For the first time in more than a decade, the Emmy race for comedy supporting actor is full of rookies getting the chance to take home gold.
Jeremy Piven comes back to defend his title, but everyone else is Emmy-less, and Rainn Wilson, Neil Patrick Harris and Kevin Dillon are all first-time noms.
It’s a definite change for this category. In recent years, it was often hard to find a fresh face, but with “Will & Grace” and “Everybody Loves Raymond” no longer on the air, the shows and names are changing.
“Raymond” co-star Brad Garrett won three times since the turn of the century (2002, ’03, ’05) for his portrayal of neglected brother Robert Barone.
Michael Richards had the same sort of run as Kramer on “Seinfeld” and was given a nod every year between 1993 and 1997. Richards took home the prize three times — 1993, 1994 and 1997 — before the show wrapped in 1998. David Hyde Pierce’s turn as Dr. Niles Crane in “Frasier” brought him a nomination every year between 1994 and 2004. Hyde Pierce picked up a statue four times including two wins back to back in 1998 and 1999.
With all those programs out of the running, folks such as Dillon, Harris and Wilson all made the cut. Jon Cryer was a nominee last year and lost to Piven, who’s hoping his Ari Gold persona will work its charm once again.
Piven’s momentum could be offset by the nom for one of his “Entourage” cohorts, Dillon, making the race even more unpredictable.
Show: “Two and a Half Men”
Emmy pedigree: One nom
Best scene: In “My Damn Stalker,” Alan is desperate to meet someone and tries an online dating service. He tells a few tall tales — that he owns the condo where he and Charlie live together and that he’s a chiropractor to the rich and famous — to try to attract the ladies. To his chagrin, Alan attracts a fellow online fibber and finds himself desperate to end their date.
Why he may win: With a previous nomination already in the bag, the voters might just decide it’s his turn to take the trophy home. And the fact that he found himself cast in pilots that never went forward might bring him some good will.
Maybe not: He’s up against Piven’s momentum from last year, and this is a category where it’s not unusual for thesps to win on a consistent basis.
Emmy pedigree: First nom
Best scene: Trying to relax before the night of his “Five Towns” premiere, Drama goes for a “massage” but is distracted as a review of the premiere sits on a counter a few feet away.
Why he may win: Drama is the perfect comedic foil for the impossibly charismatic Vince and adds some levity when the angst of Hollywood dealmaking begins to overwhelm the other elements of the show.
Maybe not: While he’s good for a few laughs, some might say the character has become a bit one note, which might hurt Dillon’s chances.
Neil Patrick Harris
Show: “How I Met Your Mother”
Emmy pedigree: First nom
Best scene: In “Showdown,” Barney is ecstatic when he becomes a contestant on the iconic gameshow “The Price Is Right,” as he’s been led to believe Bob Barker is actually his father. Barney struggles through the entire show to try to tell Barker he’s his son. When he finally has his moment, he can only muster the courage to congratulate Barker on his 35 years as host.
Why he may win: Harris shows he has the comedy chops to make a fast-talking lady killer both charming and funny. He sells Barney to us so convincingly you believe the other, nicer characters on the show really do love being friends with him.
Maybe not: He’s up against two other actors — Cryer and Piven — who already have some experience in this race, which voters might favor. Nom newbies often have to pay their dues before winning.
Emmy pedigree: One win plus one other nom
Best scene: In “Less Than 30,” after being publicly humiliated by his star client Vince and fired by the actor’s “people” in front of everyone at his new agency, Ari manages to plant a seed of doubt in Vince’s mind — that he holds the keys to the actor’s dream project — and persuades Vince to hold off attaching himself to any other projects.
Why he may win: Few actors so effortlessly seem to inhabit their roles the way Piven transforms himself into Ari Gold. His presence is so vital to the show that even when he’s not in a scene, the other actors are often spending their screen time reacting to something he said or did minutes or weeks ago.
Maybe not: The fact that another “Entourage” thesp is in the race could create a dilemma for voters. Do they continue to say Piven is the key to the show or give Dillon a chance to take the crown?
Show: “The Office”
Emmy pedigree: First nom
Best scene: In “The Initiation,” Dwight takes Ryan out on his first sales call. When Ryan throws a little attitude at Dwight, he decides to take Ryan on a side trip to the Schrute family beet farm. Once there, Dwight lectures Ryan on obscure farming techniques and then leaves Ryan there to teach him a lesson.
Why he may win: As Dwight, no one is more deeply and hilariously annoying as he trades barbs with Jim or, more surprisingly, touching in his loyalty to Michael Scott.
Maybe not: While “The Office” has a strong fan base and is critically beloved, it’s still a bit of a niche show, and it’s tough to say whether voters will understand Wilson’s unique brand of comedy.