Critics reveal their favorites of the season


The jury remains very much out on how much influence TV critics actually have on whether shows live or die or even get noticed. Their impact is said to range somewhere between "quite a bit" and "more or less zero," depending upon the year. This season, new series that the critics championed were a mixed bag as far as performance, with three of the highest-profile examples airing on NBC: the dramas "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" (canceled), "Friday Night Lights" (renewed for a second season despite paltry ratings) and the comedy "30 Rock" (renewed with only slightly better numbers than "Lights").

It's generally conceded that heavy and persistent praise from the critical community saved "Friday Night Lights" from the scrap heap even as the programming executive who both originally scheduled and renewed it, NBC Entertainment president Kevin Reilly, was himself being pink-slipped. But critics couldn't do much to stave off the axing of "Studio 60" -- the Aaron Sorkin series done in by unacceptably low ratings -- and, a year ago, the Fox comedy "Arrested Development." It's also true that no matter how much critics scream and jump up and down, they can't get Emmy voters to give the time of day to the HBO drama "The Wire."

Indeed, when it comes to the Emmys, the support and worship of the critics certainly help to bolster the trade ads. Impact on the actual nomination and voting process: undetermined. To be sure, the critics help create buzz that can lead to honors -- or, if you're the Sci Fi Channel's "Battlestar Galactica," the CW's "Gilmore Girls" and "Veronica Mars" or the FX's drama "Rescue Me," to a lot of frustration (though critics did, perhaps, help star Denis Leary land a lead drama actor nod a year ago). NBC's "The Office," too, has thrived partly on the strength of unanimous critical acclaim in winning the top comedy nom last year.

Six TV critics were contacted in late May to offer their nominee choices in many of the major Emmy categories in advance of this year's 59th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, whose nominations will be announced bright and early the morning of July 19. Following are their picks and comments.

Matt Roush, TV Guide

Comedy Series: Multiple
"The ones that will be nominated are ABC's freshman breakthrough 'Ugly Betty,' the season's sweetest and most delightful new show; NBC's 'The Office,' which had another great year; HBO's 'Entourage,' which was as tasty as popcorn though probably not as filling; NBC's 'Scrubs'; and either of the CBS comedies -- 'Two and a Half Men' or 'The New Adventures of Old Christine' -- which proves you can still get belly laughs out of classically produced comedy. I'm not sure it will happen, but I'd also love to see one for NBC's '30 Rock,' the funniest and most twisted new series, despite its iffy ratings.

Drama Series: Multiple
"I'm going here with (HBO)'s 'The Sopranos,' (ABC's) 'Grey's Anatomy,' (Fox's) 'House,' (and NBC's) 'Heroes' and 'Friday Night Lights.' If there's any litmus test this year for the Emmys to prove their relevance, it's 'Friday Night Lights,' a truly terrific and genuinely moving series that deserves every accolade it has wracked up so far. If its Nielsen woes impact its Emmy chances, what a tragedy that would be. I'm curious to see if (ABC's) 'Lost' can overcome perception that it has slipped (it hasn't) and get back on the list, and whether 'Heroes' can overcome genre bias and be recognized for bringing fun (however messy and incoherent at times) to primetime. 'Sopranos' deserves one last nomination for its mordant swan song, and as guilty pleasures go, I preferred ABC's new and improving 'Brothers & Sisters' over 'Grey's Anatomy,' but I doubt that's how the nominations will fall.

Made-For-TV Movie/Miniseries: 'Longford' (HBO), 'Broken Trail' (AMC) and 'Prime Suspect -- The Final Act' (PBS)
"'Broken Trail' was lovely; 'Prime Suspect' gripping."

Reality/Competition Series: Multiple
"It pretty much boils down to the usual suspects: (CBS') 'Amazing Race' (and) 'Survivor,' (Fox's) 'American Idol,' (ABC's) 'Dancing With the Stars' and one of the Bravo shows, probably 'Project Runway' (though I'd settle for 'Top Chef' as well).

