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Emmy cliffhanger: What'll win best TV drama series? [Updated]

April 13, 2011 |  4:49 pm

This post has been corrected. See the note at the bottom for details.

The good wife cbsThe Emmy battle over best TV drama series is a real drama this year. "Mad Men" has won three years in a row and can prevail again, but that kind of winning streak is rare. "The West Wing" and "Hill Street Blues" pulled off four consecutive victories, but "L.A. Law" was stopped after four wins and great series like "The Sopranos," "Cagney & Lacey" and "The Practice" won only twice. Heck, "ER," "Law & Order," "Lost," "NYPD Blue" and "24" had to settle for a solo triumph each.

"Boardwalk Empire" is "Mad Men's" most serious rival. A few months ago, it won the Golden Globe for best TV drama series and the equivalent prize at the Screen Actors Guild: best TV ensemble.

Both series are vulnerable because of timing, however: They're old news. "Mad Men's" last episode was telecast in October. "Boardwalk Empire" went off the air in December. What could beat them? "The Good Wife" can pull off an upset because it's a well-crafted legal thriller in the tradition of past champs like "The Practice" and "L.A. Law" –- and it's on CBS. Most members of the TV academy work for programs airing on the broadcast channels, and there's strong pressure on Emmy voters to let their kin win again. The last time a broadcast series won the category was 2006 ("24").

Remember, the Emmys have expanded this category to six nominees. That means three more slots are open. "Dexter" and "True Blood" got in last year and may return. There's a good chance that "Friday Night Lights" will finally break through. Last year its lead stars, Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, finally scored nominations. TV critics continue to cheer it vigorously while new episodes are airing on NBC right now –- after their first spin on DirecTV. If nominated, it actually has a shot to win.

* = nominated last year

"Boardwalk Empire"
"The Borgias"
"Dexter" *
"Friday Night Lights"
"The Good Wife" *
"In Treatment"
"The Killing"
"Mad Men" *
"Sons of Anarchy"
"True Blood" *
"The Walking Dead"

"Big Love"
"Burn Notice"
"The Closer"
"Game of Thrones"
"Harry's Law"
"House M.D."

(Long Shots)
"Blue Bloods"
"Body of Proof"
"Detroit 1-8-7"
"The Event"
"White Collar"

[For the Record, 5:30 p.m., May 18: A previous version of this post credited "L.A. Law" with only three Emmy wins for best drama series.]

-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: "The Good Wife" star Archie Panjabi pulled off an upset to win best supporting drama actress last year. (CBS)