It’s nearly time for the annual reality check: the TV shows and actors you love and adore are not the same ones that the Emmys deem worthy of awards attention.
Think about it. The most-watched dramas of the 2013-2014 season were NCIS, NCIS: LA, Person of Interest, Blue Bloods, and Resurrection. The chances of any of those series being nominated for Best Drama are so small they’re practically immeasurable. Still, lots of shows will be nominated! Lots of good shows! What will they be? And how annoyed will we be when the ones we liked better aren’t?
Here’s our best guess—gauging Emmy history and industry buzz—at the series and performers who will score nods when the Emmy nominations are announced on Thursday morning. Each batch of predictions is followed with a little explanation and a little ranting about the contenders that will be likely overlooked.
Best Drama Series
Game of Thrones
The Good Wife
House of Cards
Last year, not a single drama series from the Big Four (ABC, NBC, Fox, CBS) was nominated for Best Drama, and the same could happen again if either Masters of Sex or The Americans replaces The Good Wife on this lineup. The Americans, which had one of the best sophomore seasons in recent memory, deserves a nomination…but which of these epically strong contenders do you replace? (My personal choice would be to swap out House of Cards, but actually to replace it with either the stunning and sorely underrated Rectify or the brazenly batshit Scandal.) The biggest question, though, is how lazy are Emmy voters? The answer will come if either Downton Abbey or Homeland get nods—perennial nominees who had disappointingly weak seasons, but could sneak in on sloppy name recognition alone.
Best Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory
Orange Is the New Black
It’s naïve optimism that has me including Orange Is the New Black in this race. Nothing would be more infuriating than Netflix’s inventive, zeitgeist-seizing dramedy getting snubbed (most likely in favor of past nominees Girls or Parks and Recreation), but nothing would surprise me less. I have a hunch that our collective adoration of OITNB outweighs the love for it, or even awareness of it, among Emmy voters. The Emmys do a have a history of admirable whimsy with this category—Flight of the Conchords and Family Guy have both scored surprise nods in the past—but it’s unlikely that nominators will be as brave as they should this year and snub Modern Family, which despite its four consecutive wins is actually the weakest of this bunch, and give the slot to either Girls (which had an uneven season, but was spectacular when it was good) or Silicon Valley (which was as silly as it was smart, in the best way) instead.
Best Actor in a Drama Series
Bryan Cranston – Breaking Bad
Woody Harrelson – True Detective
Jon Hamm – Mad Men
Matthew McConaughey – True Detective
Kevin Spacey – House of Cards
James Spader – The Black List
This is a funny list because Jeff Daniels, who won last year for The Newsroom, isn’t on it. While Daniels probably (definitely) didn’t deserve to win last year, he is superb on the show and deserved at least a nomination. He would deserve one this year, too, were the field not so crowded. That’s a Teflon-strong list, and it doesn’t include Daniels, Michael Sheen for Masters of Sex, or Matthew Rhys, who is so stellar on The Americans. If I had one wish here, it would be for Aden Young to sneak a surprise nod for Rectify. If I had two, it would be for a guarantee that neither Damian Lewis (Homeland) nor Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), both nominees last year, get rubber-stamped onto this list in Young’s place.
Best Actress in a Drama Series
Claire Danes – Homeland
Vera Farmiga – Bates Motel
Julianna Margulies – The Good Wife
Tatiana Maslany – Orphan Black
Elisabeth Moss – Mad Men
Kerry Washington – Scandal
It might be completely ludicrous to put Tatiana Maslany on this list, because she gave the best acting performance in any category last year and didn’t manage to eke out an Emmy nod then even though there were seven nominees. That’s the thing, though. There are four actresses here who are shoo-in nominees—Danes, Margulies, Moss, and Washington—but the last two slots could be any combination of the next four most likely contenders, all of who, basically, stand an equal chance at being nominated. Farmiga was nominated last year, so it stands to reason that she’d make it in again this year. But Keri Russell (The Americans) and Lizzy Caplan (Masters of Sex) could score deserved nods—depending on how beloved their respective shows are by Emmy voters—and Maslany, who is so, so good, could as well. She could, she should, and maybe, just maybe, this year she finally will.
