Leading Actress: Drama

Carmela Soprano's charm in play for last time

As shows get rubbed out, others get penciled in.

And with that, the sense of a changing of the guard is hovering over this year’s drama lead actress nominees, most notably from the awards juggernaut “The Sopranos” ending and the nearly perennial nominee and three-time winner Edie Falco up for a last at bat as Carmela Soprano.

Plus half of the six nominees are looking to win their first award in this category.

Of the newcomers, Sally Field (for “Brothers & Sisters”) and Minnie Driver (“The Riches”) seem like different ends of a wider spectrum for female roles on television, with Field representing tried-and-true network drama in all its glowing likability and Driver bringing to this category a harder-edged, slightly more dangerous cable-fied charisma.

Second-year-in-a-row nominee Kyra Sedgwick (“The Closer”), meanwhile, looks to win her first for breathing personality into the typically cold police procedural, something that garnered Mariska Hargitay (“Law & Order: Special Victims Unit”) her first win last year after seven seasons and three nominations.

In fact, the past two years’ winners — Patricia Arquette (“Medium”) and Hargitay — are back, again signifying the Academy’s preference for keeping awardees in the loop. Arquette, however, was left out of the noms last year, which was a strange occurrence, considering her first-year leap into the prizewinners circle — but perhaps indicative of the breadth of talent in this category. There are six nominees this year, after all, one more than the usual five.

Patricia Arquette
Show: “Medium”
Emmy pedigree: One win
Best scene: Nearly all of “The One Behind the Wheel,” in which Arquette with virtuosity plays a haughty rich wife named Sandra unknowingly trapped in psychic Alison DuBois’ body.
Why she may win: Week in, week out, Arquette does solid, committed work as the most believable everyday wife/mother on television while selling the psychic powers stuff as well.
Maybe not: Having nabbed this prize previously, voters may decide to hold off before celebrating her work again so soon.

Minnie Driver
Show: “The Riches”
Emmy pedigree: First nom
Best scene: In the pilot, Driver’s fresh-out-of-prison, secretly drug-addicted con artist mother Dahlia drives herself to tears trying not to shoot up in their new, stolen McMansion, then lets herself be comforted by a friendly new neighbor who introduces Dahlia to the joys of happy pills.
Why she may win: If voters are in a mood to anoint an edgy newcomer, Brit-born Driver is that choice. She instantly set herself apart with her combination of vice, vim and vulnerability, plus a spot-on Southern accent.
Maybe not: It’s a prickly character, and “The Riches” is not as high profile a show as the other nominees.

Edie Falco
Show: “The Sopranos”
Emmy pedigree: Three wins plus two other noms
Best scene: In “Chasing It,” after Tony blows up at Carmela for not letting him put her first house sale earnings on a sports bet, she tearily confronts him over her insecurity about being left a financially desperate widow. It’s a classic Falco moment: full of fierce love and wide-eyed vulnerability.
Why she may win: She was snubbed for a nomination last year and could ride final-season hype toward a momentous four-win send-off.
Maybe not: This was a mostly Carmela-less season, with the emphasis on Tony’s increasingly conflicted soul.

Sally Field
Show: “Brothers & Sisters”
Emmy pedigree: Two wins plus three other noms
Best scene: In the season’s final episode, “Matriarchy,” Field brings heartbreaking sadness to a kitchen moment when Nora refuses to accept son Justin’s wish that he say goodbye to her before leaving for Iraq.
Why she may win: The breakout star of “Brothers & Sisters” turned out to be the flinty yet unquestionably loving matriarch. Showbiz vet Field anchored nearly every episode with her skilled comic timing and emotional range.
Maybe not: Field is a two-time Oscar winner and two-time Emmy winner, going back to the landmark miniseries “Sybil,” which puts a qualification on her newcomer status.

Mariska Hargitay
Show: “Law & Order: SVU”
Emmy pedigree: One win plus two other noms
Best scene: In “Florida,” Olivia learns the truth about her father Joe and half-brother Simon, both accused of rape.
Why she may win: After eight seasons, Hargitay hasn’t shown character fatigue and seems to only generate more fans.
Maybe not: Familiarity. Academy voters know this particular “L&O” brand will be around a while longer, which could send voters toward new blood.

Kyra Sedgwick
Show: “The Closer”
Emmy pedigree: One nom
Best scene: From “Slippin’,” a solemn Det. Brenda Johnson explains to Sgt. Gabriel how to deliver news to unsuspecting parents that their son is dead.
Why she may win: Sedgwick has galvanized original basic cable programming with her tough, compassionate, headstrong and neurotic Southern-belle cop.
Maybe not: Voters might also have crime solver fatigue from Hargitay winning last year and Arquette the year prior.

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