Emmy Watch: Actor

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Cable shows are expected to dominate the 60th annual Primetime Emmys this year. But that's old news in the actor categories, where cable performers have earned Emmy trophies four of the past eight years in the lead drama lineup, four of the past eight years in lead comedy, and seven of the past eight years for lead actor in a miniseries or made-for-TV movie. That's 15 cable wins (or 63% of the total wins), compared with just nine for broadcast.

That's significant, even acknowledging that the tally is weighted heavily by the longform category, a cable mainstay for the past 15 years thanks to HBO (though cable nets other than HBO still accounts for eight of the 15 victories). There are two performers in particular to thank for the track record: three-time winners James Gandolfini of "The Sopranos" and Tony Shalhoub from USA Network's "Monk." Gandolfini is out of the running this time, but Shalhoub -- along with fellow three-time winner James Spader of ABC's "Boston Legal" -- is still a contender.

Yet while it may seem that Spader (who has won three out of the past four years) and Shalhoub would be the favorites to pad their already-impressive Emmy resumes, don't bet the farm just yet. That's because this time there's a white-collar adman in Jon Hamm (AMC's "Mad Men") and a white-collar TV executive in Alec Baldwin (NBC's "30 Rock") in line this year. Hamm has a Golden Globe for lead actor, while Baldwin is widely viewed as having been stiffed last year.

In the drama category, the competition aside from Spader and Hamm is strong. But Hamm's emergence as this year's drama It guy is ironic and satisfying to "Mad Men" creator/exec producer Matthew Weiner. "Jon was a tough sell to AMC, for sure," he acknowledges, noting that Hamm was largely unknown before landing the role. "What I kept going back to was the fact that James Gandolfini and Edie Falco weren't known before 'The Sopranos,' either. What Jon brought to this role, and I could sense immediately, was a personal quality you can't quantify. He has a soul."

Adds Hamm: "It is bizarre to suddenly be this new kid on the block considering I've been around for a while."

In order for Hamm to emerge victorious, he has to slip past not just perpetual favorite Spader, but also Hugh Laurie, a two-time Globe winner for Fox's "House" who has been waiting patiently for his turn.

"The fact that Hugh has yet to win makes me think that this process is not completely objective and rational," says "House" co-creator/exec producer David Shore.

Adds fellow exec producer Katie Jacobs: "To some degree, I feel like this confirms the Emmy process itself may be flawed, judging a single episode's performance rather than the 24-episode body of work over a season."

Meanwhile, the lead comedy acting field is paced by Baldwin and Shalhoub (seeking his fourth Emmy triumph in six years), along with category newcomers David Duchovny (Showtime's "Californication," for which he earned a Globe this year), Lee Pace (ABC's "Pushing Daisies"), Steve Carell (still seeking his first win for NBC's "The Office"), Larry David (HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm"), Charlie Sheen (CBS' "Two and a Half Men"), Jason Lee (NBC's "My Name Is Earl") and Josh Radnor (CBS' "How I Met Your Mother").

"Alec was born for his role in '30 Rock,'" believes the show's executive producer Lorne Michaels. "It was also written by Tina (Fey) with him in mind, so it isn't coincidental. Does he deserve an Emmy for it? Without question."

An Emmy win is a major long shot for Radnor, but it would certainly be justified for the underrated performer.

"I know I've been well off of the radar, but I think it's only now occurring to me just how deeply unfamous I've been," Radnor quips. "An Emmy nomination? Yes, please. Though I have to admit it's still amazing to me even to be having this conversation."

In terms of the lead actor in a miniseries or movie race, it stands to reason that the overwhelming favorite is Paul Giamatti for his bravura performance in the $100 million-plus HBO miniseries "John Adams."

But that doesn't mean he's got executive privilege -- Kevin Spacey and Tom Wilkinson put a spin on American politics in HBO's "Recount," while Sean Combs gave an affecting performance in ABC's "A Raisin in the Sun" remake. Rounding out the shortlist are Simon Woods in the PBS melodrama "Masterpiece: Cranford" and Chris O'Donnell as a young CIA recruit who traveled through the agency's milestones in TNT's "The Company."
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