From the sand-swept desert bluffs of New Mexico to the sleek sophistication of a ’60s Manhattan ad agency, it’s been a season of amazingly broad scope for directors. The voracious appetite for original series on even basic cable channels has blown open the notion of what a TV drama should look or act like. All bets are off now.
Series: “Damages” (FX)
Visual highlight: The cinema-verite opening scene finds Rose Byrne’s earnest young lawyer staggering bloody through Manhattan streets. That’s intercut with a time-bending technique that fast-forwards to her arrest and rewinds to reveal how she got sucked into this thriller’s treachery.
Why it might win: The pilot sets up a complex seasonlong mystery through an even more complex style of storytelling, all with gritty panache. It gives “thriller” a good name.
Maybe not: It’s very dark, intricately twisty and demands that attention be paid at all times.
Series: “Breaking Bad” (AMC)
Visual highlight: Bryan Cranston’s dying-and-desperate chemistry teacher resorts to cooking meth, in his underwear, in a broken-down Winnebago parked in the barren nowhere outside Albuquerque.
Why it might win: All that New Mexico location shooting — unending desert vistas and desiccated urban neighborhoods — looks so vividly cinematic.
Maybe not: AMC buzz tilts toward “Mad Men.”
Series: “Boston Legal” (ABC)
Episode: “The Mighty Rogues”
Visual highlight: Quick cuts and swish pans during lawyer James Spader’s fevered courtroom summation offer contrast to subsequent tenderness in a euthanasia case involving the father of colleague Candice Bergen.
Why it might win: “Boston Legal” and David E. Kelley have always been Emmy faves.
Maybe not: This least flashy of the nominated series is ending its run, perhaps a season too far.
Series: “Mad Men” (AMC)
Episode: “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” (pilot)
Visual highlight: The series’ 1960 look and tone are established instantly, if not palpably, in the first scene — boisterously privileged businessmen shot from low angles in a dim, smoke-filled, floridly wallpapered martini lounge.
Why it might win: “Mad Men” is hotter than hot. Even viewers unpersuaded by its ad-age melodrama gush over its detailed period stylishness.
Maybe not: The pilot could be criticized as too much style, not enough substance.
Series: “House” (Fox)
Episode: “House’s Head”
Visual highlight: Hallucinatory slo-mo bus crash is experienced from inside the vehicle and sometimes through House’s eyes, as the doctor’s amnesiac brain struggles to identify a fellow passenger who may be in mortal danger.
Why it might win: All the fancy film tricks and forced perspective serve to magnify the central mystery and mesmerize us, too.
Maybe not: “House” is still regarded by some as largely a medical procedural, which is not a much-admired genre.