Top actors make the cut in a crowded field


It had become a tradition almost as storied as the Emmys themselves: The annual collective industry groan over the Emmy nominations. The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences couldn't catch a break, so every year it tweaked its rules, raising hopes and expectations that would only be crushed come the following year.

But last year's outcry over James Gandolfini (HBO's "The Sopranos"), Hugh Laurie (Fox's "House") and James Spader (ABC's "Boston Legal") going ignored come nomination time seems to have resonated with voters. The academy hasn't exactly managed to strike a perfect balance with its list of acting nominees, but it has come much closer to getting it right than in any year in recent memory.

Gandolfini's here, trying to earn his fourth lead acting statuette for the HBO mob drama that ended in June; Tony Shalhoub in the lead comedy grouping is looking to snare a fourth Emmy in five years for USA Network's "Monk." Kiefer Sutherland (Fox's "24") and Jeremy Piven (HBO's "Entourage") are gunning for repeat triumphs in the lead drama and supporting comedy lineups, respectively. And supporting actor in a drama is shaping up as a race between previous winners William Shatner for "Boston Legal" and made-guy Michael Imperioli for "Sopranos."

So it's a good list. A fine list. And one that guarantees nothing. Voters yet again might overlook two-time Golden Globe winner Laurie. "All I can tell you is that Hugh gets better and better in a role that was tailor-made for him," asserts "House" executive producer Katie Jacobs. And of course, there is still a handful of deserving actors who didn't rate a mention this go-around, either. Zach Braff (NBC's "Scrubs") has been woefully ignored; Jason Lee (NBC's "My Name Is Earl") defied handicappers by missing the list; and it's disappointing that John Krasinski wasn't honored for NBC's "The Office" along with castmate Rainn Wilson. Ditto Kyle Chandler for NBC's "Friday Night Lights."

It's also hardly a new morning for cable networks. Neither of Showtime's likely contenders, Jonathan Rhys Meyers ("The Tudors") and Michael C. Hall ("Dexter"), were tapped -- nor were previous winner Michael Chiklis or the acclaimed Walton Goggins (FX's "The Shield").

So maybe it's true that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Or maybe it's just that in a golden age of broadcast and cable television, not everybody can be honored. Ahead, we analyze the individual races and predict which lucky actors are most likely to go home with the gold.       


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