Underdog Emmy actress contenders

Breakout seasons put these women in contention

Connie Britton
‘Friday Night Lights’
Britton’s bold but sensitive portrayal of Tami Taylor is critical in elevating “Lights” from a sports show to a meaty drama for both genders. She took what might have been a fringe role and made it the series’ emotional center.

Lisa Edelstein
Hugh Laurie’s female foil emerged from supporting status to all but take centerstage alongside — and in the sack with — the cantankerous doc. She further showed her range with a plot involving an adoption.

Sharon Gless
‘Burn Notice’
If Jeffrey Donovan can’t get a nom due to tough competish, maybe chances are better for Gless, who plays his mom. She certainly has Emmy cred after six years on “Cagney and Lacey,” and if cable makes a big showing among voters, she may have a shot.

Anna Gunn
‘Breaking Bad’
Like co-star Aaron Paul, Gunn has proved to be a great complement to Emmy winner Bryan Cranston, and the second season has been even better than the first. Her character’s cold shouldering of Cranston after he went missing for days at a time not only showed off her skills but raised Cranston’s game as well.

January Jones
‘Mad Men’
It was definitely a season in which the ladies shined on “Mad Men,” and Jones’ angst about whether to stay with Jon Hamm was riveting. An actress who can express as much with a quick glance as with a long monologue, Jones specializes in internalizing a world that often feels out of control.

Regina King
Ratings may have slipped on NBC’s late-season drama but certainly not because of King’s stellar work as an LAPD detective living at home with her mom, trying to help the downtrodden as best she can. She gives the cops a humanity that resonates with viewers.

Jane Krakowski
’30 Rock’
Playing a character that can’t understand her own mediocrity takes skill, and Krakowski turns it into a science. On the acting front, she makes the dysfunctionality between her character and Tina Fey’s a constant source of laughs.

Evangeline Lilly
Like all “Lost” actors, Lilly found herself the center of attention only a few times this season, but she never failed to take advantage of the opportunity. The episode in which she delivers toddler Aaron to the boy’s grandmother before heading back to the island was attention-worthy.

Mary McCormack
‘In Plain Sight’
She’s one of only a few women toplining a drama, plus viewers are becoming more familiar with her as audiences continue to flock to USA Network. Her take on a U.S. marshal working with federal witnesses is smarmy, sexy and worthy of attention.

Elisabeth Moss
‘Mad Men’
The second season focused a lot on Moss’ emotional difficulties in giving up her child and how she balanced that against her religious faith. Oh, and then there was the phenomenal scene with Vincent Kartheiser in the final episode when she tells him that he’s the father of her baby. An all-around powerful performance.

Adrianne Palicki
‘Friday Night Lights’

No scene might’ve been more moving in all of TV this year than Tyra reading her college essay to Landry as part of her application to the U. of Texas. While everyone on “Lights” is stellar, Palicki’s journey to become a high school graduate after overcoming so many obstacles was wondrous.

Jill Scott
‘The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency’
“Detective” scored a slew of praise when it preemed in March, but the show certainly isn’t of the watercooler variety as much as other HBO series. Yet don’t count out the multitalented Scott, who has proved she’s as comfortable in front of the camera as she is on a concert stage.

Chloe Sevigny
‘Big Love’
Torn between her family on the compound and her present life with sister wives Jeanne Tripplehorn and Ginnifer Goodwin, Sevigny brilliantly turned Nicki into a woman who’s still looking for her place in the world.

Amanda Seyfried
‘Big Love’
Seyfried shined this season as her character debated whether to have a baby and how she needed to move away from her family in order to define herself outside her Mormon upbringing. “Big Love” has had trouble gaining Emmy traction, but Seyfried’s doing terrific work.

Rutina Wesley
‘True Blood’
Coming out of Juilliard, Wesley’s an actress who has an enormous future if her “True Blood” performance is any indication. She may be overlooked by those infatuated with the romance between Anna Paquin and Stephen Moyer, but her scenes with onscreen mom Adina Porter were among the best moments of season one.