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Emmys Upset! The 19 Shows That Could Shake the Status Quo

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Issue 20 Emmy Upset Illustration - H 2012

With a glut of good television on the air, THR's TV critic imagines (pessimistically) that the academy will reverse its rubber-stamping.

This story originally appeared in the June 8 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.

In the history of comedy and drama nominations, there's not a very long list of examples you could truly call upsets -- at least not positive ones. Stunners? Snubs? Rubber stamps? Unforgivable choices? Sure. Plenty of those.

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There have been make-good picks, like Friday Night Lights finally getting nominated last year. There have even been -- how to put this? -- risk-taking but misguided nominations, like Joan of Arcadia in 2004. And there even was the Year of the Ridiculous, 2007, when the drama list included Grey's Anatomy, Heroes, House and Boston Legal. (At least there was redemption when The Sopranos won.)

On the comedy side, you could argue that the past decade was dominated by stability and/or predictability, plus the occasional Very Bad Choice.

True upsets of the positive kind have been extremely rare. Arrested Development was nominated -- and won -- in 2004 after years of rubber-stamping and lame offerings. The last serious upset didn't come until five years later, when HBO's Flight of the Conchords got a comedy nom. Since 2000, there has been a tad more action on the drama side. The biggest? AMC's Mad Men and FX's Damages breaking into the big leagues in 2008 -- with Mad Men winning for the first time (and now on a four-in-a-row streak). In 2009, AMC's Breaking Bad kept the upset streak alive, but it ended right there.

If you're keeping track of these upsets, well, there's not much to keep track of. These main series categories represent a very exclusive party, and Emmy voters are inclined to stick with the usual suspects or, at best, attempt to make up for past oversights. That could very well change in 2012. The key is volume. If there are enough truly great dramas and comedies -- and this year, there are -- the odds of some fresh shows breaking through increase. In fact, it's almost as if Emmy voters are in a can't-lose situation (this is where the cynical among you break into a roaring laugh).

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Here are the shows that, if nominated against the expected group, would be real upsets.

DRAMAS

Using 2011 as a guideline, the odds-on nominees in this category are good ones: Mad Men, Game of Thrones, Boardwalk Empire and The Good Wife. Forget Friday Night Lights, because it's over, and nominating a very weak Dexter would be a mistake (though it's the Emmys). If you're looking for a perfectly worthy pick that might get dropped, think Boardwalk. And if voters realize Good Wife is merely a peace offering to broadcast and thus nonessential, then who knows? There could be four open spots. Possibilities:

Homeland (Showtime): Look, this should be a shoo-in -- riveting greatness all around. And because of that, it wouldn't normally be called an upset. And yet: The Wire. Which is to say, even when you expect a slam dunk, it's the Emmys, so they could always dribble it off their feet and out of bounds. Assume nothing.

Justified (FX): This. Must. Happen. Now, three seasons in, a nomination is overdue -- but not expected.

Downton Abbey (PBS): Whoa, getting cocky, are we? Downton won as a miniseries last year but has switched categories this time, putting Emmy voters on the spot.

Southland (TNT): This is the best cop show on television and truly deserves a nom.

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The Walking Dead (AMC): OK, so this is tricky. An immensely popular show that might be a notch below the very top tier of dramas. And yet, it has redefined how stories about zombies are told. It's not about the dead, but the living.

Treme (HBO): Every year we wait, but it's not nominated. No time like the present.

The Borgias (Showtime): In its second season, it has fulfilled its potential.

Boss (Starz): Granted, Kelsey Grammer might get a nom, giving judges an out. But it could also sneak in, justifiably.

Magic City (Starz): The pay channel's shows are getting to the far end of the learning curve. The tail end of this freshman series proves it.

Enlightened (HBO): Here's your dark horse. It's a half-hour with plenty of laughs, but it's more drama than comedy. There's nothing else like it on television, so who knows where to put it? It should get credit for that, regardless of category.