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Newcomers revitalize Emmy race

Anticipation awaits Thursday nom announcements

This may be the year an infusion of new blood pulsates through the Primetime Emmys.

As the biz preps for Thursday morning’s nominations announcement, TV bizzers expect big things for some of primetime’s new darlings — including ABC’s “Modern Family” and Fox’s “Glee.”

That’s a big change from the past two years, when “30 Rock” and “Mad Men” were favorites to win the comedy and drama categories before the nominees were even revealed.

As the only kudofest to honor ongoing entertainment (as opposed to the Oscars and Grammys, which feature fresh fare annually), the Emmys have been tabbed as the one awards show where one year can often blend into the next.

With many of the same programs nominated in the drama, comedy and acting categories year after year, it can be hard to distinguish one Emmy kudocast from another.

But following a fall season that saw several new programs break out with ratings panache, those same rookie skeins now have the distinct possibility of making an Emmy impact as well.

The promise of a Emmycast highlighting new series like “Glee” — and the resulting interest that might come from those shows’ rabid fans — would be a nice shot in the arm for the TV Academy, which is about to undergo its own grueling procedure: A license fee negotiation for the Emmycast, which is in the last year of its “wheel” broadcast arrangement with the networks.

It also could be a boon to NBC, which has forced the Emmys into August due to the Peacock’s September committment to “Sunday Night Football.”

Emmy voters can sometimes surprise, so there’s no guarantee that “Modern Family” and “Glee” will make the final cut.

But the freshman series — both from 20th Century Fox Television — each made a major impact with Nielsen and could likely impress members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences as well. “Glee” won the Golden Globe for comedy in January.

“Ratings are first and foremost for the business that we’re in, but the studio takes a lot of pride in working on Emmy-worthy shows,” said 20th Century Fox TV chairman Gary Newman.

The success of “Glee” was one of the biggest stories of the recently concluded TV season, with the show’s tentacles reaching out far beyond the small screen to include a legit road show, in addition to countless magazine covers and a hardcore audience of “Gleeks,” the fans who absorb as much as possible about the goings-on of the cast that portrays the fictional McKinley High School student body.

Success of ensemble comedy “Modern Family” may result in several actors and actresses splitting votes. In a show of unison, all thesps decided to go the supporting route despite early thoughts of having vet Ed O’Neill run as a lead. If Ty Burrell and Sofia Vergara — she is presenting the noms along with Joel McHale in the wee hours at the Acad’s North Hollywood headquarters — hear their names called, it will be their first nomination apiece.

“Glee” and “Modern Family” will eventually have to battle each other for true freshman supremacy, as both shows will compete in the comedy category.

“The only thing I can liken it to is the parents of the Williams sisters watching them play in a tennis final,” Newman said. “It’s hard to be purely joyful when one is lauded and the other is not.”

Meanwhile, also looking for her first-ever nom is “Parenthood” actress Lauren Graham, who toiled on “Gilmore Girls” for seven seasons without ever being invited to the Emmy party. Co-star Peter Krause has three noms on his resume for his work on “Six Feet Under” while “Parenthood” itself, which was a midseason hit for NBC, may be in the running.

Of course, don’t count the veterans out just yet. “Mad Men” remains a critical darling, and will bow its fourth season right when Emmy voting takes place.

And among thesps, Tony Shalhoub will be seeking his eighth consecutive nom (and fourth win) for “Monk.” This will be the last opportunity for Shalhoub to be tabbed for his work as an obsessive-compulsive detective on the USA Network series that ended its run in December.

At Showtime, departing entertainment topper Robert Greenblatt is hoping that Edie Falco, who was nominated six times and won three Emmys for her work on “The Sopranos,” finds some of that Emmy magic with “Nurse Jackie.” Even though the show has already aired two seasons, this is the first time the comedy is Emmy eligible.

Fewer opportunities await comedy and drama series this year. In 2009, there were seven nominees in both the drama and comedy categories, and that will likely fall down to six. (That’s still better than the once-standard five nominees, however.)

While only six were planned in last year, an extra was included because of a rule saying that if the seventh-highest voted series is within 2% of the sixth, then the No. 7 show will also receive a nomination. That rule has now been revoked.

The only possibility this year that seven series could earn a nomination for drama and comedy this year are if the sixth and seventh series are tied with exactly the same amount of votes. Chances are slim, but not impossible.

In the comedy category, both “Glee” and “Modern Family” won’t have to face HBO’s “Flight of the Conchords,” which is off the air and no longer eligible.

Warner Bros. is making a big push for “The Big Bang Theory,” the highly rated sitcom that has also grabbed the biz’s attention with a record-setting syndie deal with TBS and Fox O&Os. Voters acknowledged lead actor Jim Parsons with a nom last year, but the studio this year has fired up its marketing machine to tubthump for a comedy series nom, including mailing a pop-up set piece to the Acad’s approximately 16,000 members.

On the drama side, these Emmys will mark the last stand for ABC’s “Lost,” the fantasy/thriller that was the most talked-about of this year’s finales. “Lost” won the top prize in 2005 — its first year eligible — and some see it as a fitting tribute if the show could bookend its six-season run with a second statuette.

FX, which will find out if Glenn Close has a shot at a three-peat after winning lead drama actress the past two years for “Damages,” also has a viable contender in Timothy Olyphant for Kentucky-based “Justified.” And CBS, not a network that often receives a lot of Emmy love in the scripted categories, is anxious to see if Julianna Margulies earns voters’ trust with “The Good Wife.” CBS Television Studios has been making a big play for Margulies’ inclusion in Emmys’ selected class.

And, of course, there’s the longtime “Friday Night Lights” neglect. NBC-DirecTV series has long been beloved by critics but has yet to earn a single acting or series nom since launching in 2006.

As is often the case, pay cabler HBO has a hammerlock on the minis and movies category. The nearly $200 million WWII production “The Pacific,” shot in Australia and co-financed with the BBC, is one of only a few minis to be telecast this past season, and the net also offered up a trio of highly publicized telepics — “Temple Grandin” with Claire Danes, “You Don’t Know Jack” with Al Pacino and “The Special Relationship,” with critics singling out Hope Davis’ portrayal of Hillary Clinton as one that could land on Emmy’s radar.

In the reality world, the question once again will be whether “The Amazing Race” can be knocked off its perch. Eye skein has won an astonishing seven times in a row, with ratings giants such as “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” unable to make any kudos breakthrough.

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