Emmy Wrap: Actress contenders


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"Cable is becoming network, and networks are becoming like old cable," says Rene Balcer, showrunner for NBC's "Law & Order." "I'm not panicked that cable is getting all these Emmys. In a few years, the only difference will be a semantical one that will have meaning only to people like (CBS') Les Moonves and (NBC's) Jeff Zucker."

Meanwhile, cable surged forward this year across the board -- but especially in the Emmy actress categories.

The lead actress in a drama series field rings of deja vu -- not just because it's exactly the same lineup as last year, but because the nominations now allow for more entries. Elisabeth Moss (AMC's "Mad Men") has carved out a spot alongside Holly Hunter (TNT's "Saving Grace") and three previous winners in Mariska Hargitay (NBC's "Law & Order: SVU"), Sally Field (ABC's "Brothers & Sisters") and Glenn Close (FX's "Damages"). That's five cable shows and two broadcast ... with all nominations save Moss' going to women older than 40.

Quibble with that selection at your peril, though some repeat nominations hardly had standout seasons: Multiple insiders wonder why January Jones ("Mad Men") was left off the list ("She makes a huge contribution to that show," notes one executive producer). NBC actresses have won in this category four times since 2000, but Hargitay is the only Peacock rep on the list this year. Close could win it again, though she's far from a lock, while Kyra Sedgwick (TNT's "The Closer") is considered overdue for recognition.

Close does have her supporters: "I've watched every episode of 'Damages,' and Glenn Close has been phenomenal all the way through," says Eric Shanks, DirecTV's executive vp, TV entertainment.

The supporting actress in a drama series category features six names but only four shows, as Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson (ABC's "Grey's Anatomy") return from last year's nomination list and go up against HBO's "In Treatment" twosome of Dianne Wiest (last year's winner) and Hope Davis. (Wilson is also nominated in the miniseries lead actress category.) Rose Byrne (FX's "Damages") and Cherry Jones (Fox's "24") round out the lineup, putting cable nominees on par with broadcast in this category in sheer numbers.

No single network has dominated here in recent years, and only two shows have repeated winners since 2000 -- not necessarily good news for Wiest. Split votes are common in this slot, and rarely seem to affect the ultimate winner -- and there's no specific industry buzz on one entrant over another.

Over in comedy, it's long been said (in a slightly despairing manner) that the funny business remains a broadcast bastion when it comes to Emmys -- and thus far, that's been true. Cable has had a hard time shoring up comedy winners outside the HBO "Sex and the City" juggernaut. But the old aphorism took a hit this year: In 2008 broadcast held four of the five nominees in the lead actress in a comedy category, but this year cable has three of the six, with Sarah Silverman (Comedy Central's "The Sarah Silverman Program"), Toni Collette (Showtime's "United States of Tara") and Mary-Louise Parker (Showtime's "Weeds").

Not that broadcast has shabby seconds: Julia Louis-Dreyfus (CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine"), Christina Applegate (ABC's "Samantha Who?") and last year's winner, the possibly unstoppable Tina Fey (NBC's "30 Rock"), round out the bunch. And there's a lot of continuing love in the industry for Fey's show, Fey herself and Fey's Sarah Palin impersonation.

That kind of legacy could benefit a show like "30 Rock," says Rolin Jones, a supervising producer on NBC/DirecTV's "Friday Night Lights."

"I'm sure '30 Rock' is still getting votes for the 10-second cutaway of 'Werewolf Bar Mitzvah' from the first season," he says. "A list in your head gets built and you wait for a new show to make you question last year's list. That's the beginning of the 'anything associated with a good show gets your nomination' (way of thinking). It's grossly arbitrary, but you can't take it too seriously, can you? Voters do have lives and can't do (all of) the viewing."

Additionally, the last time an actress repeated her award was 2001, which might take some of the wind out Fey's sails. Since the turn of the century, cable has won just once, and it took Sarah Jessica Parker six nominations before she became HBO's first lead actress winner, in 2004. Silverman broke ground by being the first lead actress nominee for her network, while Parker is on her third year of nominations and Collette her first.

Last year, broadcast held cable outside the gates in the supporting actress in a comedy series category, but the door has been breached this time around. Elizabeth Perkins ("Weeds") adds to a list that includes two from NBC's "Saturday Night Live" (Amy Poehler and Kristen Wiig), plus Kristin Chenoweth (ABC's "Pushing Daisies"), Jane Krakowski ("30 Rock") and Vanessa Williams (ABC's "Ugly Betty"). Three are repeats (Chenoweth, Poehler, Williams), but last year's winner (Jean Smart of "Samantha Who?") isn't in the running.

The supporting comedy actress category tends to feature repeat winners -- voters get on a roll and don't like to get off: Megan Mullally won it twice since 2000; Doris Roberts four times. It's also a category that rewards first-time winners, whether in their roles (Smart) or overall (Cynthia Nixon and Jaime Pressly). With a "30 Rock" sweep in the offing, Krakowski has a fighting chance, but "SNL" might overwhelm: Amy Poehler has both a Fey connection and her own show (NBC's "Parks and Recreation").

Wilson played enough different characters this year to earn two nominations: In addition to her supporting drama actress nomination, she's one of five names in the lead actress in a miniseries or movie category for her work on the Hallmark Channel's "Accidental Friendship." The downside? Her competition is made up of feature film heavy-hitters, two of whom have Oscars: Shirley MacLaine (Lifetime's "Coco Chanel"), Drew Barrymore (HBO's "Grey Gardens"), Jessica Lange ("Grey Gardens") and Sigourney Weaver (Lifetime's "Prayers for Bobby").

It's hard to know if that setup helps, or hurts Wilson, as Peter Tolan, showrunner for FX's "Rescue Me" notes.

"I don't think it hurts (her). Usually this happens in a supporting actor category where there's a lot of flashy casting and you get some impressive people lined up. But given the fact that I think the voters are lazy, there may be those who are swayed by somebody's resume as opposed to judging the performance at hand. Hopefully, it matters what the performance was -- and that can be anybody."

Alas, HBO all but owns the mortgage on this property -- since 2000 it has won every year but three, and no other network has had a repeat, though Lifetime achieves a small success by having two shows nominated this year. Series TV actresses rarely fare well here, and feature actresses do: Halle Berry, Judy Davis, Helen Mirren and Meryl Streep all have earned prizes here. The good news is that Laura Linney (last year's winner) isn't up for consideration. Each of the three times she's been nominated, she's won.

And while the lead miniseries actress category offers little solace to broadcast networks -- last year two broadcast shows held berths, this year none do -- broadcast still has a toehold in the supporting actress in a miniseries or movie category, with one of five nominations: Marcia Gay Harden (CBS' "The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler (Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation)"), Jeanne Tripplehorn ("Grey Gardens"), Shohreh Aghdashloo (HBO's "House of Saddam"), Janet McTeer (HBO's "Into the Storm") and Cicely Tyson (Hallmark Channel's "Relative Stranger").

HBO dominates in this category, too, but not as much as elsewhere -- since 2000, it has garnered five wins; the only other cable network to win is USA Network. CBS has had no wins since the turn of the century. But one interesting factoid about this year's lineup: It's all but "grand dame"-free. Those are the names who traditionally win, with the occasional ingenue breaking through. Tyson is the closest candidate this year, but buzz has Tripplehorn possibly benefiting from a "Gardens" sweep.

As with much of this year's nominees, many names remain the same -- and in many places, the answers remain up in the air.