Supporting drama actor race wide open

Only two nominees from 2010 eligible this year

The announcement of each year’s Emmy nominees comes with its own set of time-honored traditions — including inevitable complaints that the TV Academy has ignored fresh faces in favor of rewarding the same individuals again and again and again.

That won’t be an issue in the category of drama supporting actors this Emmy season, however. Of last year’s six nominees, only two — Andre Braugher from “Men of a Certain Age” and John Slattery from “Mad Men” — are eligible to earn nods this time around.

Not competing are reigning champ Aaron Paul of “Breaking Bad” and Martin Short of “Damages,” which didn’t air during this year’s qualifying period, and previous winners Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson of the dearly departed “Lost.”

The prospect of spreading the Emmy love makes this race one of the year’s most eagerly anticipated.

“It’s going to be a very interesting category,” predicts TV Guide senior critic Matt Roush. “There’s an opportunity to reward some really breakthrough performances, both from people who’ve been passed over before and those who made a big splash this year.”

The actors who ultimately benefit from the category overhaul will likely be a colorful crop.

“Subtlety is often not rewarded,” says USA Today TV critic Robert Bianco. “Part of the Emmys is sticking in voters’ minds so they don’t have to be reminded that you were on the show and you did good work.”

Seconds Roush: “With the supporting categories, it really is about who’s committing grand larceny on a show, who the scene stealer is who can pull your focus away from the main players and, in drama anyway, create characters that unnerve or startle you.”

Not all scene-stealers are equal in the minds of Academy voters, though. Emmy history proves that critical buzz plus high visibility more frequently equal a winning combination on the ballot — which, according to industry experts, makes Alan Cumming of “The Good Wife” among the contenders for a nomination this year, along with Peter Dinklage of HBO’s “Game of Thrones” and “Boardwalk Empire” co-stars Michael Shannon and Michael Pitt.

Each of those actors also happens to be a respected name in film and/or theater circles — Shannon’s a previous Oscar nominee, Cumming a Tony winner — which is often Emmy bait to the Academy.

Glowing reviews could also give a boost to Walton Goggins of “Justified” and John Noble of “Fringe” — though each will first have to overcome what seem to be separate Academy biases.

“It’s very hard to be on a show on a cable network that they’re not paying attention to, like FX, or to be in a genre show like ‘Fringe,’ ?” Bianco says.

Still, underdogs can triumph. Just ask executive producer Jason Katims, whose critically adored “Friday Night Lights” finally managed to score major nods last year for lead actors Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton.

“I’d just written the Emmy thing off completely,” remembers Katims with a laugh. “But when Connie and Kyle were nominated, everybody in the show felt nominated.”

From “Friday Night Lights” this year, Katims hopes Taylor Kitsch and Michael B. Jordan (who also has also appeared on Katims’ NBC show “Parenthood,” which has several worthy candidates) can break into the race. Meanwhile, well-received performances from Scott Bakula (“Men of a Certain Age” ) and Vincent Kartheiser (“Mad Men”) will vie for voter attention alongside their previously nominated co-stars, who stand a strong chance of being singled out again.

And, besides Cumming, legal drama “Good Wife” has three other actors making a case for supporting nods in Chris Noth, Josh Charles and Matt Czuchry.

“The fear with an incredible ensemble like ‘The Good Wife’ is that good actors could cancel each other out,” ” Roush says.

Only one thing seems certain: Whoever manages to nab a nom should choose wisely which episode to submit to voters if they want to walk away victorious Sept. 18.

“As showrunners, we’re thrilled by how many chances actors take over the life of the show,” says “Good Wife” executive producer Robert King. “But Emmy voters look for episodes that pop. You need some gangbuster episode that really showcases the actor to masterful effect.”

Supporting drama actor race wide open| Shows elevate when ensembles gel
Peter Dinklage | Michelle Forbes | Irrfan Khan | “The Killing” cast | Kelly Macdonald | Margo Martindale | Denis O’Hare | Amy Ryan | Michael Shannon | Donnie Wahlberg |

Mayim Bialik | Garret Dillahunt | Oliver Platt | Adam Scott