Bleak House
Network: PBS
Total viewers (average): 3.1million (estimate)
Highlight: Presented in 30-minute segs in the U.K., “Masterpiece Theatre’s” sumptuously produced “Bleak House” was designed to deliver a cliffhanger “ending” every half-hour over its eight-hour running time, which significantly spices up Dickens’ dense tale of a disputed will in classist England. Script by Andrew Davies (“Bridget Jones’s Diary”) is a page-turner.
Why it may win: The “Masterpiece Theatre” pedigree is worth its weight in Emmys; PBS’ doyenne of dramas copped the miniseries gong last year with “The Lost Prince.” Gillian Anderson melts into the role of the secretive Lady Dedlock; Acad voters can puff out their chests at a wow perf by a Yank in Brit’s clothing.
Maybe not: There are so many interconnected characters, voters may tune out before the mini really starts to roll. Those who gave PBS the nod last year might want to share the wealth this year.
Quote: “I read that Dickens would walk the streets of London with his illustrator and just observe and take notes,” says co-director Justin Chadwick, who professes to being more drawn to U.S. fare like “24” than by period pieces. “Our goal was to be observational and to create elusive moments of truth.”

Elizabeth I
Network: HBO
Total viewers (average): 1.20 million (premiere episode, 1.59m; final episode, 0.82m)
Highlight: Helen Mirren’s dazzling performance in the title role of an aging queen under pressure to produce an heir is a randy ride into the politics of the royal court.
Why it may win: Nobody knows how to shine up a quality mini like HBO; since capturing its first Emmy in the category for 1998’s “From the Earth to the Moon,” the network has won the prize in every even-numbered year. (Clue: This is 2006.) Mirren toplined the “Prime Suspect” juggernaut that minted miniseries Emmys in 1993, ’94 and ’97.
Maybe not: An anti-HBO backlash will leave the field open for the other contenders. “Elizabeth I” and “Bleak House” will split the Anglophile vote.
Quote: “I relished the chance to make a film about one of the great female icons of all time, particularly concerning the Queen’s mature years and her relationship with the Earl of Essex, parts of her life less explored,” says director Tom Hooper, who worked with Mirren on “Prime Suspect 6″ in 2003. “Helen Mirren was born to play (Elizabeth).”

Into the West
Network: TNT
Total viewers (average): 4.52 million (premiere episode, 6.47m; final episode, 3.57m)
Highlight: The impressive cinematography of William Wages and Alan Caso — who shot the Old West as hyper-real film noir — along with a lush score by Geoff Zanelli make for a first-class production that topped the Emmy list, with 16 noms.
Why it may win: Steven Spielberg-produced minis have taken home two of the last four top awards in the category — “Band of Brothers” in 2002 and “Steven Spielberg Presents Taken” in ’03. There’s also the p.c. factor: “Into the West” spends as much time with its wide range of Native American characters as it does with its extended family tree of white settlers.
Maybe not: It’s awfully hard to maintain focus with all those characters running around. And though the mini winners’ list is littered with period dramas, none of those periods includes the American West.
Quote: “The sheer scope of this project was astounding. We shot in both the U.S. and Canada, and each show had its own set of problems,” says Wages. “We shot in December in Calgary, so it was really cold. We were down to 6½-7 hours of daylight. We shot day exteriors after dark.”

Sleeper Cell
Network: Showtime
Total viewers (average): 0.22 million (premiere episode, 0.30m; final episode, 0.31m)
Highlight: Wrote Variety reviewer Brian Lowry: “Deftly straddling the line between drama and polemics, the tone toward the jihadists is by no means sympathetic. But character development inevitably humanizes these extremist, would-be mass murderers as fathers and husbands who, in some of the mini’s better moments, sing karaoke or phone loved ones even as they prepare to sacrifice themselves.”
Why it may win: “Sleeper Cell” is the only nonperiod piece in this category and will have the backing of voters looking to put aside puffy shirts and buckskins. Showtime also plans to bring the skein back next year, a la “Prime Suspect,” and so has more to gain by greasing the Emmy wheel.
Maybe not: Folks just aren’t ready to humanize terrorists, no matter that multifaceted characterization makes for a good story; the nerve endings touched by 9/11 are still too raw.
Quote: “The project came out of a desire to creatively and cathartically deal with the aftermath of 9/11; it was time to start to deal with the topic in the popular culture,” says co-creator Cyrus Voris. “My partner Ethan Reiff and I pitched the idea to Showtime in fall of ’03. They really rolled the dice on us, because this was before ‘Flight 93′ had been greenlit.”

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