‘Nurse Jackie’ (Showtime) Cannavale’s Dr. Cruz was a man with limited options, turning to Jackie for help even though he knew of her horrible addiction. Cannavale used that conflict to his advantage, leaving no doubt in viewers’ minds that he’s a master of nuance.
‘Saturday Night Live’ (NBC) This beloved comedy raconteur has complete creative control on his own comedy “Louie,” but adapted well into the rigid mold of the storied “Saturday Night Live.” He was game to play along with each sketch, effortlessly formed chemistry with cast members and even poked fun at himself with a hilarious “Lincoln” parody.
‘30 Rock’ (NBC) Jenna Maroney is one of the craziest, most narcissistic people to ever grace a sitcom. Whoever played her even crazier husband, Paul, who just happens to be a Jenna Maroney impersonator, had his work cut out for him. Forte steeled himself for the task, turning nutjobs into likable, fascinating character studies.
‘Modern Family’ (ABC) Nathan Lane is incapable of being unmemorable. Every episode of “Modern Family” on which he guests, playing the overeager Pepper Saltzman, lights up with Lane’s eager foolishness and snappy one-liners.
‘The Big Bang Theory’ (CBS) The venerable Newhart played Professor Proton, a once-popular children’s entertainer now reduced to performing for the grown-up nerds who star on this show. There are few better than Newhart at spinning dejection and disappointment into humor.
‘Saturday Night Live’ (NBC) JT joined the “Five Timers Club” this year, marking his fifth time hosting “Saturday Night Live.” Was it really any surprise this multitalented juggernaut would last so long? Timberlake exudes charm and grace, holding his own in an opening that included old-timers like Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin.
‘Glee’ (Fox) When Coach Beiste first showed up on “Glee,” she was unsympathetic and cold. Jones has overcome those initial impressions and turned her into the kind of character who can hold her own among literal Broadway divas.
‘Louie’ (FX) From the first moment that she appeared onscreen, Leo was captivating. Her foul-mouthed, sexually demanding foil to Louis C.K. was wild, but nevertheless remained grounded through Leo’s relentless commitment to disappearing entirely into her characters.
‘Saturday Night Live’ (NBC) Though known mostly as the demure Molly on “Mike & Molly,” McCarthy earned her comedy stripes playing oddballs and weirdos akin to the character she portrayed in “Bridesmaids.” “Saturday Night Live” turned out to be the perfect showcase for every twisted impulse she couldn’t fit into a sitcom.
‘Enlightened’ (HBO) Shannon’s character on “Enlightened” struggled with intimacy issues and fumbled her way into a romance with one of the show’s central players. Awkwardness is never a liability for Shannon — her strength is always in owning and internalizing everything uncomfortable.
‘30 Rock’ (NBC) The now-retired “30 Rock” is a show where almost every character got along, which is why Jack Donaghy’s mother, in the role of the villain, stood out so clearly. Stritch managed to berate every single person on the show while maintaining a heart not normally reserved for such vitriol.
‘Saturday Night Live’ (NBC) Wiig clearly hasn’t lost her touch since leaving “Saturday Night Live.” Her return as host brought back sketches and characters that were old favorites, while furthering the comedienne as one of the most unpredictable and fascinating character actors working today.
‘Scandal’ (ABC) An acting vet (and longtime writer-producer) who has guested on shows as varied as “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “NYPD Blue,” “That ’80s Show,” “Friends,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Weeds,” Bucatinsky earns his inaugural in-front-of-the-camera Emmy nom for his performance as the heavily conflicted journalist James Novak.
Michael J. Fox
‘The Good Wife’ (CBS) This is Fox’s third nomination for his captivating work as attorney Louis Canning. He’ll be aiming for his sixth Emmy. He previously won in this category in 2009 for “Rescue Me” and owns Emmys as a lead comedy actor for “Spin City” (one) and “Family Ties” (three).
‘Homeland’ (Showtime) As the fiery (and violent) black ops agent Peter Quinn, Friend kept “Homeland” viewers guessing through most of this season. Best known for his feature roles in films like “The Young Victoria” and “5 Days of War,” he receives his first Emmy nom.
‘Mad Men’ (AMC) Hamlin’s portrayal of the soulless and conniving Jim Cutler, a new partner for Don Draper and company, served as a key spark plug for chaos. Amazingly, despite a long, successful run on “L.A. Law,” Hamlin makes his debut as an Emmy nominee with this recognition.
‘The Good Wife’ (CBS) For his turn as the emotionally damaged number cruncher Clarke Hayden, Lane earns his first appearance in this category. It’s a change of kudos scenery for the actor, who is a mainstay as a comedy guest nominee. (He earned his fourth nom there this year.)
‘Mad Men’ (AMC) Morse, who has popped up regularly on “Mad Men” as Sterling Cooper co-founder Bertram Cooper since the show bowed in 2007, isn’t new to this category. He nabbed this award for his work as the mercurial Cooper in 2011 and was nominated two other times previously (2008 and 2010).
‘Mad Men’ (AMC) Former “Freaks and Geeks” and “ER” actress Cardellini showed her continued versatility as the adulterous Sylvia Rosen, who had a captivating (and toxic) affair with her neighbor Don Draper. Cardellini snagged her first recognition from Emmy voters.
‘Shameless’ (Showtime) A two-time Oscar nominee, Cusack has become a fixture in this category for her portrayal of the off-kilter Sheila Jackson. The role has earned Cusack three straight Emmy nominations. But despite the consistent acclaim, she’s still waiting to win a statuette.
‘The Newsroom’ (HBO) As TV network mogul Leona Lansing, Fonda has earned rave reviews from critics and is a favorite among some pundits in this category. If Fonda does take home the award, it will be the second time the two-time Oscar-winning actress has won an Emmy.
‘The Americans’ (FX) Martindale is looking to make it two-for-two when it comes to Emmy nominations and wins. The actress, nominated here for her performance as KGB supervisor Claudia, won in her only other Emmy experience for playing Mags Bennett in FX’s “Justified” (supporting actress in a drama, 2011).
‘The Good Wife’ (CBS) Best known for her role as Arlene Fowler on “True Blood,” Preston has made scene-stealing appearances as quirky attorney Elsbeth Tascioni on “The Good Wife” over multiple seasons. She finally gets recognition and will, no doubt, savor her first Emmy nomination.
‘Game of Thrones’ (HBO) Rigg was masterful this season as Olenna Tyrell, the wily matriarch of the House of Tyrell. An Emmy winner in 1997 in the miniseries supporting actress category, Rigg received her first Emmy nom in 1967 for her iconic turn as Emma Peel on “The Avengers.”