Lead Comedy Series Actor/Actress: Alec Baldwin, '30 Rock' (NBC); America Ferrera, 'Ugly Betty' (ABC)
"Who cares if Baldwin's a madman? He's a genius in '30 Rock' and is clearly the front-runner. Otherwise, Steve Carell for 'The Office,' Jason Lee for (NBC's) 'My Name Is Earl,' Zach Braff for 'Scrubs' and probably Charlie Sheen again for 'Two and a Half Men.' Among the women, Ferrera gets it for sure; she stole the other America's heart as plain but proud Betty. Also look for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who won last year, to get nominated again for 'The New Adventures of Old Christine'; Tina Fey, coming into her own on '30 Rock'; Mary-Louise Parker, snubbed last year, for (Showtime's) 'Weeds'; and probably Felicity Huffman, though I wouldn't be surprised if all of the 'Desperate Housewives' leads are snubbed this year.

Lead Drama Series Actor/Actress: Multiple
"These are two categories that simply are packed with worthy candidates. In actor, you've got to go with James Gandolfini for 'The Sopranos,' Denis Leary as an indelible and increasingly controversial antihero on (FX's) 'Rescue Me,' Hugh Laurie as TV's favorite crank on 'House,' and a pair of dark horses: Michael C. Hall for Showtime's mesmerizing 'Dexter' and Kyle Chandler as the inspiring, believably put-upon coach of 'Friday Night Lights.' In actress, I'm looking at Kyra Sedgwick for (TNT's) 'The Closer,' Edie Falco taking Carmela to the end with integrity on 'Sopranos,' newfound Emmy darling Mariska Hargitay for (NBC's) 'Law & Order: SVU,' Sally Field as the warm and funny matriarch of 'Brothers & Sisters' and Minnie Driver doing some fine, risky work on FX's 'The Riches.'

Movie/Miniseries Lead Actor/Actress: Multiple
"Robert Duvall was terrific in 'Broken Trail,' and last year's ubiquitous awards queen Helen Mirren will no doubt repeat in the category for closing out Jane Tennison's story in the final 'Prime Suspect.' There was also great work from Jim Broadbent and Samantha Morton in 'Longford,' and Matthew Perry was an agreeable teacher hero in TNT's 'The Ron Clark Story.'

Supporting Comedy Series Actor/Actress: Multiple
"My wish lists would include Neil Patrick Harris for 'How I Met Your Mother' (CBS), John Krasinski and/or Ed Helms for 'The Office,' of course Jeremy Piven for 'Entourage,' and I'd love to see Ethan Suplee noticed for 'My Name Is Earl.' On the actress side, my picks would be Jenna Fischer for 'The Office,' Vanessa Williams for 'Ugly Betty,' Elizabeth Perkins from 'Weeds,' Jaime Pressly from 'Earl' and Cobie Smulders from 'How I Met Your Mother.'

Supporting Drama Series Actor/Actress: Multiple
"For the guys, you have to single out Masi Oka as the breakout from 'Heroes,' Michael Imperioli for 'Sopranos,' Zach Gilford on 'Friday Night Lights,' T.R. Knight for 'Grey's Anatomy' and Walton Goggins on (FX's) 'The Shield.' For actress, I'd go with Katherine Heigl and Sandra Oh for overcoming iffy material on 'Grey's.' Beyond that, I'm kind of drawing a blank."

David Kronke, Los Angeles Daily News

Comedy Series: 'The Office' (NBC)
"I know it won't get nominated, but FX's 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' certainly deserves to be recognized. The writing on the show always takes a step or two over the edge, and that wrongness results in some exhilarating hilarity. And given the paucity of sharp sitcoms on the networks, Emmy voters really need to pay closer attention to the cable shows. Comedy Central's 'The Sarah Silverman Program,' though a bit more shambling of an affair, deserves some attention as well. And (Comedy Central's) 'Reno 911!' is funnier than whatever'll likely round out this category. 'Ugly Betty' should nab a nomination as well. A nomination might help '30 Rock' a bit going into next season. All of that said, I fully expect and won't be disappointed if 'The Office' repeats.

Drama Series: Multiple
"Critics have kvetched long and loud about how Emmy voters have criminally overlooked 'The Wire' for the past few years, but I wonder if this might not be the year, at least (for the show) to get a nomination. I also think 'Heroes' is a lock for a nomination, as is 'House,' though it deserved nominations even more in seasons past. And one imagines 'Grey's Anatomy' will figure in the mix, for reasons others are better equipped to explain than I. I won't even bother mentioning 'Battlestar Galactica,' since Emmy voters won't, either.

