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Emmys: History Could Be Made in Hotly Contested Races

This could be a record year for Emmy records.

The award show stars were aligned when the nominations were announced last month, setting up showdowns in a slew of key categories that could result in record-setting wins (or, in a few cases, losses) come Sunday.

That includes both of the top series races, where old favorites “Mad Men” and “Modern Family” vie to set new all-time highs in their categories versus buzzy competitors jostling to make their own special mark on Emmy history.

Modern Family” has claimed the comedy series prize five years running, leaving it tied for most wins with “Frasier,” which accomplished the same feat between 1994 and 1998. If the ABC comedy squeaks out one more victory, it will hold the new record solo.

It’s interesting to note, however, that the show that brought the “Frasier” winning streak to an end was Fox’s zeitgeisty dramedy “Ally McBeal.” And “Modern Family” has its own dramedy challenger in Amazon’s “Transparent.”

If “Transparent” takes comedy series honors, and some pundits are predicting it just might, it would not only be the first-ever series win for Amazon (off the online service’s first such nomination), but it would be the first series win for any digital outlet.

Netflix has three contenders looking to stake the same claim — comedy nominee “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” and both “House of Cards” and “Orange Is the New Black” in drama — but all three are perceived as longer shots.

Instead, the drama category is widely viewed as a race between AMC’s dearly departed “Mad Men” and HBO’s never-more-vital “Game of Thrones.”

A victory for “Thrones” would be the first time Emmy honors a drama series set in a fantasy realm as the best of the year. The TV Academy has a better track record of nominating shows with sci-fi, supernatural or fantasy elements in the top drama category (from “The Twilight Zone” and the original “Star Trek” to “Twin Peaks,” “The X-Files,” “Heroes” and “True Blood”) than actually awarding them. The only previous drama series champion with significant fantasy elements is “Lost.”

Like “Modern Family,” “Mad Men” is in a tie for most-ever Emmy wins in its series field. But this one is a four-way tie with three classic NBC dramas: “Hill Street Blues,” “L.A. Law” and “The West Wing.”

If “Mad Men” bags the top honor it would become the first series since PBS’ import “Upstairs, Downstairs” to win Emmys for both its debut and final seasons. (“Upstairs” only ran four years, winning three times.)

Meanwhile, win or lose, “Mad Men” leading man Jon Hamm has already secured a not-so-coveted record. He’s the most nominated drama lead to never win an Emmy. Even in victory he’d still have fewer wins than all three men who scored eight noms in the category in the past: Raymond Burr (who won twice for “Perry Mason”), Peter Falk (three times for “Columbo”) and Dennis Franz (four times for “NYPD Blue”).

In the drama lead actress race, a more important barrier may finally be broken. With “How to Get Away With Murder” star Viola Davis and “Empire” scene-stealer Taraji P. Henson both in the mix, this is the first time in Emmy history two black actresses are nominated simultaneously in the category. And while no black actress has ever won, both SAG champion Davis and Critics Choice TV pick Henson are considered strong candidates to make history as the first.

From newcomers to an Emmy veteran, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is eyeing a fourth consecutive win as comedy lead actress for HBO’s “Veep.” Combined with her 2006 victory for “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” one more Emmy would put Louis-Dreyfus in a tie with Candice Bergen and Mary Tyler Moore for most ever wins in the category.

Whether or not voters actually think about these records when they cast their ballots, the chance to make Emmy history surely means something to the winners. At the very least, it beats the heck out of saying, “It’s an honor just to be nominated.”

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