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The highs and lows of the Emmy races: The most interesting categories

June 3, 2011 |  7:00 am

Steve carell 
With more than 100 Emmy races, it’s difficult to know which contests will be the most exciting and which ones can be skipped for a bathroom break during the awards telecast. But from the way things are shaping up, here's a cheat sheet to what promise to be the five most interesting races:

Lead actor, comedy: It’s a good thing Steve Carell has a sense of humor. Even though “The Office” proved to be an Emmy darling at the start (best comedy series, 2006), Carell has lost the lead actor race five times, including once to the chap who created the original British series: Ricky Gervais (“Extras”). Now can Carell finally get the last laugh upon leaving the Yankee version? Sarah Jessica Parker was overdue for an Emmy when she ultimately prevailed for her last season on “Sex and the City.”

Drama series: Can “Mad Men” go four in a row for top drama series? Only three programs have won that trophy as many times: “Hill Street Blues” (1981-1984), “L.A. Law” (1987, 1989, 1990, 1991) and “The West Wing” (2000-2003). Its toughest rival may be “Boardwalk Empire,” which won the drama award at the Golden Globes and best ensemble at the SAG Awards. Both shows are old news, though, airing in late 2010. The usurper could be “The Good Wife.” It’s currently airing, Emmy voters love legal dramas and it’s on CBS. Most members of the academy work for broadcast networks — but a show airing on one of the Big Four hasn’t triumphed here since 2006, when “24” took it.


Lead actor, drama: It may seem crazy that “Mad Men” could claim the drama award three times while its star, Jon Hamm, has yet to win. That’s because these races are decided by different groups of voters who view sample episodes. For the last three years, Bryan Cranston’s segments of “Breaking Bad” were impossible to beat as he portrayed a desperate cancer patient who cooks up crystal meth. This year, Cranston isn’t eligible and Hamm has an ace episode called “The Suitcase” packed with drunken antics and crying scenes. But he faces tough new competition: Steve Buscemi (“Boardwalk Empire”), William H. Macy (“Shameless”) and Jeremy Irons (“The Borgias”).

Reality competition: Finally, the reality-competition contest is getting competitive. Last year, it looked like “The Amazing Race” would zoom past all rivals for an eighth consecutive win, but “Top Chef” had the winning recipe. Can “Amazing” reclaim this Emmy race? Or can TV’s top-rated reality show, “American Idol,” finally prevail? Or will “Dancing With the Stars” waltz off with the prize while basking in the glow of two-time Emmy champ Kirstie Alley?

Supporting actor, comedy: Will an Emmy curse continue to plague Ed O’Neill? The talented comic actor was never nominated for “Married … With Children,” which is one of the longest-running TV series (11 seasons) never to win a single Emmy, not even in the crafts categories. His newest show, “Modern Family,” won the comedy award last year, but he was the only main male cast member not to be nominated. It may have been his own fault. Displaying admirable humility, O’Neill agreed to drop down from the lead category to join his costars in supporting, but the strategy backfired. He’s doing it again this year.

Check back later for the five races that are the easiest to call right now.

-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: Steve Carell in "The Office." Credit: Justin Lubin / Associated Press