Made-For-TV Movie/Miniseries: 'Longford' (HBO); 'The State Within' (BBC America)
"'Longford' has the Peter Morgan prestige thing going for it (the guy won Helen Mirren and Forest Whitaker a metric ton of trophies in the past year), and for two, it has Jim Broadbent's amazing performance. If 'The State Within' doesn't win for miniseries, Emmy voters deserve to have their eyes collectively put out.

Reality-Competition Series: The San Antonio Spurs/Phoenix Suns NBA Playoff series
"Yes, I know it's not eligible, but do you know of anything that qualifies as 'reality' or 'competition' that was as compelling?

Lead Comedy Series Actor/Actress: Alec Baldwin, '30 Rock' (NBC); America Ferrera, 'Ugly Betty' (ABC)
"I figure it has to be Baldwin, if only to make him feel better about returning next season -- oh, and because he deserves it as well. Steve Carell, Jason Lee and Charlie Sheen also will get nominated. For actress, Ferrera should carry this category easily. But it'd be nice if Sarah Silverman earned a nomination, if only to prove that the voters are actually paying some attention.

Lead Drama Series Actor/Actress: Hugh Laurie, 'House' (FOX); Multiple for Actress
"Laurie has won two Golden Globes. Maybe that should be a cue he deserves an Emmy as well. People thought that the nomination of Chris Meloni for 'Law & Order: SVU' was a fluke, but I disagree; he's done some inspired, empathetic work for several seasons now and deserves another nomination. James Woods should get one for (CBS') 'Shark,' though I'm not sure that's acting; it's just the way he is. And Denis Leary deserves a nod, too, for 'Rescue Me.' His portrayal is as compelling as ever. For actress, I'd nominate Kyra Sedgwick for 'The Closer,' Emily Deschanel for (Fox's) 'Bones' and Mariska Hargitay for 'Law & Order: SVU.' All of them are very good at what they do.

Lead Movie/Miniseries Actor/Actress: Jim Broadbent, 'Longford' (HBO); Helen Mirren, 'Prime Suspect -- The Final Act' (PBS)
"Broadbent should win for actor, though Jason Isaacs deserves a nomination for 'The State Within.' Mirren's probably a lock. I think a law was passed that prohibits not giving her a trophy during any nationally televised awards ceremony.

Supporting Comedy Series Actor/Actress: Rainn Wilson, 'The Office' (NBC);  Multiple for Actress
"I'm sure someone can make a compelling case for somebody other than Wilson, but that's only for a nomination, not a win. Vanessa Williams and Becki Newton deserve nods for 'Ugly Betty.' They're funny -- honest, I'm not swayed by their looks at all. Jenna Fischer also deserves to be recognized for 'The Office' and of course Jaime Pressly for 'My Name Is Earl.'

Supporting Drama Series Actor/Actress: Multiple
"I'd go with Masi Oka and Jack Coleman from 'Heroes,' 'Rescue Me's' Jack McGee and virtually any male member of 'The Wire' for supporting actor. For actress, Lisa Edelstein is awfully good on 'House.' Also, any female cast member of 'The Wire.'

Supporting Movie/Miniseries Actor/Actress: Chiwetel Ejiofor and Sophie Okonedo, both for 'Tsunami, The Aftermath' (HBO)
"Their story lines were simply wrenching, and both showed remarkable restraint in their performances."

Maureen Ryan, Chicago Tribune

Comedy Series: '30 Rock' (NBC)
"I see '30 Rock' as a classic case of a worthy show that really could use the promotional juice that an Emmy nomination -- or even better, an Emmy win -- could supply. I also hope that 'The Office,' 'Entourage' and 'Ugly Betty' get nominated in this category.

Drama Series: Multiple
"'Friday Night Lights' is the Emmy litmus test this year. If this sterling show doesn't get a heap of nominations -- at the very least, best drama, best actor for Kyle Chandler and best actress for Connie Britton -- then the Emmy nomination process is even more broken than usual. And if there is an FX shutout -- and especially if none of the actors, writers or directors for 'The Shield' get nominated -- I will continue to wonder what exactly the (Television) Academy voters have against this network and that show in particular, which has been better than 'The Sopranos' for at least two seasons now. Ditto 'The Wire,' which is every bit as good as you've heard, yet shut out repeatedly by the Emmys. All of that said, 'Lights' should get a nomination, as should my own personal favorites: 'Dexter,' 'Battlestar Galactica,' (HBO's) 'Deadwood,' 'The Wire' and 'The Shield.' All six deserve recognition.

