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Emmys 2012: New Ladies Taking the Lead in Best Comedy Actress Category

Julia Louis-Dreyfus Veep - H 2012

After what many considered a one-off win for Melissa McCarthy in 2011, the lead comedy actress race again is an open field for those in fresh series hoping to score their own surprise victory.

Here's a little advice for anyone who takes home the Emmy for best comedy actress: Don’t worry about clearing too much shelf space for multiple trophies. For more than a decade, it has been pretty much one and done for whoever wins. Plenty of big names have taken home the prize during the past 11 years — Edie Falco, Tina Fey, Jennifer Aniston — but the last person to win two in a row was Patricia Heaton for Everybody Loves Raymond in 2000-01. That’s good news for challengers to last year’s victor, Melissa McCarthy, who prevailed after Mike & Molly’s freshman season. With that in mind, here are new contenders who could keep her from repeating.

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FRAN DRESCHER
Happily Divorced (TV Land)
The show doesn’t have the obvious coolness or ratings of a more prominent network series (and most of its jokes seem to have expired in 1987). But the Emmys love personal projects (the series is based on Drescher’s real-life discovery that her ex-husband was gay) and actresses who have been around a while (it has been 19 years since The Nanny — and her honking — debuted). Drescher also has an Emmy history, having earned two comedy actress noms during the Nanny days, and the young network has a track record: Her TV Land cohort Betty White scored a nom last year for Hot in Cleveland. So it wouldn’t be a shock to hear Drescher’s name called on nomination morning July 19.

JULIA LOUIS-DREYFUS
Veep (HBO)
Other than Simon Cowell wearing T-shirts and at least one pair of breasts being bared every three minutes during Game of Thrones, it’s tough to find sure things when it comes to television. However, Louis-Dreyfus is as close to a certain bet as there is when it comes to Emmy noms. She scored comedy actress noms for each of her five seasons on The New Adventures of Old Christine, winning in 2006. There are also her seven Seinfeld best supporting noms, including a victory in 1996. Given that her Veep character, Selina Meyer, is cut from the same confident-yet-clueless cloth as Christine Campbell and Elaine Benes, it’s likely that the TV Academy will want to vote for this particular politico, especially during a campaign season when viewers are salivating for political satire.

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ZOOEY DESCHANEL
New Girl (Fox)
If Deschanel was your Match.com date, chances are by the third time she inexplicably burst into one of her nonsensical songs or dances, you’d excuse yourself, having suddenly realized you have to get up early in the morning for something. When it comes to her show, however, it’s a different story. Deschanel’s quirky characteristics have turned her from a New Girl into the “It” girl when it comes to awards discussions. She has been a clear front-runner since the series debuted in the fall. Why? She’s pretty. She’s quirky. She’s making a TV show instead of doing movies. She moonlights as a crooning singer-songwriter. Who could be so Scrooge-like as to not vote for her?

BETH BEHRS AND KAT DENNINGS
2 Broke Girls (CBS)
The Emmy race is kind of like high school: Everyone swears it’s ultimately who you are inside that counts, not how popular you are. Outside of most guidance counselors and motivational speakers, however, nobody really believes that. So, considering that 2 Broke Girls was the highest-rated new comedy of the season, it’s easier for voters to ignore the so-so reviews than it is to overlook the show’s popularity. But could it be Behrs or Dennings who gets a nom? Perhaps these two TV waitresses would deserve to split a nomination.

CHRISTINA APPLEGATE
Up All Night (NBC)
There’s nothing like a cute baby to make even the most jaded viewers melt. The same principle might well hold true for Applegate’s return to series TV as party girl-turned-career woman-turned-new mom Reagan Brinkley. Herself a new mother, Applegate gets to show every week just how far she has come from her days as Married … With Children’s tarty Kelly Bundy. It doesn’t hurt her Emmy chances that Applegate — nominated for best comedy actress for Samantha Who? in 2008-09 and a guest actress winner for Friends in 2003, plus another nom for that show — has been able to find sweetness among the snark in Up All Night, making it a more sentimental (and, therefore, more awards-likely) series.

JANE LEVY
Suburgatory (ABC)
In the real world, even their own parents find excuses not to hang around precocious, disaffected teenagers. All season long, Levy did her best to reverse this trend courtesy of her precocious, disaffected character, Tessa Altman. Maybe it’s because this is only Levy’s second television gig — her first was playing the precocious, disaffected goth teen Mandy on Shameless — but there’s something about Tessa that feels new and rather endearing. If Emmy voters welcome her into their family with a nomination, will she respond by telling them they “just don’t understand” and locking herself in her room?

LENA DUNHAM
Girls (HBO)
Dunham would have seemed the season’s least likely Emmy contender. After all, she’d never done TV before creating and starring in Girls; her hapless character, Hannah Horvath, is anything but a punchline-tossing ingenue; and she gets naked. A lot. Still, the critical buzz around her series seems to be building week by week, and it’s got the same dark, funny-without-laughs sensibility that has won accolades for shows like Nurse Jackie and The Big C. If voters really want to demonstrate that the times are still changing and different types of actors and shows have a shot, then Dunham could very easily score a nomination.

LAURA DERN
Enlightened (HBO)
For the past several years, cable series seem to have cornered the market on flawed females trying (and seldom succeeding) to fix whatever ails them. Dern’s Amy Jellicoe is the latest to join this Not Really So Bad Girls Club. As a former corporate exec trying to get her life back together, she has been able to play everything from Woman Way Past the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown to Misguided Zen Mistress. But despite her character’s travails, she has managed to remain someone viewers — including Emmy voters — kinda, sorta root for.