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Emmys: Will a 'Modern Family' star win best supporting comedy actor?

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The race for best supporting comedy actor at this year's Emmys comes down to which "Modern Family" actor is most helped by his costars' submissions. Four actors from the comedy are nominated this year, more than any other show has ever earned in this category, which means that voters will be watching four submissions in which all four men appear. That's why shows with multiple nominees in a category usually win, instead of splitting the vote.

Last year's winner, Eric Stonestreet, will probably not repeat. When he won, he had submitted the episode "Fizbo," in which he defends his boyfriend's honor while wearing a clown suit. But this year he has entered "Mother's Day," in which he complains about being treated as a woman in his relationship with Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson). He complains in most of the episodes submitted by "Modern Family" actors, which may not play well to voters. But his bigger problem may be that his costars' scenes in his episode may be better than his own: Ty Burrell and Ed O'Neill have touching, funny scenes in which O'Neill is embarrassed about crying over his late mother.

O'Neill submitted "The Kiss," in which his wife (Sofia Vergara) tricks him into performing strange rituals during a dinner preparation. He later expresses regrets over raising a son who is afraid of intimacy. But that episode's main storyline helps Ferguson, who is uncomfortable being kissed by his boyfriend in public.

Ferguson submitted "Halloween," in which he struggles to get out of a Spider-Man getup when he discovers that he's the only one who has come to work in costume. Appearing in costume helped Stonestreet last year, and the physical slapstick stands out against his costars' performances, though Burrell does have a strong subplot in which he fears for the security of his marriage.

Burrell's episode gives him the benefit of playing against type. In "Good Cop, Bad Dog," his happy-go-lucky character must reluctantly play disciplinarian to his disobedient teenage daughters, until he goes overboard by leaping onto their car and taping their computers shut. In O'Neill's subplot, he must deliver tough criticism to an eager entrepreneur, but proves to be a big old softy when he adopts the entrepreneur's dog. And Ferguson must figure out how to leave for a Lady Gaga concert while Stonestreet is sick in bed.

The "Modern Family" episodes seem to benefit Burrell and O'Neill the most, though Ferguson also has a solid chance. And one mustn't rule out Stonestreet in a category that favors repeat winners (Brad Garrett, David Hyde Pierce, Jeremy Piven).

Or perhaps Chris Colfer will capitalize. After winning a Golden Globe in January, he came into this race with the most buzz, but he submitted an entirely dramatic episode to voters: "Grilled Cheesus," in which his father suffers a heart attack, he questions God, and does an emotional rendition of "I Want to Hold Your Hand." It's a strong piece of dramatic acting and a fascinating Emmy gamble on Colfer's part. Sometimes voters prefer drama to comedy in the comedy races, so an upset is possible.

Jon Cryer rounds out the category. The "Two and a Half Men" star won in 2009, but it was a surprise he was even nominated this year after the mountains of negative press received by the CBS comedy due to the antics of its star, Charlie Sheen. He submitted "The Immortal Mr. Billy Joel," in which he impersonates his brother (Sheen) in order to pick up chicks, but the episode is probably a nonstarter in this race.

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-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: All four male adult actors in "Modern Family" are nominated in the Emmy race for best supporting comedy actor: Ed O'Neill, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet and Ty Burrell. Credit: ABC

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