Reality-Competition Series: 'Project Runway' (Bravo)
"It's at the top of the class and should finally win.

Lead Comedy Series Actor/Actress: Steve Carell, 'the Office' (NBC); America Ferrera, 'Ugly Betty' (ABC)
"I wonder if Alec Baldwin's recent troubles will mean he won't get an Emmy nod. Despite the fact he was kind of a creep to his kid, he should get one because his performance on '30 Rock' is consistently outstanding; however, the lead actor award should go every year to Carell. As for lead comedy actress, I'd love to see Ferrera win. I'm continually amazed by her ability to play subtle emotion and broad physical comedy -- even in the same scene. Also, Tina Fey has grown into her role as Liz Lemon on '30 Rock.'

Lead Drama Series Actor: Multiple
"Here is whom I'd love to see nominated here (and some of these aren't realistic, unfortunately): Michael Chiklis for 'The Shield,' Kyle Chandler for 'Friday Night Lights,' Edward James Olmos for 'Battlestar Galactica,' Michael C. Hall for 'Dexter' and Michael K. Williams for 'The Wire.'

Lead Movie/Miniseries Actress:
Helen Mirren, 'Prime Suspect -- The Final Act' (PBS)
"Helen Mirren has this category locked up."

Supporting Comedy Series Actor/Actress:
Becki Newton and Michael Urie, 'Ugly Betty' (ABC)
"Newton is a comedic wizard as the scheming Amanda on 'Betty.' Somebody please give this woman a statue -- now! Ditto for Urie. I adore him as Marc on 'UB.' He and Newton are more than reason enough to tune to this show every week."

Robert Bianco, USA Today

Comedy Series: 'Ugly Betty' (ABC)

"I see 'Ugly Betty' as definitely the front-runner this time in a category that's much stronger than it was a year ago. I think '30 Rock' had a terrific year, and 'The Office' and 'Entourage' are very popular with Hollywood, anyway. 'The New Adventures of Old Christine' and 'Two and a Half Men' also have their block of CBS voters, and both have a chance to crack the list. 'Desperate Housewives' had a comeback year creatively, but I don't see it getting back onto the list.

Drama Series: Multiple
"'The Sopranos' should be a lock for a nomination even though it clearly didn't have its best season. 'Lost' had big improvements throughout the season, and its spring run more than made up for its weak start, so it gets back on the list. I'd love to see 'Rescue Me' make it, but I tend to doubt that an FX series can. 'Brothers & Sisters' has an outside chance of getting there, too, probably more than 'Friday Night Lights.' 'Lights' was among the best produced, best acted, most realistic shows on TV. But I'm not sure it's the kind of show that appeals to the Emmy voters. In fact, it probably isn't, But we'll see.

Lead Comedy Series Actor/Actress: Alec Baldwin, '30 Rock' (NBC) and either America Ferrera, 'Ugly Betty' (ABC), Julia Louis-Dreyfus, 'The New Adventures of Old Christine' (CBS) or Tina Fey, '30 Rock'
"Alec Baldwin seemed like a lock until he had that cell phone message thing with his daughter. I hope it isn't held against him. He so deserves to win this Emmy. I'm also thinking nominations for Steve Carell, Charlie Sheen, Jason Lee and Ricky Gervais (for HBO's 'Extras'). For the women, I think the nominations go to America, Julia and Tina along with probably Mary-Louise Parker and Felicity Huffman, who has been brilliant on 'Housewives' -- though I'm not sure how comedic she's been.

Lead Drama Series Actor/Actress: Multiple
"James Gandolfini and Hugh Laurie have to make it even though both of their shows had less than their finest seasons. Michael C. Hall is stunning in 'Dexter,' and I'd love to see him win. I also love Denis Leary on 'Rescue Me.' And it would be great if Kyle Chandler could sneak in for 'Friday Night Lights' for his subtle, intelligent performance week after week, though I think James Woods will get one instead for his bigger, showier work on 'Shark.' Edie Falco has to be at the head of the list for actresses, and there's a strong chance Sally Field makes it along with Kyra Sedgwick and also Mary McDonnell for 'Battlestar Galactica.' She's exceptionally good on that series. Ellen Pompeo could also earn a nomination for 'Grey's.' She anchors that show more skillfully than she's given credit for.

