The 2010 Emmy nominations will be announced Thursday morning, and we're attempting a tricky feat: predicting which television shows will get nods this year. The Emmy voters are a funky bunch, with erratic patterns of past behavior and no steadfast criteria that helps portend what they will nominate in the future. A show's low ratings are not necessarily a curse—30 Rock, Damages, and Breaking Bad are ratings black holes but Emmy darlings. And it's hard to tell if freshman hits will be embraced (like 30 Rock and Mad Men were) or completely ignored (like the egregiously and continuously shunned Friday Night Lights), so the question of the day is whether new shows like Glee, Modern Family, or The Good Wife will be showered with love or given the cold shoulder.
And if there's one resounding criticism of Emmy voters, it's their tendency to check off the same names year after year as if out of habit. The Emmy voters do not always reward the very best in television, but the actors and television shows they're most used to (Law & Order: SVU's Mariska Hargitay has six nominations and one win, but FNL's Connie Britton has nary a nod?!). But after carefully surveying the awards' history, gauging the Emmy buzz, researching the most esteemed pundits' predictions, and trusting a few personal hunches, these are the names and shows we think you're likely to hear called on Thursday morning.
Best Drama Series
The Good Wife
Now and then the Emmys choose one particular series to throw bouquets of awards and nominations at year after year. The West Wing and The Sopranos are recent examples, and Mad Men is following in their footsteps. Another nod for the AMC series? Inevitable. Another win? I wouldn't bet against that either. Breaking Bad, Damages, and Dexter are coming off their strongest seasons to date. All three were nominated last year; all three will be back this year.
Lost has won in the past and been nominated off and on during its six seasons. Its final season was too much of a pop culture moment for the series to be left out this year. The Good Wife is likely to capitalize on the smash ratings for its first season with a series nod, but watch out for Big Love, House, or 24—another past champ in its final season—to take its place.
In a perfect world, the underrated Sons of Anarchy, the under-rewarded Friday Night Lights or the understated Parenthood would be on this list, but in Emmy world they don't stand a chance.
Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Simon Baker, The Mentalist
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Michael C. Hall, Dexter
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Hugh Laurie, House, M.D.
Kiefer Sutherland, 24
The three frontrunners in this category—Cranston, Hall, and Hamm—make this one of the year's most exciting races. Cranston's won the past two years, and his performance in the season finale of Breaking Bad was a tour de force. But with Hall winning this year's Golden Globe and SAG, and Hamm delivering his best performance to date in the episode "The Gypsy and the Hobo," the category is a thrilling three-horse race. It's criminal that Hugh Laurie hasn't won this award yet; luckily Dr. House's troubled stay at a nuthouse in the season premiere guarantees him another chance at it.
Simon Baker, like last year, will ride the ratings success of his show to a nomination that should go to another actor, and former winner Sutherland's nod will be a goodbye present from Emmy voters now that his show has been canceled. Matthew Fox could get a similar gift for the last season of Lost, and Big Love's Bill Paxton is also a threat. Unfortunately, subtlety doesn't sit well with Emmy voters, so Friday Night Lights' Kyle Chandler will be benched yet again, and Ray Romano is unlikely to be rewarded for his surprising performance in Men of a Certain Age.
Best Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Glenn Close, Damages
Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters
Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU
January Jones, Mad Men
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Kyra Sedwick, The Closer
This is traditionally the easiest category to predict, as Emmy voters frustratingly have nominated the same group of actresses year in and year out. Five women (Close, Field, Hargitay, Sedgwick, and Saving Grace's Holly Hunter) were nominated together in 2008 and 2009, and they could very well all be back again. Last year's sixth nominee, Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss, dropped down to the supporting race, so expect her co-star January Jones to take her spot. Hargitay's six previous nominations give her the edge over Hunter, who will sit this one out to make room for Julianna Margulies. The success of The Good Wife rests solely on her shoulders. As a past winner for ER, she'll certainly be back in the race this year. That means the female performance of the year, Katey Sagal's searingly brutal, vulnerable and mesermizing turn on Sons of Anarchy as a biker mom come undone after being raped, will be ignored—not to mention yet another snub for Connie Britton's brilliant work on Friday Night Lights.