S. Epatha Merkerson, “Law & Order”: With a staggering 324 episodes under her belt, Merkerson could probably play the good lieutenant in her sleep — but that’s meant as a compliment of the highest order. She manages to keep her character fresh, 14 years into the job.
Felicia Pearson, “The Wire”: There may have been no more eye-opening and authentic performance than by Pearson, who was down and out in Baltimore when she got cast in this superb series as Snoop, a member of Marlo’s drug-slinging gangstas.
Mary Lynn Rajskub, “24”: Her devotion to Jack is only part of her charm, and she’ll do anything — legally or not — to make sure both he and CTU are able to battle the bad guys.
Sara Ramirez, “Grey’s Anatomy”: The “Grey’s” numbers game could leave this worthy ex-“Spamalot” talent on the sidelines.
Katee Sackhoff, “Battlestar Galactica”: Sackhoff has been through the gamut, from thinking she had a hybrid Cylon baby to wondering about strange symbols from her past that hint at a larger destiny to “dying” heroically, only to return in the cryptic season finale.
Maura Tierney, “ER”: Wedding bells rang for Abby, who was set against a big affair, but, when push came to shove, she fell for groom Luka’s sentimentality. Despite her gruff exterior, it’s hard not to root for the character — or the actress.
Ashley Jensen, “Extras”: Perhaps more familiar to a wider audience as Christina on “Ugly Betty,” Jensen proved a worthy sidekick to Ricky Gervais on “Extras” — even stealing scenes from the show’s star. She’s in a tough spot only because “Extras” is relatively underexposed — six episodes per year on HBO.
Angela Kinsey, “The Office”: If voters go the multiple-noms route for “The Office,” Kinsey’s utter commitment to her wound-tightly role should be recognized.
Nicolette Sheridan, “Desperate Housewives”: With new storylines involving her character’s son and nephew, Sheridan responded well to increased screen time, showcasing her acting and comedic chops.
Cobie Smulders, “How I Met Your Mother”: Popularity of her Robin Sparkles alter-ego elevated Smulders’ chances immeasurably.
Sarah Silverman, “The Sarah Silverman Program”: Recognition that Silverman might be the truest comic genius in the running for this category could propel her.