Supporting Comedy Series Actress:
Rachel Griffiths, 'Brothers & Sisters' (ABC) or Sandra Oh, 'Grey's Anatomy' (ABC)
"I love them both."

Rick Kushman, Sacramento Bee

Comedy Series: 'The Office' (NBC)
"The shows that ought to be nominated are 'The Office,' '30 Rock,' 'Entourage,' 'Ugly Betty' and 'Scrubs.' 'The Office' is the most perfect 30 minutes of comedy on TV: slick, fast, smart, layered and, for all of its bitterness, a nice touch of heart. Just hearing the theme music makes me happy. I'd also love to see (the CW's) 'Everybody Hates Chris' on the list, but there's no chance. There's also no chance for 'Scrubs,' which could be replaced by 'Weeds,' which would be fine, or 'Two and a Half Men' or 'New Adventures of Old Christine,' which also would be fine. But 'The Office' is a cut above the rest.

Drama Series: 'Lost' (ABC), 'The Wire' (HBO)
"Despite some criticism early on, 'Lost' just rocked this year. 'Friday Night Lights' turned out to be a great surprise, 'The Sopranos' paid off in its last episodes, and 'House' is terrific. But I still say 'The Wire' is the most complex, powerful and haunting show on TV, and every year it gets ignored by the (Television) Academy, which is a crime. 'Heroes' might take one of the slots -- possibly 'Lost's,' because academy members don't watch it and will remember the early complaining. But a nomination for 'Heroes' is fair because it made the biggest splash this year. (HBO's) 'Rome' could also slip in with a nomination, so academy members can show they have classical inclinations.

Made-For-TV Movie/Miniseries: 'Prime Suspect -- The Final Act' (PBS); multiple for made-for-TV movie
"'Prime Suspect' needs an Emmy, and I'm sure it'll get it since 'When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts,' the Spike Lee project for HBO about Katrina, is going into a different category (exceptional merit in nonfiction filmmaking). It's the class of the longform field this year, however. The other miniseries nominees should include 'The State Within,' which was terrific. In TV movie, 'Longford' certainly deserves to be in there. I also loved CBS' 'Jesse Stone: Sea Change.' It was nice to see a network make such a classy movie.

Lead Drama Series Actor/Actress: Multiple
"This is a very tough category to choose a winner from amongst the men. The actors who deserve nominations are Eddie Izzard for 'The Riches,' Hugh Laurie, Kyle Chandler, Michael C. Hall and James Gandolfini. It's a toss-up as to who comes out with the award. For lead actress, I'm picking Minnie Driver, Edie Falco, Kyra Sedgwick and Connie Britton for 'Friday Night Lights' to all get nominated -- and Britton to win. She simply stands above the crowd.

Supporting Drama Series Actress:
CCH Pounder, 'The Shield' (FX)
"Pounder is a force who commands the screen."

Joanne Ostrow, Denver Post

Comedy Series: Multiple
"'Ugly Betty,' 'The Office' or '30 Rock' -- take your pick.

Drama Series: Multiple
"The four I want to see nominated are 'The Sopranos,' 'The Riches,' 'The Shield' and 'Lost.' Those are my four locks. I really love 'The Riches,' however. It's cynical, hilarious, sad and deserves wider acclaim.

Lead Comedy Series Actor/Actress: Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey, '30 rock' (NBC)

Lead Drama Series Actor/Actress: Multiple
"The ones I'd put on my nomination ballot are Eddie Izzard and Minnie Driver, Sally Field, James Gandolfini and Edie Falco and Hugh Laurie. Did you catch 'The Riches' episode where Izzard and Driver did 'fake' British accents? It's classic.

Supporting Comedy Series Actress: Becki Newton and Michael Urie, 'ugly betty' (ABC)
"The two of them are fittingly over-the-top scene-stealers as the characters Amanda and Mark on 'Ugly Betty.'"

Supporting Drama Series Actor: Dominic Monaghan, 'Lost' (ABC)