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.
Best Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Nods for 30 Rock and The Office are foregone conclusions, with buzzy new hits Modern Family and Glee all but guaranteed slots as well. How respected is Curb Your Enthusiasm? It scored the Seinfeld reunion over the show's own former network, and should get its sixth series nod in the process. The Big Bang Theory is a breakaway ratings hit for CBS, and has an advantage as the only traditional laugh-track sitcom on the list. It could miss the cut in favor of the only comedy on TV with higher ratings—Two and a Half Men—or to perennial nominee Entourage, but the third season should be the charm for Bang Theory. It's too bad that TV's most-improved comedy Parks and Recreation and the charming spy-comedy-romance Chuck have such small viewerships—both series would make deserving nominees.
Best Actor in a Comedy Series
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock
Steve Carell, The Office
Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm
Matthew Morrison, Glee
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Tony Shalhoub, Monk
The Big Bang Theory could be renamed The Jim Parsons Show for the amount of screentime given to Parson's socially awkward genius Sheldon Cooper, and his weekly comedic genius may just grab him his first Emmy statue. Shalhoub, Baldwin, and Carell are a reigning trifecta in this category, racking up nods for every season of their respective series. David is beloved in the industry, and his annoying-as-hell schtick only added to the hilarity of Curb's Seinfeld reunion.
If Glee gets as much Emmy love as I think it will, expect Matthew Morrison to ride the wave to a nomination, despite easily being the most boring and poorly written character on the show. It'd be much more exciting to hear Thomas Jane's name called for his role as an insecure male prostitute on Hung, or Joel McHale for playing the both the straight man amongst community college misfits and the frazzled ring leader to equal comedic success on Community. And no matter what kind of trouble he gets into, can you really ever rule out TV's highest-paid actor, Charlie Sheen? Unfortunately, that answer is no.
Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Toni Collette, The United States of Tara
Courteney Cox-Arquette, Cougar Town
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Tina Fey, 30 Rock
Lea Michele, Glee
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Showtime specializes in dark seriocomic series that revolve around flawed female characters spiraling towards—and barely avoiding—total breakdowns. Collette and Falco kill in their roles as mothers with Dissociative Identity Disorder and a prescription pill addiction, respectively. Expect them to duke it out for Emmy glory with never-been-funnier past winner Tina Fey. Lea Michele is the breakout star on a bona fide new hit, and Poehler has just enough star power to squeeze out a much deserved nod for deftly straddling groundedness and lunacy on Parks and Rec.
Cox is the most vulnerable here, but a nod for the first season of Cougar Town could be Emmy's apology for snubbing the actress 10 seasons in a row for Friends. I'm going out on a limb predicting that Weeds' Mary-Louise Parker won't join her fellow Showtime stars with a fourth nomination, and it's heartbreaking that TV's best physical comedienne Julia Louis-Dreyfus probably won't get a farewell nod for the recently canceled The New Adventures of Old Christine. It's been a refreshingly strong year for women in comedy, making choosing just six actresses is an almost unfair task.