Voting changes made for some surprising and refreshing options to this year’s Emmy ballots. But will new faces prevail or will old favorites still reign big for the Emmy Awards? Variety executive editor, TV Debra Birnbaum and associate features editor Geoff Berkshire predict the outcomes.
Debra: It’s been a banner year for drama, to be sure, capped by “Game of Thrones” with its 24 nominations. But like “Breaking Bad” last year, voters will want to crown “Mad Men” for its pitch-perfect swan song.
Geoff: A surprisingly potent nominations showing for “Thrones” (its best ever tally, including two supporting actress and two directing bids) suggests the entire TV Acad is under its spell. This should be the year HBO’s mega-hit finally wins that elusive top prize.
Debra: While “Transparent” may be deserving of the win, it may fall to “Veep” as the comedy that finally breaks “Modern Family’s” winning streak.
Geoff: A “Modern Family” six-peat would be a true shock, but which worthy rival takes it down? It’s perfect timing for the best season yet of HBO’s “Veep.”
Debra: No contest here. This is Jon Hamm’s last chance, and he’s more than earned it over the past seven seasons for creating one of TV’s most iconic characters.
Geoff: The only reason to think Hamm won’t win is that he never has. Opening this year’s voting to the entire acting branch should give him the sentimental boost needed for a well-deserved victory.
Debra: It’s a slate of powerhouse performances, topped by Taraji P. Henson’s Cookie on “Empire” — and I’m thrilled “Orphan Black’s” Tatiana Maslany finally got nominated — but Viola Davis laid it all out in “How to Get Away with Murder.”
Geoff: It wouldn’t be surprising to see any six of the nominees prevail, but Davis has the double Oscar nominee cred to stand out on reputation alone.
Debra: Ben Mendelsohn stole scenes from his A-list costars in “Bloodline,” but Jonathan Banks will go home with the trophy for showing us the heart in “Better Call Saul’s” Mike Ehrmantraut.
Geoff: Banks and Mendelsohn could be up for Oscars for their work and no one would question it, but give the edge to Banks’ stunning showcase ep “Five-O” in a series also up for best drama.
Debra: Tough one to call. Joanne Froggatt has won a Globe as the long-suffering Anna on “Downton Abbey,” and Lena Headey might break through for her walk of shame on “Game of Thrones.” But this was the season of Joan on “Mad Men,” and Christina Hendricks owned every minute.
Geoff: Hendricks, Headey and “Good Wife’s” Christine Baranski would all be deserving, but so would “Orange is the New Black’s” Uzo Aduba, who won last season in the guest category and could follow that with a supporting victory on the momentum of a big SAG triumph earlier this year.
Debra: The only sure thing on Emmy night, this trophy is Jeffrey Tambor’s to lose for his groundbreaking performance in “Transparent.”
Geoff: Anyone but the exceptional Tambor, who has remarkably never won an Emmy before, would be the night’s biggest upset.
Debra: “Veep’s” Julia Louis-Dreyfus has been on an Emmy winning streak — and the only one who can stop her is “Inside Amy Schumer’s” Amy Schumer, who might ride the pop culture train to a win, as Melissa McCarthy did back in 2011.
Geoff: Amy Poehler would have Jon Hamm-level sentiment on her side, if only the Emmys paid more attention to “Parks and Recreation.” Still, give her a slight edge in a category that could go any which way.
Debra: Tony Hale (“Veep”) and Ty Burrell (“Modern Family”) have traded off this award in the last few years, but the momentum is with Selina Meyer’s body man, whose shtick just keeps us stuck to our TVs.
Geoff: There might be an upset in the making here — Tituss Burgess’ “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” breakthrough already went viral, and Emmy voters could catch the bug.
Debra: A category so jam-packed it has eight nominees, but Allison Janney is poised for a repeat win for “Mom.”
Geoff: It’s hard to bet against six-time Emmy winner Janney, but if enough voters watch Anna Chlumsky’s “Veep” submission episode, she’ll earn her first.
Debra: The caliber of programming in this category couldn’t be better, from “Wolf Hall” to “American Crime” to “American Horror Story.” But “Olive Kitteridge” carries that HBO imprimatur and literary pedigree, not to mention A-list performances.
Geoff: “Olive Kitteridge” is the one to beat, but ABC’s “American Crime” could do it in a show of support for network television and the emerging anthology series format.
Debra: Academy voters will want to right the wrongs done by the Oscars, so the Emmy goes to: David Oyelowo for “Nightingale.”
Geoff: A win for either Richard Jenkins (“Olive Kitteridge”) or Mark Rylance (“Wolf Hall”) wouldn’t surprise, but no one made the same impact as Oyelowo’s daring one-man show.
Debra: Queen Latifah (“Bessie”) has to face off against her HBO cohort Frances McDormand in “Olive Kitteridge” — the edge goes to McDormand, who managed to make the unlikable likable.
Geoff: McDormand’s Oscar-winning prestige should help her squeak by Latifah’s career-best passion project. Watch out for a darkhorse threat from TV veteran Felicity Huffman (“American Crime”).
Debra: Bill Murray brought the charm to “Olive Kitteridge,” and voters hope he’ll do the same for the awards ceremony.
Geoff: Murray is the biggest name, and will probably win, but Finn Wittrock (“American Horror Story: Freak Show”) and Michael Kenneth Williams (“Bessie”) are more pivotal to their projects, and Richard Cabral (“American Crime”) has the best off-screen backstory.
Debra: Two heads are indeed better than one, and this trophy will go to Sarah Paulson for her neck-breaking work as Dot and Bette in “American Horror Story: Freak Show.”
Geoff: Paulson faces high-quality competition, especially from Mo’Nique (“Bessie”) and Regina King (“American Crime”), but should finally score her first Emmy on her third bid for “Horror Story.”
Debra: Jon Stewart owned this category for years before Stephen Colbert swooped in and won in 2013. But given David Letterman’s retirement, the gap-toothed host deserves a golden lady to cap off a 33-year career that inspired so many.
Geoff: Even with the sentiment surrounding past champs Colbert, Stewart and (the deserving) Letterman, HBO’s hot newcomer John Oliver should stake his claim on the traditionally hard-to-crack category.
Debra: A brand-new category, it would seem tailor-made for “Saturday Night Live” — but this has been the year of Amy Schumer and her eponymous Comedy Central show should prevail.
Geoff: “Key & Peele” would be the sharpest choice, but Schumer’s It-girl status all but guarantees a win for viral video machine “Inside Amy Schumer.”