Last year’s noms all vying for a repeat performance:
Baldwin’s cool, calm embodiment of crackpot conservatism has routinely been an Emmy favorite, earning the actor a nom every year of the show’s run, and two awards. A choice pairing with Mary Steenburgen for a few episodes this year only reinforced Baldwin’s expert comedy gifts.
Debate about whether Buscemi was leading man material for a high-profile period drama was effectively quashed when HBO’s gangster series debuted and his practical, ruthless and occasionally humane kingpin earned him an nom. Nucky’s troubles got even thornier in season two, and Buscemi held his own as an anchoring figure.
Burrell’s cheery, clueless and unmistakably caring Phil Dunphy has become an instantly iconic sitcom dad. His work this past season was as good as ever, and while the show is an ensemble of winning performances, Burrell’s is the anchor by which the other planets orbit around.
“The Good Wife”
Emmy finally recognized the stellar work of Charles, who plays the intelligent and quietly authoritative firm partner Will Gardner. And his latest scenarios give voters plenty to chew on, including a steamy office affair and the professional low of nearly losing his law license.
This brilliant comedian’s appearance in this category last year was a triumph for both FX and risk-taking comedians everywhere, plus a sign that Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld don’t have the only monopolies on playing oneself. Episodes that include dealing with suicide, a real-life feud with Dane Cook and thwarted love could see Louie and his brand of no-holds-barred comedy right back in the mix.
It’s not often a character and a performance vaults an actor to the Time magazine list of the 100 most influential people, but Colfer’s beloved portrayal of witty, dignified countertenor Kurt Hummel has made him a top reason to watch Fox’s weekly musical and a role model for gay teens everywhere.
“Two and a Half Men”
It can’t be easy adjusting to a new co-star after so many years of well-honed sparring with your original castmate, but Cryer seems to have kept up his end handily with the addition of Ashton Kutcher. Though he could have phoned it in over the last few years, he continues to keep things fresh on the venerable CBS sitcom.
“The Good Wife”
One of the routine pleasures of this politically astute show is this Scottish actor’s highly entertaining portrait of ruthless yet sneakily humane campaign operative Eli Gold. Though Eli was not as involved this season as others, his memorable romantic entanglements with a colleague (Amy Sedaris) and his ex-wife (Parker Posey) were soapy fun.
“Game of Thrones”
Dinklage’s star has only risen since he took home the trophy last year for his witty, charismatic portrayal of perennially underestimated schemer Tyrion Lannister on HBO’s popular fantasy episodic. Though sporting a large, unwieldy cast of characters, Dinklage is the closest thing to an anchoring conscience on the pay cabler’s massive hit.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson
As uptight dad and adult son Mitchell on ABC’s hit sitcom, Ferguson has scored a nomination two years running. His relationship with Eric Stonestreet’s Cam is one of the most wonderfully true relationships on all of primetime. Though they are a same-sex couple, their trials and tribulations are relatable to all.
“The Big Bang Theory”
Though Jim Parsons has clearly been Emmy’s favorite son from this megahit sitcom, Galecki deservedly made it to the nominees list last year for the first time — an appropriate recognition for his understated charm as straight nerd to Parsons’ more openly eccentric character.
For many, the best reason to watch FX’s southern crime drama is the coiled intensity Goggins brings to ex-white supremacist Boyd Crowder, whose criminal intentions are cards kept close to his vest. The show’s writers gave the ex-“Shield” regular plenty of juicy exchanges with a range of wily characters.
Michael C. Hall
Showtime’s resident “good” serial killer has been an Emmy-nominated stalwart, with nominations the last four years of the show’s six-year run. Another popular season, in which issues of fatherhood and mentorship dovetailed, could mean Hall returns for a fifth shot at Emmy’s top acting prize.
You may not love Don Draper, but you scour his demeanor to determine what he’s thinking, what his next move will be, which is at the heart of Hamm’s routinely Emmy-nominated turn. Four drama series Emmy wins haven’t led to an acting triumph yet, but with the AMC stalwart experiencing another banner season critically as Don adjusts to a new wife and a turbulent business world, maybe it’s Hamm’s time to make the winner’s walk to the podium.
Having been nominated six times but never winning over the extended tenure of “House,” perennial Emmy bridesmaid Laurie has one last chance as the popular medical series finally says goodbye. It’s been a brilliant performance by the Brit and sometimes those ending a remarkable run even win, don’t they, Kyle Chandler?
Laconic, wisecracking straight-shooter Raylan Givens has made Olyphant television’s only real western hero. Though the third season started with a bang and ended with a whimper, Olyphant’s lawman was a reliably entertaining constant, matched well with Neal McDonough’s and Mykelti Williamson’s year-three antagonists.
As the patriarch of the family that ties all three households together, O’Neill memorably gives a 21st century take on reluctantly adaptive manhood, second marriage and stepdad-hood. O’Neill is one of the most respected actors in television and the fact he has never won feels like a situation that, at some point, will be rectified.
“The Big Bang Theory”
There hasn’t been a threepeat winner since Michael J. Fox’s “Family Ties” run in the 1980s, and Parsons is two-thirds of the way there. Though the “Big Bang” storyline focused more on Simon Helberg’s character this past season, Parsons’ Sheldon had a sweet romance with Amy that kept the laughs in constant flow.
As primetime’s wittiest rake, Slattery has made booze-swilling ’60s-era ad man Roger Sterling into as iconic a picture of cheerily embittered entitlement as any male actor in TV history, not to mention a ubiquitous presence in this category.
The first to win an Emmy from the show, Stonestreet saw his stay-at-home dad character’s clown days got resurrected in a memorable episode and, through Cam’s neurosis, always seemed to find the funny all season long.