It’s Emmy time once again in Hollywood, and this year the basic-cable runts get to leave the kids’ table and eat with the grown-ups.
Thanks in part to a writers strike that put a huge dent in the broadcast television season – and in part to the departure of that powerhouse known as “The Sopranos” – fringe shows such as “Mad Men,” “Damages” and others have attracted plenty of well-deserved Emmy love.
“Mad Men” is even given a strong chance to capture the trophy for outstanding drama, which would be a first for basic cable.
But you never really know what will go down on Emmy night, which makes predicting the competition such an iffy proposition.
Nevertheless, we boldly embrace the challenge and invite you to play along:
The nominees: “30 Rock” (NBC); “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO); “Entourage” (HBO); “The Office” (NBC); “Two and a Half Men” (CBS)
The lowdown: You’ll hear no gripes from me if the Dunder Mifflin gang from “The Office” collects the hardware. But I’m expecting a repeat performance for the hysterically twisted “30 Rock,” which rocked our world once again.
The nominees: “Boston Legal” (ABC); “Damages” (FX); “Dexter” (Showtime); “House” (Fox); “Lost” (ABC); “Mad Men” (AMC)
The lowdown: “Lost” put together another thrilling season and the electrifying “Damages” absolutely blew our minds. But we’re mad for the mesmerizing “Mad Men” and will be really mad if it doesn’t prevail.
Outstanding Actor, Drama
The nominees: Gabriel Byrne (“In Treatment,” HBO); Bryan Cranston (“Breaking Bad,” AMC); Michael C. Hall (“Dexter”); Jon Hamm (“Mad Men”); Hugh Laurie (“House,” Fox); James Spader (“Boston Legal”)
The lowdown: This just might be the most competitive category and the toughest one to call. Laurie is long overdue, Hamm has the buzz and Spader has a couple of wins already. Still, if I had a ballot the choice would be Hall, who pulls off the difficult feat of making a serial killer worthy of our empathy.
Outstanding Actress, Drama
The nominees: Glenn Close (“Damages”); Sally Field (“Brothers & Sisters,” ABC); Mariska Hargitay (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” NBC); Holly Hunter (“Saving Grace,” TNT); Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer,” TNT)
The lowdown: Hunter’s blazing performance as a seriously flawed cop deserves some consideration, but Close’s ruthless lawyer blows this field away. Through an entire season she had us wondering if she was good or evil – and we never could take our eyes off of her.
Outstanding Actor, Comedy
The nominees: Alec Baldwin (“30 Rock”); Steve Carell (“The Office”); Lee Pace (“Pushing Daisies,” ABC); Tony Shalhoub (“Monk,” USA); Charlie Sheen (“Two and a Half Men,” CBS)
The lowdown: By all rights, this should be a two-way race between Baldwin and Carell, both of whom play demented bosses. Baldwin gets the nod because he brings a few more shades to the role, but more important, because he makes us laugh helplessly.
Outstanding Actress, Comedy
The nominees: Christina Applegate (“Samantha Who?” ABC); America Ferrera (“Ugly Betty,” ABC); Tina Fey (“30 Rock”); Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“The New Adventures of Old Christine,” CBS); Mary Louise-Parker (“Weeds,” Showtime)
The lowdown: Fey, who won a Golden Globe last year, and Louis-Dreyfus, a two-time winner, are probably the favorites. But I’d love to see the adorably wacky Applegate, who essentially had to play two characters, walk away with it.