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TV Academy hatches sixth Emmy slot

More noms give bubble contenders new hope

Just as belts are tightening everywhere in the world, the Emmys are doing one noteworthy bit of splurging.

With the TV Academy expanding to six the number of Emmy nominees in 10 top categories — comedy and drama series and the acting fields for male and female regulars — there’s new hope for programs and performers left out in previous years.

Although the change arose out of a streamlining of the voting process — and, in axing the blue-ribbon gatekeeper panels for the affected categories, a restrengthening of the majority will — the extra nomination slots also acknowledge how many shows are out there now.

“You have a very significant roster of eligibility in drama and comedy,” says John Leverence, senior vice president of awards for the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. “It’s made (the Emmys) a bit roomier, more accommodating to the realities of what’s going on in television production these days.”

But will it be good news finally for the “Friday Night Lights” folks, such as perennially praised-yet-ignored female lead Connie Britton? Could a critically acclaimed but marginalized entry like “Battlestar Galactica” see awards glory — or at least a shot at some — for its final season?

One possible consequence, of course, is further entrenchment for already Emmy-recognized shows, like last year’s drama winner, “Mad Men.”

“I’m expecting to see a few more berths for awards favorites,” says Maureen Ryan, television critic for the Chicago Tribune, who cites the lack of female nominees from AMC’s flagship series last year as due for correction. “The second season in particular really focused on the females in a devastatingly amazing way, so recognition for January Jones and Christina Hendricks would be great.”

She’s less optimistic about “Battlestar” nabbing a drama slot or nods for stars Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell.

“The Emmy voting body has a mental block with that show,” she says.

It could still prove hard for series that have gone a few years without Emmy nominations to join the party. TV critic Alan Sepinwall of the New Jersey Star-Ledger says someone such as Kyle Chandler of “Friday Night Lights” just isn’t household-name-friendly enough in an Emmy voting pattern that rewards big, familiar faces on hit shows.

“I wouldn’t be stunned to see Simon Baker get a nomination (for “The Mentalist”),” says Sepinwall, “because people are glad something was a hit, and he’s clearly the reason people are watching the show.”

That thinking bodes well for CBS’ sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” which has seen its ratings improve and the buzz surrounding thesp Jim Parsons accelerate.

“He’s rightly getting a lot of praise and Emmy talk,” Ryan says. “And it’s probably time for a couple of its actors, like Simon Helberg, to break into that monopoly in the supporting comedy actor pack.”

Meanwhile, there’s a chance for HBO’s surrealist deadpan comedy/musical series “Flight of the Conchords” to join such veterans as “30 Rock,” “Entourage,” “Two and a Half Men” and “The Office.”

“The first season, you would hear people in the business say they liked (“Conchords”),” Sepinwall notes. “So maybe there becomes enough of a groundswell that it could sneak in for a sixth nomination.”

Lead actress in a comedy offers the possibility of either a return to glory for a desperate housewife such as Emmy fave Felicity Huffman or a new face like Toni Collette of Showtime’s “United States of Tara.”

“Whether the show clicked with Emmy voters, I don’t know,” Ryan says. “But she was amazing on that show, and she’s such a respected actress I could see her getting a nomination.”

It’s not clear that networks will campaign more in an effort to take advantage of the extra nomination slots, in light of the battered economy.

“It’s been awhile since an Emmy win has translated into ratings,” Sepinwall says. “I don’t know that these companies are going to be able to justify that expense.”

Ultimately, Sepinwall feels, people will be rolling their eyes come nomination day because the extra slots will go to popular, traditional shows and people with name recognition.

“I generally have a lack of faith in Emmy voters,” he says, adding wryly, “I believe ‘Boston Legal’ is still eligible. They did 13 episodes.”

TIP SHEET

What: 61st Primetime Emmy Awards

When: Sept. 13 (nominations to be announced July 16)

Where: Nokia Theater, Los Angeles

Web: emmys.org

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