Actresses in contention

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Actress

Glenn Close
While the show may have lost a share of its audience and some buzz moving to satcaster DirecTV from basic cabler FX, Close is still an Emmy fave. She won two years running (2008-09) and was nominated a year later for playing treacherous attorney Patty Hewes.

Kaley Cuoco
“The Big Bang Theory”
Back when “Big Bang” premiered, Cuoco’s Penny was dismissed as a latter-day “Three’s Company”-style Chrissy Snow. In reality, she turned out to be the sharp counterpoint to her uber-academic male co-stars, as well as the bellwether for the growing female cast that have made “Bang” one of TV’s most well-rounded sitcoms.

Michelle Dockery
“Downton Abbey”
In theory, “Downton Abbey” has been the story of a complicated case of inheritance, but no small part of our investment has been in the welfare of Lady Mary, played with wounded beauty by Dockery. The role requires Dockery to be the epitome of dignity while also incorporating an unmistakable vulnerability.

Anna Gunn
“Breaking Bad”
Showrunner Vince Gilligan woke up one morning and got himself a Gunn, and that proved to be one of the underrated keys to the success of “Bad.” Playing Skyler White, she provides nuanced edge as the moral backbone of the show that still succumbs to immorality,

Patricia Heaton
“The Middle”
As harried Heck mom Frankie, Heaton dealt with more relatable family issues, including helping Brick deal with bullies and pulling out all the stops to get Sue tickets to the Justin Bieber concert. She and Mike considered moving to an apartment when the house started falling apart before ultimately staying put, and by season’s end it was sturdy enough to host an impromptu family wedding.

Megan Hilty
Divas on Broadway? Who would ever believe that? Hilty likely had plenty of research material in letting the world know that Ivy wasn’t going to roll over to Gotham newcomer Karen when it came to who would play Marilyn Monroe in “Bombshell.”

Regina King
Pregnant and without pause, King’s detective Lydia Adams thought she could handle the streets of L.A. with a baby growing inside her. Not a good idea. That scenario nearly led to tragic consequences before several cases made her realize that motherhood comes with a sacrifice.

Jessica Pare
“Mad Men”
As Megan, Pare emerged from her one-line debut on Matthew Weiner’s 1960s epic to become, especially after the sidetracked fates of Betty Draper (January Jones) and Peggy Olson (Elisabeth Moss), the leading lady. She effectively balances the yearning of a twentysomething with a maturity that often surpasses her older friends, acquaintances and, now, husband.

Emmy Rossum
It was a rollercoaster season for feisty Fiona, the backbone of the family. She took a job tending bar, tried in vain to reconnect with her high school boyfriend and endured the unwelcome visits of her dying grandmother and suicidal mother. As the dark second season closed, though, there were signs of optimism: She reunited with Jimmy and eldest sibling Lip moved back home.

Katey Sagal
“Sons of Anarchy”
Gemma was fitfully torn between her scheming husband, Clay, and son, Jax, who was trying to escape the clutches of the suddenly drug-pushing motorcycle club. Sagal, ultimately, decides where her allegiances are, and the upcoming season will offer how those play out.

Maggie Smith
“Downton Abbey”
Ever-puncturing the seriousness of the great Downton estate, Smith never fails to deliver the perfect bon mot and, sometimes when you least expect it, the perfect, most convincing insight. Perhaps her top moment: When she turns and asks, “What is a weekend?”

Mae Whitman
Part of a strong ensemble, yet Whitman seemed to shine especially bright this past season as she becomes romantically involved with her politician boss. No coincidence actress often finds herself in top TV projects, including Andre Braugher starrer “Thief” and HBO’s “In Treatment.”