Guest actors are all equal in Emmy's eyes
Actor can be eligible whether they appear in a few scenes or multiple episodes
Contending for a guest actor Emmy is a quirky enterprise. To be eligible, an actor can appear on a show multiple times during a season or in just a few scenes. Come Emmy time, he can decide if he'd rather be submitted in the guest or supporting actor race. This year's contenders comprise both.
Take "Glee," which has two nominations for guest actor in a comedy; one for a single song-and-dance visit by Neil Patrick Harris and one honoring series semi-regular Mike O'Malley. Of the two, Harris has more name recognition and would earn his first Emmy if he wins (he's also up for a comedy supporting actor award). But O'Malley's multiepisode arc as a blue-collar guy accepting his son's homosexuality was decidedly more integral to the show's plot.
The comedy contenders are rounded out by screen veteran Eli Wallach, who visited "Nurse Jackie"; the king of deadpan, Fred Willard, in a sentimental fatherly turn in "Modern Family"; two spots from "30 Rock" featuring "Mad Men's" Jon Hamm (also nominated for drama lead actor) as a dim-bulb babe; and Will Arnett in a recurring slot as Jack Donaghy's flamboyant nemesis.
Big names and unevenly matched screen times also show up in the drama guest actor race. Beau Bridges appeared as a cross-dressing detective on "The Closer"; Ted Danson continued his run as a likable sociopath on "Damages"; Robert Morse dithered as a fading ad exec in "Mad Men"; Gregory Itzin terrified viewers as an ex-president on "24"; and "The Good Wife" fielded two contenders: Alan Cumming as a recurring, media-savvy lawyer and Dylan Baker as a (twice) recurring suspect with unusual sexual preferences.
But it's John Lithgow, who played a smart Emmy game by submitting himself as a guest instead of supporting player, who's the favorite to win for his series-long arc as a serial killer on "Dexter."
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