happy with a Carell victory.

Lead Actress
Christina Applegate, "Samantha Who?"
America Ferrera, "Ugly Betty"
Tina Fey, "30 Rock"
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "New Adventures of Old Christine"
Mary-Louise Parker, "Weeds"

Applegate is deserving for her absolutely charming performance as amnesiac Samantha Newly. But Fey has the momentum on her side. Her show, which she created and runs day to day, garnered the most nominations for a comedy in Emmy history. It's hard to imagine not recognizing her for all the hard work. Plus she submitted a good episode, "Sandwich Day," in which Liz Lemon deals with the sudden return of her ex-boyfriend.

Supporting Actor
Jon Cryer, "Two and a Half Men"
Kevin Dillon, "Entourage"
Neil Patrick Harris, "How I Met Your Mother"
Jeremy Piven, "Entourage"
Rainn Wilson, "The Office"

This one is a two-man race between Harris and Piven. Piven has won this category for the past two years on the strength of his Ari Gold character, but I don't know a single soul who was thrilled with the listless last season of "Entourage." That leaves an opportunity for Harris, who was denied by Piven last year, to turn the tables on his nemesis.

Supporting Actress
Kristin Chenoweth, "Pushing Daisies"
Amy Poehler, "Saturday Night Live"
Jean Smart, "Samantha Who?"
Holland Taylor, "Two and a Half Men"
Vanessa Williams, "Ugly Betty"

I do hope I'm right here. Williams's loss last year to Jaime Pressly, which I can still make neither heads nor tails of, was a complete sham. Here's hoping voters will come to their senses this time around and hand her the statue. I worry though; for the same reason I think America Ferrera is a longshot for lead actress—"Ugly Betty's" loss of creative mojo—I think Williams could be passed over again. If I'm wrong, then I'd expect Chenoweth to slide into her place.

Series
"Curb Your Enthusiasm"
"Entourage"
"The Office"
"30 Rock"
"Two and a Half Men"

NBC should be happy with the outcome either way here, because I think this is between "The Office" and "30 Rock." I'm giving the edge to "30 Rock" because it's buzzier, has more nominations this year, and a better collection of episode submissions. Some of the episodes submitted for "The Office" were among the season's weakest. But then again, the show's fourth season has been polarizing. I thought it was the weakest yet, while others swear it was the best. If there are enough voters in the latter group, there could be an upset.

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