Bad-boy antihero roles get voters' attention


Dashing, lantern-jawed leading men. Upright, moral representations of the macho element of modern-day America. What more should one expect out of a leading (or even a supporting) male role? Well, cast a gimlet eye over the list of this year's Emmy nominees for lead and supporting actor and a strange trend emerges: They ain't there.

Nope -- what sells to Emmy these days is the antihero. There's Alec Baldwin as a self-important network executive on NBC's "30 Rock." There's James Gandolfini from HBO's "The Sopranos" and Kiefer Sutherland from Fox's "24," two men who try to save the world -- or themselves -- by smothering and torturing others. In the supporting category, there's Jeremy Piven from HBO's "Entourage" and Rainn Wilson from NBC's "The Office," two scheming cogs in the machine, and Michael Emerson, the Machiavellian genius from ABC's "Lost."

Yes, it would seem that in order to snag a nomination you have to be simultaneously compelling and wicked. Far harder, then, are the jobs of the few remaining good guys out there: supporting actors T.R. Knight (ABC's "Grey's Anatomy") and Masi Oka (NBC's "Heroes").

But no matter whether they're playing good, bad or just plain obsessive-compulsive, many of the most talked-about performances from the past year have ended up on Emmy's table, and that's going to make judging a winner a difficult task indeed. Here, an analysis of this year's lead and supporting series actor races.


Lead Actor/Comedy Series

Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock" (NBC)
Steve Carell, "The Office" (NBC)
Ricky Gervais, "Extras" (HBO)
Tony Shalhoub, "Monk" (USA Network)
Charlie Sheen, "Two and a Half Men" (CBS)

Might Shalhoub take home his fourth statuette in five years for "Monk," tying the number won by Kelsey Grammar for "Frasier" over the course of 11 seasons? Shalhoub has to be seen as a favorite, if not the front-runner. His primary competition? Baldwin, fresh from his Golden Globe triumph for "30 Rock" in January.

So you have the veteran four-time winner, the buzzed-about Golden Globe winner and, in Carell, the one that got away. Last year, Carell was seen as the odds-on choice to win, but this time around, he's in the unique position of competing against the man who executive produces (and created the original British incarnation) of his series: Gervais for his work on "Extras." The British satirist has received Emmy nominations for acting, writing, directing and producing, but his lone victory came last year as an exec producer on "Office." In the end, both he and Sheen are the dark horses here, but there are certainly plenty of die-hard Gervais fans out there pulling for an upset.


Lead Actor/Drama Series

James Gandolfini, "The Sopranos" (HBO)
Hugh Laurie, "House" (Fox)
Denis Leary, "Rescue Me" (FX)
James Spader, "Boston Legal" (ABC)
Kiefer Sutherland, "24" (Fox)

It's arguably the most competitive race in any of this year's major Emmy categories, so don't just assume that Gandolfini will saunter across the finish line on a "Sopranos" sweep. Sure, the show has the drama series prize all wrapped up, but a fourth trophy for the man who gave life to Tony Soprano isn't necessarily a lock.

A more plausible scenario brings Laurie to the podium only one year after he was overlooked for a nomination -- a fact that seemed all the more embarrassing for Emmy voters who went on to select "House" as television's top drama. "I'm not going to say that Hugh has to get it," says "House" executive producer Katie Jacobs, "but it's difficult to imagine someone who deserves an Emmy more."

While Gandolfini and Laurie are the category favorites, Spader and Sutherland still might take home the statuette. Spader won in this category in both 2004 and 2005 -- first for "The Practice," then "Boston Legal." Sutherland's odds sink on the perception that "24" just suffered through its worst-ever season, even if his performance remained compelling.

As for Leary, he's superb on "Rescue Me" but might have a hard time defeating such high-profile competition. It's only fair to point out, though, that pundits said the same thing in 2002 -- the year that Michael Chiklis swooped in and grabbed the Emmy for lead drama actor for "The Shield," which, like "Rescue Me," airs on FX. It still stands as one of the great Emmy surprises ever.

Notes FX president and general manager John Landgraf: "The Emmys are a very unpredictable process. (Leary) was brilliant on the show this past year, and I have to believe he's got a shot. You always have a shot as long as you're one of those five."


Supporting Actor/Comedy Series

Jon Cryer, "Two and a Half Men" (CBS)
Kevin Dillon, "Entourage" (HBO)
Neil Patrick Harris, "How I Met Your Mother" (CBS)
Jeremy Piven, "Entourage" (HBO)
Rainn Wilson, "The Office" (NBC)

There isn't a lot of Emmy experience to be found here. Collectively, the five nominees have a mere eight noms between them and just a single win: Piven's, last year. The actor who plays unctuous agent Ari Gold on "Entourage" has a great shot at making it two in a row, though the category also appears ripe for an upset.

Not that it would be an upset were Wilson (in his first nomination) to win for his role as Dwight on "The Office." But it would surprise Wilson himself. "The academy is a notoriously conservative bunch, and the fact they've nominated a big, freaky, weird fascist office nerd like me is pretty remarkable in itself," he believes.

Cryer is overjoyed to have been nominated a second year running, calling it "a really nice surprise." He can't even think about winning or it will drive him nuts, he admits. Dillon and Harris shape up as long shots after having landed their first nominations for "Entourage" and "How I Met Your Mother," respectively. Dillon's candidacy could, however, take enough votes away from castmate Piven to keep Piven from taking the victory stand a second year running.

Harris earning a nom confirms to "How I Met Your Mother" co-creator and executive producer Carter Bays that the actor is genuinely superhuman. "Neil has such boundless energy. He's so nice; he puts service to the story ahead of himself in his work. It's impossible not to love him," Bays raves. "What can I tell ya? I could not be more proud of this guy -- unless he wins. Then it would be off the charts."


Supporting Actor/Drama Series

Michael Emerson, "Lost" (ABC)
Michael Imperioli, "The Sopranos" (HBO)
T.R. Knight, "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC)
Masi Oka, "Heroes" (NBC)
Terry O'Quinn, "Lost" (ABC)
William Shatner, "Boston Legal" (ABC)

Given the memorable fashion in which Imperioli's "Sopranos" alter ego, Christopher Moltisanti, went to meet his maker as the legendary HBO mob drama wound down this past season, he has to be seen as the odds-on choice in a category that generated six nominees. This is Imperioli's fifth nomination overall, having won just once (in 2004).

That said, Imperioli must defeat a fellow named Shatner, who has won two Emmys -- one for "The Practice" as a guest actor in 2004 and the second in a supporting role on "Boston Legal" in 2005 -- and who now has earned noms for the quirky ABC law drama for three years running. In total, he's earned six Emmy nominations since 1999 -- which Shatner admits fairly mystifies him.

"It's not as if I've improved as an actor," he stresses. "If anything, I've declined. I can't explain all of this late-career honoring of me, unless ... oh, wait, my God, it just came to me! It's a sympathy vote! That's exactly what it is! Everyone is feeling sorry for me, and this is their way of making me feel better about myself. That's very heartwarming, I think."

Both O'Quinn and Emerson, honored this year for "Lost," now have been nominated twice. Emerson is a previous winner, having trophied as a guest actor for "The Practice" in 2001. This is the first nom for Knight and Oka, with Oka also having pulled in a Golden Globe nomination earlier this year.


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