Emmys: Who's Leading the Lead Actress Races?

It's Elisabeth Moss' last chance to win for 'Mad Men' and Amy Poehler's final attempt at a 'Parks and Rec' victory. But can these veteran contenders stave off the upstart competition? THR's awards analyst weighs in.
Courtesy of BBC America; Courtesy of HBO
Tatiana Maslany and Julia Louis-Dreyfus

This story first appeared in a special Emmy issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.


Claire Danes, Homeland (Showtime)

PRO: Many say the show jumped the shark in season three (she won for the first two seasons and still landed a nom for the third) but surged back to life on the shoulders of her and her biopolar CIA agent.

CON: Some viewers changed the channel after last season and weren't around to see the show rally.

Viola Davis, How to Get Away With Murder (ABC)

PRO: The two-time Oscar nominee entered ShondaLand with a plum part (a defense attorney who gives killer courtroom monologues), bagging a SAG Award for herself and big ratings for her show.

CON: The series isn't a critical hit in the same vein as the work of some of Davis' fellow nominees. And no black woman ever has won this prize.

Taraji P. Henson, Empire (Fox)

PRO: Few characters on TV today get to chew more scenery than this Oscar nominee's Cookie, who has helped attract giant ratings to her new show en route to bagging a Critics' Choice Award and a TCA nom.

CON: The snubbing of her co-stars, series and its music is jarring. Is it all too gritty for some voters?

Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (BBC America) — Projected Winner

PRO: A SAG nominee and — finally — an Emmy nominee, she's in nearly every scene, sometimes more than once, playing a host of clones! Plus, she picked a great episode for submission.

CON: Genre shows generally are not voters' cup of tea, which may explain why she's struggled to get a nom.

Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men (AMC)

PRO: She's back in the race, after five straight noms (and a snub), for her series' final season in which Peggy completed her evolution from meek secretary to assertive exec with several awesome moments.

CON: Perhaps because the show is such an ensemble piece, no member of its cast has ever bagged a prize.

Robin Wright, House of Cards (Netflix)

PRO: Last year's Golden Globe winner arguably was the most interesting thing about season three, manipulating her way into a powerful job, getting rattled by its challenges and setting off on her own.

CON: Her arc was too on the nose for some, and many felt the season was too mired in Beltway minutiae.


Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)

PRO: A four-time winner (once for Jackie), Falco has her sixth straight nom for the show and record-tying 12th overall for lead acting. She could get a big send-off after a very well-received final season.

CON: The biggest and most consistent knock on Falco is that her show never packed a lot of laughs.

Lisa Kudrow, The Comeback (HBO)

PRO: Ten years after her showbiz satire last aired, and nine years after it brought the master comedienne her eighth acting nom (the others were for Friends), it — and she, with a Critics' Choice nom — is back.

CON: It's hard to imagine someone winning only for eight episodes, no matter how well received they are.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (HBO) — Projected Winner

PRO: With her bumbling pol now in the White House, the TV Academy fave — she has a record 15 comedy acting noms and five wins (including each of the past three years for this show) — is as funny as ever.

CON: There's a chance that voters simply want to give someone new a shot. (See "Amy Schumer" below!)

Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation (NBC)

PRO: There are few actresses more popular — or characters more likable — than her small-town bureaucrat. Nominated for all seven seasons of the show, but never a winner, this final season could be her ticket.

CON: Parks always was on life support because of poor ratings — and there's now another Amy in town.

Amy SchumerInside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)

PRO: Few sketch shows not named SNL have permeated the zeitgeist as hers has. The Critics' Choice winner and comedy "It" girl (see Trainwreck) could see herself become Emmy's Cinderella story.

CON: The only acting winner for her work in a sketch series was Nanette Fabray for Caesar's Hour in 1956.

Lily TomlinGrace and Frankie (Netflix)

PRO: The 75-year-old legend had accrued 21 noms before this one, dating back to 1971, but this is her first in this category. With Netflix’s backing, her hippie art teacher could bring her a seventh win.

CON: Many still are catching up with the show, which has proved divisive, and some prefer Jane Fonda.