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Emmys: Handicapping Comedy's Supporting Players -- and the Vacancy Left by Eric Stonestreet

THR awards analyst Scott Feinberg digs into two of the year's biggest wild card races, with returning champions duking it out with upstart first-time nominees.

Modern Family Season 4 Premiere Episodic - H 2012
ABC/PETER "HOPPER" STONE

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's August Emmy stand-alone issue.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS IN A COMEDY

Mayim Bialik
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)

PRO: The erstwhile child star has scored back-to-back noms for her portrayal of nerdy neurobiologist Dr. Amy Farrah Fowler, the girlfriend of Jim Parsons' Sheldon, who during season six slowly but surely made headway in her quest to get him to overcome his struggle with showing emotion and affection.

CON:   Some, including TV Critics' Choice Awards voters, feel the show's standout female performer last season was Kaley Cuoco.

PHOTOS: Emmys: Exclusive Photos of TV's Biggest Supporting Stars

Julie Bowen
Modern Family (ABC)

PRO: This makes four noms in a row for the two-time winner who brings us Claire Dunphy, a bubbly blonde homemaker who spends most of her time putting out fires set by her husband and kids. Her season-four material included the usual comedic insanity as well as a darker turn involving a health scare.

CON: For a fourth straight year, she's sharing this category with co-star Vergara, and it finally might be the latter's turn in the winner's circle.

Anna Chlumsky
Veep (HBO)

PRO: Another former child actor (My Girl), at 32, she is the youngest nominee here and a first-time contender for her portrayal of Amy Brookheimer, the vice president's foul-mouthed chief of staff -- and principal damage controller. Veep is nominated for best comedy series, and Chlumsky's co-star Julia Louis-Dreyfus won the lead comedy actress trophy in 2012.

CON: This is her first nom, and voters might want to see repeat bridesmaids like Vergara finally win.

Jane Krakowski
30 Rock (NBC)

PRO: Krakowski has bagged four noms in five years (missing only in 2012) thanks to her interpretation of Jenna Maroney, a laughably narcissistic television actress who, during 30 Rock's seventh and final season, released an album, became a political powerbroker and prepared to wed. 

CON: Many would agree that 30 Rock's heyday was a few years ago. If Krakowski didn't win when the show was white-hot, can she really win now that it's gone for good?

STORY: Emmys: 8 Showrunners and Writers Reveal the Emotional Hurdles in Their Nominated Episodes

Sofia Vergara (Most likely to win!)
Modern Family (ABC)

PRO: For playing buxom and irrepressible Colombian wife and mother Gloria Delgado-Pritchett, she has been rewarded with four Emmy noms. A Golden Globe and SAG nominee this year, Vergara had new material to mine last season with her character giving birth and the ensuing shenanigans of being married to an older dad.

CON: Few actors win for the first time this far into a series' run. And with countless endorsements and press ops, Vergara could be overexposed.

Merritt Wever
Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

PRO: Voters awarded a second consecutive nomination to Wever for her Zoey Barkow, a driven, extroverted and slightly nutty young nurse who, during season five, seemed to mature -- and hooked up with a doctor! She also was memorable as a guest star on New Girl, playing Schmidt's college love.

CON: Wever remains the least recognizable name here. Also, her show is more of a dark dramedy and was not nominated for best comedy series.

STORY: Emmys: Scott Feinberg on Drama's Supporting Smackdowns

SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A COMEDY

Ty Burrell
Modern Family (ABC)

PRO: For his embodiment of desperate-to-be-cool dad Phil Dunphy, Burrell, a great straight man, has been nominated four times and took home the Emmy in 2011.

CON: The Modern Family conundrum -- all of the adult actors are submitted as supporting contenders -- continues to plague this category. With two-time winner Eric Stonestreet left out this year, it could signal that voters feel they have awarded enough Modern performances and might want a fresh face.

Adam Driver
Girls (HBO)

PRO: This up-and-comer and budding film star (LincolnInside Llewyn Davis) earned his first Emmy nom for his portrayal of Brooklyn hipster Adam Sackler, the dude with whom Lena Dunham's Hannah has a complicated romance.  

CON:   His character could offend nonfans, especially after a gritty scene last season in which he seemed to force sex on his girlfriend (Shiri Appleby). Older voters who don't connect with Girls might be turned off.

STORY: Emmys: THR's Awards Analyst Handicaps the Comedy Leads

Jesse Tyler Ferguson
Modern Family (ABC)

PRO: Ferguson is a fan and TV Academy favorite for his portrayal of Mitchell Pritchett, half of a gay couple with an adopted daughter, earning noms for all four seasons Modern Family has been on the air.

CON: Each of the past three years, this category has been won by Burrell or Stonestreet, Ferguson's "other half" on the show. It's rare to start winning after season four -- and if someone were to do so, it probably would be veteran O'Neill, whom many can't believe never has won.

Bill Hader
Saturday Night Live (NBC)

PRO: No recent performer on the venerable variety series has been more versatile or funny than Hader, who spent eight seasons on the show. He earned a second consecutive nom for his last season, during which he showcased such fan favorites as Stefon, James Carville and Vincent Price

CON: No performer -- not even Amy Poehler or Kristen Wiig -- has won an Emmy for SNL outside of the guest or variety series categories.

STORY: Emmys: Scott Feinberg Handicaps the Drama Leads (Analysis)

Tony Hale
Veep (HBO)

PRO: Hale is laugh-out-loud hilarious as Gary Walsh, the vice president's trusted and servile "bag man." His role -- and his work -- improved markedly during season two, which coincided with the actor's return to Arrested Development. The double press opportunities could help.

CON: This is Hale's first major awards nomination of any sort, so he might need to pay his dues a bit more -- and grow his name recognition -- before voters see him as integral to the race.

Ed O'Neill (Most likely to win!)
Modern Family (ABC)

PRO: Like Ferguson, the TV veteran has been nominated each of the past three years (after a bizarre snub for the show's first season), and it finally might be his turn to win. His Jay Pritchett, a guy's guy with a dry sense of humor, became a dad again last season, and O'Neill nailed the mania of newly minted senior-citizen fatherhood.

CON: Bizarrely, O'Neill never even received an Emmy nom during the 11 seasons he played the more outwardly funny Al Bundy on Married … With Children.