Best Actor in a Comedy Series
Louis C.K. – Louie
Don Cheadle – House of Lies
Matt LeBlanc – Episodes
Jim Parsons – The Big Bang Theory
Andy Samberg – Brooklyn Nine Nine
Robin Williams – The Crazy Ones
This category is pretty weak sauce, isn’t it? The thing is: it doesn’t have to be! Chris Messina did such great work this year making a curmudgeon charming on The Mindy Project. William H. Macy should be recognized for his ridiculous (and ridiculously good) performance on Shameless. David Walton’s man-child on About a Boy and Thomas Middleditch’s unassuming genius on Silicon Valley both had surprising depth, while Michael J. Fox’s expected brilliance should not be forgotten just because the brilliance was expected and his show was canceled. Yet, for some reason, those five actors will all be ignored, and that weak-sauce list above is what we’re likely going to get.
Best Actress in a Comedy Series
Lena Dunham – Girls
Edie Falco – Nurse Jackie
Anna Faris – Mom
Julia Louis-Dreyfus – Veep
Amy Poehler – Parks and Recreation
Taylor Schilling – Orange Is the New Black
This used to be a two-way race—Dreyfus vs. Poehler—that’s more and more looking like a foregone conclusion in Dreyfus’s favor. She’s that good on Veep. For all the hemming and hawing over Lena Dunham and what her perspective and public persona means culturally, people have overlooked the fact that, detached from all that, she’s grown into a phenomenal actress and does such strong acting work on Girls. That said, and even though I have her on the list, I wouldn’t be surprised if Melissa McCarthy (Mike and Molly) or Mindy Kaling (The Mindy Project) takes her place, as the hot buzz that used to stalk Girls has cooled off considerably this past season. And in a dream world Emmy Rossum’s consistently heartbreaking and consistently overlooked performance on Shameless would be recognized, but after years of being snubbed in the Drama category, there’s no reason to think her bad luck would change after changing to the Comedy category this year.
Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Josh Charles – The Good Wife
Peter Dinklage – Game of Thrones
Dean Norris – Breaking Bad
Aaron Paul – Breaking Bad
Jon Voight – Ray Donovan
Jeffrey Wright – Boardwalk Empire
How great would it be if more of Game of Thrones’ superb ensemble than just Peter Dinklage finally made it into this category? Charles Dance and Nikolaj Coster-Waldeau are at the top of the list of deserved candidates. If this category wasn’t so crowded and Scandal didn’t have such a reputation as a guilty pleasure instead of just a pleasure, pure and simple, Jeff Perry would be nominated for his delicious scene chewing on that show. And don’t be surprised—or disappointed—if vets and past nominees Mandy Patinkin (Homeland) or John Slattery (Mad Men) show up back in this race after standout seasons on their respective shows.
Best Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Christine Baranski – The Good Wife
Emilia Clarke – Game of Thrones
Anna Gunn – Breaking Bad
Christina Hendricks – Mad Men
Michelle Monaghan – True Detective
Maggie Smith – Downton Abbey
Maggie Smith will be nominated again here, and she may even win again here, because she’s Maggie Smith and she’s so much fun on Downton Abbey. I’d actually rather see Joanne Froggatt nominated from that cast instead, after acting the hell out of a controversial story line. More than that, though, I’d rather see Bellamy Young be nominated for her searing turn on Scandal, Monica Potter for continuing to break hearts delicately on Parenthood, or Hayden Panettiere for giving a bratty country singer some humanity on Nashville.
Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Andre Braugher – Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ty Burrell – Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson – Modern Family
Tony Hale – Veep
Ed O’Neil – Modern Family
Eric Stonestreet – Modern Family
After so many seasons and so many collective nominations, the benchmark, in my opinion, for the Modern Family men has been raised. In order to be nominated at this point, I feel like they should still be able to surprise viewers, and I think Jesse Tyler Ferguson is the only cast member who did that this season, bringing frantic fun and touching grace to Mitch and Cam’s wedding storyline. In place of what could be three additional Modern Family nods, wouldn’t it be great to see someone like Timothy Simons from Veep, Chris Pratt from Parks and Recreation, and Albert Tsai from Trophy Wife get first-time nominations? Or Adam Driver gets his much-deserved second nod for Girls?
