While there are 24 nominees in the supporting actor-actress races for drama and comedy series, the number of shows being represented by these performers is a mere 11.

For the second consecutive year, Emmy juggernaut “Modern Family” dominates with six supporting nods, which is 50% in the laffer category. “Downton Abbey” has nabbed four for its mostly downstairs crew and the indomitable Maggie Smith. “Breaking Bad” has earned three nods for its supporters, and Emmy standards “The Good Wife,” “Saturday Night Live” and “Mad Men” each have walked away with two.

Those noms are well-earned, indeed, but having voters concentrating on those specific shows means other series are being left behind.

How, when choosing from a list that includes actors from the Emmy nominated comedy series “Girls,” “Veep,” as well as dramas “Boardwalk Empire” and “Homeland” is a more diverse selection of ensemble actors not being recognized for their performances?

On the comedy side, there’s nothing from the likes of “Veep,” “Parks and Recreation” or “Suburgatory.” For dramas, absent are “Boardwalk Empire,” “Homeland” and “Parenthood.” And those are just a few, of course.

One answer lies in the distinction between lead and supporting actor, or lack thereof, as there are no hard or fast rules on which category an actor belongs. Unlike the difference between guest and series regular, which is determined by an on-screen credit or the actor’s contract, series regulars can choose which category they want to be submitted in.

“Everyone is so strategic with where they submit themselves these days,” says Michael Schneider, TV Guide magazine’s West Coast bureau chief and former Variety scribe. “You’ve got certain shows where several actors should be considered lead, but there’s maybe one in particular who’s an Emmy favorite, so the other actor decides ‘I don’t want us to cancel each other out so that neither of us gets an award,’ or ‘I’ve got a better shot in the supporting category.’ ”

A similar dilemma faces the comedy side where “Modern Family” rules the category despite the fact that none of the nominees would be out of place as leads.

“They’re very supportive of each other, and I think that’s great. I just think that it does create a problem when you’re looking at award shows,” says one studio publicist. “Is it fair to narrow down that category to six, especially when you have a show like “Modern Family” taking up three or four of those slots?”

But a possible increase in nominees, in order to allow for more variety, is not something that has come up among the Board of Governors, says the TV Academy’s awards guru, John Leverence. Nor is he keen on implementing rules that would cement which category an actor belongs.

“You have to ask which of these people would you move out to allow somebody else in? And when you look at that roster of very worthy nominees, that becomes a very difficult question to answer,” he points out.

As Leverence explains and Schneider confirms, the overflow of worthy supporting players is a testament to the quality of television these days.

“Think about what was nominated, as well as what wasn’t,” Schneider says. “There’s so much great television that didn’t get a nomination because there’s just not enough room. That tells you that this is truly a golden era because there’s just too much good stuff.”

Road to the Emmys 2012: The Supporting Actor & Actress Nominees

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And the nominees are:
Supporting Actress in a Drama | Supporting Actor in a Drama | Supporting Actress in a Comedy | Supporting Actor in a Comedy