Duvall, Mirren in cachet clash

With two early contenders — HBO’s “Tsunami, the Aftermath” and ABC’s controversy-plagued “The Path to 9/11″ — missing out on nominations, the miniseries race will likely come down to a battle between two revered thesps, both working under familiar circumstances.

Robert Duvall returned to the Western miniseries format in “Broken Trail,” and Helen Mirren reprised her “Prime Suspect” role for the seventh time, imbuing both projects with veteran cachet that voters will find hard to resist.

Still, USA’s comparably slight entry, “The Starter Wife,” could benefit from good will toward sitcom-bereft Emmy fave Debra Messing, who gave the project something of a high profile.

Broken Trail
Network: AMC
Executive producers: Stanley M. Brooks, Robert Duvall, Rob Carliner
Total viewers (average): 9.84 million (premiere episode, 9.90m; final episode, 9.77m)
Highlight: Duvall and Thomas Haden Church’s unshowy portrayals of austere cowboys.
Why it may win: The prospect of Duvall starring in a Western miniseries brings to mind a certain beloved 1989 horse opera, which remarkably did not count a mini laurel among its seven Emmys.
Maybe not: Unlike “Lonesome Dove,” the leisurely pace of “Trail’s” four hours may have limited its appeal.

Prime Suspect: The Final Act (Masterpiece Theatre)
Network: PBS
Executive producers: Rebecca Eaton, Andy Harries
Highlight: The bracing sight of the once formidable detective Jane Tennison, broken down by alcoholism and exhaustion, struggling to pull herself together for one last case.
Why it may win: Tennison could stand as Mirren’s most singular creation, and this swan song provides opportunity to honor the series for a fourth time in this category.
Maybe not: Mirren’s pyrotechnics aside, the central murder-mystery narrative often resembled little more than an elongated “Law & Order” episode.

The Starter Wife
Network: USA
Executive producers: Jon Avnet, Stephanie Davis, Howard Klein, Gigi Levangie Grazer, Josann McGibbon, Sara Parriott
Total viewers (average): 4.03 million (premiere episode, 5.93m; final episode, 3.12m)
Highlight: Judy Davis’ boozy blueblood attempting to scam her way out of rehab.
Why it may win: It could benefit from hometown advantage among voters for its inside-baseball nods to the seemingly minor snubs and humiliations that bespeak Hollywood pariah-hood.
Maybe not: The influence of corporate sponsor Ponds (which secured especially pervasive product placement and countless tie-ins) blurred the boundary between fiction and advertisement to an unusual degree.

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