Best Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Julie Bowen – Modern Family
Mayim Bialik – The Big Bang Theory
Anna Chlumsky – Veep
Allison Janney – Mom
Meritt Wever – Nurse Jackie
Sofia Vergara – Modern Family
This is the category that’s the best to have fun with, because there are so many great comedic actresses who, unjustly, have no chance of being nominated. How great would it be if Michaela Watkins or Marcia Gay Harden was nominated for the canceled Trophy Wife? How great would it be if both were nominated? And what about other under-the-radar contenders, like Niecy Nash on Getting On, Eden Sher on The Middle, or Chelsea Peretti on Brooklyn Nine-Nine? Or a category populated with Orange Is the New Black actresses, like Kate Mulgrew, Laura Prepon, and Danielle Brooks? (Mulgrew could actually nudge out Chlumsky and land that sixth slot). Then there’s the added spice to the mix, how about someone from the variety genre, performers from which are all required by Emmy rules to submit here: Kate McKinnon from Saturday Night Live and Amy Schumer from Inside Amy Schumer. Winnowing down this category is hard.
Best Reality Competition Series
The Amazing Race
Dancing With the Stars
So You Think You Can Dance
Survivor could sneak in here. And we’re saying the same prayer we say every year that TV’s most entertaining reality competition, RuPaul’s Drag Race, will sashay into this race.
Best Reality Host
Tom Bergeron – Dancing With the Stars
Anthony Bourdain – The Taste
Cat Deeley – So You Think You Can Dance
Heidi Klum and Tim Gunn – Project Runway
Jeff Probst – Survivor
Betty White – Betty White’s Off Their Rockers
It’s getting increasingly ridiculous that Cat Deeley, the best host on TV, hasn’t won this. It’s all quite silly that Ryan Seacrest, who perfected reality hosting as we know it now, won’t get nominated. It would be pretty fun for a wild card like Billy Eichner to get a nod here for Funny or Die’s Billy on the Street, too.
The Colbert Report
The Daily Show
Jimmy Kimmel Live
The Late Show with David Letterman
Saturday Night Live
The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
This category should be way more exciting than it is, with rule-breaking (and legitimately funny) sketch shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Key and Peele, and Portlandia in the mix. But alas…
American Horror Story: Coven
Dancing on the Edge
The White Queen
There’s no way that Fargo doesn’t win this category. This category is also a little silly with its rules. American Horror Story gets to compete here because it changes cast and storylines each season, but True Detective, which has the same model, does not. And series with short, not-renewed seasons get to shrug their shoulders and throw their hats in here, too, like Treme and Hostages.
Best TV Movie
The Normal Heart
Return to Zero
Sherlock: His Last Vow
The Trip to Bountiful
The Richard Burton and Liz Taylor biopic Burton and Taylor (not to be confused with the Lindsay Lohan masterpiece Liz and Dick) and HBO’s weird Larry David/Jon Hamm movie Clear History are spoilers here.
Best Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie
Benedict Cumberbatch – Sherlock: His Last Vow
Chiwetel Ejiofor – Dancing on the Edge
Idris Elba – Luther
Martin Freeman – Fargo
Mark Ruffalo – The Normal Heart
Billy Bob Thornton – Fargo
Christopher Plummer from Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight is the only other contender. (Get it? Because it’s about boxing.)
Best Actress in a Miniseries or TV Movie
Helena Bonham-Carter – Burton and Taylor
Whoopi Goldberg – A Day Late and a Dollar Short
Minnie Driver – Return to Zero
Rebecca Ferguson – The White Queen
Jessica Lange – American Horror Story: Coven
Cicely Tyson – The Trip to Bountiful
Toni Collette (Hostages) and Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story: Coven) are two potential spoilers here.
Best Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or TV Movie
Kathy Baker – Return to Zero
Kathy Bates – American Horror Story: Coven
Ellen Burstyn – Flowers in the Attic
Jacqueline Bissett – Dancing on the Edge
Julia Roberts – The Normal Heart
Allison Tolman – Fargo
This is a really stacked category, but I still wish that Audra McDonald, who was stunning in the otherwise mediocre Sound of Music, would make it in there. It’s also shocking that this category is so strong that Angela Bassett (American Horror Story: Coven) and Janet McTeer (The White Queen) might be snubbed. That also means that fun scene-stealers, like Kate Walsh in Fargo and Carole Bouquet (Rosemary’s Baby) don’t have a shot either, sadly.