A look at those honored for taking the helm
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Episode: “The End”
Highlight: Take your pick — the ultimate cliff-top showdown between “UnLocke” and Jack, Ben sitting alone outside the church, having refused Locke’s invitation to join them, or the glowing gathering of islanders inside the church awaiting their final destiny.
Why he might win: Bender directed more than 36 hours of “Lost,” and Emmy voters could reward him for having helmed some of the most talked-about moments of modern television.
Maybe not: Some may grumble that the Academy bent its rules to make this extended 2 1/2-hour episode eligible in “series” categories normally limited to two-hour episodes. Lesli Linka Glatter
“Mad Men” (AMC)
Episode: “Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency”
Highlight: In an absurdist reenactment of the American Revolution, hapless secretary Lois celebrates the Fourth of July by running over and severing the foot of Sterling Cooper’s new British overlord with a John Deere riding lawnmower.
Why she might win: The bloody and action-packed scene is a shocking departure from the show’s usual fare, making it all the more exhilarating.
Maybe not: Though the episode is a standout even by the lofty standards of “Mad Men,” competing with the “Lost” finale could be a bridge too far. Agnieszka Holland
Episode: “Do You Know What It Means” (Pilot)
Highlight: The perfect moment of post-Katrina resourcefulness comes when gourmet chef Janette Desautel, having run out of supplies to make her restaurant’s desserts, produces a packaged Hubig’s pie from her purse and tells the kitchen staff to “drizzle somethin’ on it.”
Why she might win: After overlooking the transcendent “The Wire” (of which Holland directed three episodes), voters might turn to David Simon’s vibrant — and slightly more mainstream — new series.
Maybe not: With modest viewership and challenging material, “Treme” still faces a decidedly uphill battle. Michelle MacLaren
“Breaking Bad” (AMC)
Episode: “One Minute”
Highlight: The suspenseful parking lot scene where the unarmed, disgraced FDA agent Hank is targeted by the drug cartel’s hit-man cousins, who shoot him multiple times — despite Hank’s valiant effort, it takes good timing and a stroke of luck for him to (barely) survive.
Why she might win: Her skill isn’t shown only in action scenes, but in small moments such as earlier in the episode, when Hank breaks down the second the elevator doors close and shakes it off when they re-open, or when Skyler pleads with estranged husband Walter to help Hank.
Maybe not: Much of the competition is equally intense. Steve Shill
Episode: “The Getaway”
Highlight: Dexter and Arthur talk about life and choices and fate on Dexter’s killing table, with Arthur knowing that he’s going to have the last word when it comes to the subject of revenge. “It’s already over,” Arthur tells him just before Dexter’s hammer comes down.
Why he might win: Season finale made a gut-wrenching, gutsy choice with a shocking ending that will likely send the show careening off in a new direction for its fifth season.
Maybe not: That ending might have been a little too gutsy for the stomachs of some voters.
Highlight: The club performs “Proud Mary” while riding in wheelchairs to support Artie’s cause.
Why he might win: Episode’s blend of razzle-dazzle and serious coming-of-age issues made it a favorite among fans, encouraging the producers to continue exploring more dramatic themes.
Maybe not: Some found the show’s focus on disabilities to be a bit manipulative. Two “Glee” nominees may also divide votes. Allen Coulter
Highlight: Just another day at the office — Nurse Jackie flushes an ear, forges an organ-donor card and makes like Robin Hood to help a dead bike messenger’s pregnant girlfriend.
Why he might win: Pilot offers a mesmerizing entry into the world of its title character, a dedicated nurse who pops painkillers and quotes St. Augustine.
Maybe not: Initial episode was pretty busy, juggling subplots, introducing characters and maybe packing in just a bit too much for that first half-hour. Ryan Murphy
Episode: “Pilot — Director’s Cut”
Highlight: The group dance to Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab” set the template for the show’s inventively rousing musical numbers.
Why he might win: The pilot put “Glee” on the must-see list. The buzz was so good that, by the time the show returned three months after it aired, it was already a certified hit.
Maybe not: There were better first-season episodes, including the other nominee, “Wheels.” Don Scardino
Episode: “I Do Do”
Highlight: Matt Damon flashes his comic chops as the man of Liz’s dreams, an airline pilot who — no, really — actually likes her show.
Why he might win: Episode hilariously wraps up season four’s many threads, including the Jack Donaghy love triangle, and spins off a few new plotlines for the upcoming season.
Maybe not: Too many weddings. Too many big-name guest stars. Too many Emmys in “30 Rock’s” past. Jason Winer
Highlight: Mitchell and Cameron are flying home with Lily, their newly adopted daughter, when Mitchell takes umbrage at a woman’s remark (“Look at the baby with those cream puffs!”). Then Cam points out that Lily is, in fact, holding two cream puffs.
Why he might win: Premiere episode took familiar family-comedy elements and made them feel fresh, intelligent and, most importantly, funny.
Maybe not: Hard to think of a reason. It’s a near-perfect seg.
Emmy breakthrough for newbie directors | Drama and comedy noms | Variety, music or comedy series noms | Nonfiction noms | Miniseries, movie noms