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Emmys: Strong Crowd of New Contenders Shakes Up the Lead Actor Races

In the lead actor Emmy races, which tend to recycle many of the same names year after year, it’s rare to see more than two or three fresh faces in the mix. This year, a strong crowd of new hopefuls is hitting the playing field and that could test the history. (At least, one can only hope.)

Last year’s first-timers in the drama category included a pair of actors from broadcast phenom “This Is Us” (Sterling K. Brown and Milo Ventimiglia) and an acting veteran from the wildly popular sci-fi program “Westworld” (Anthony Hopkins). The latter won’t be in the mix this time, after Hopkins’ character bowed out last season. Some other spots will open up as well, with the absence of Bob Odenkirk in “Better Call Saul” (premiering after the deadline) and the ejection of “House of Cards” star Kevin Spacey, who was removed from the Netflix series after his dramatic fall from grace amid sexual misconduct allegations last year.

Lined up and waiting to fill the void are nearly a dozen new contenders, though. Jason Bateman, for one, picked up Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild nominations last year for his work in Netflix’s “Ozark.” He’s perhaps the strongest of the lot, with added visibility in comedy series “Arrested Development” to help his cause. “The Good Doctor” star Freddie Highmore, meanwhile, landed a Globe nom for the ABC series. He’s poised for TV Academy recognition as well.

A number of actors in other debuting shows are worth keeping an eye on: James Franco, pulling double duty in HBO’s “The Deuce,” though he could be sidelined due to his own brush with the #MeToo movement; J.K. Simmons, doing the same in Starz’ “Counterpart”; Jonathan Groff, in David Fincher’s Netflix psychodrama “Mindhunter”; and Donald Sutherland, as J. Paul Getty in FX’s “Trust.”

Adding to the glut is HBO’s plan to move “Westworld” players Ed Harris and Jeffrey Wright from supporting to lead this season.

In addition to reigning champ Brown and his “This Is Us” co-star Ventimiglia, incumbent nominees looking for another bid include Matthew Rhys in “The Americans” and Liev Schreiber in “Ray Donovan.” They’ll join others like Rami Malek (a former winner for “Mr. Robot”) and Matt Smith (Netflix’s “The Crown”) in a fierce competition.

On the comedy side, voters can be even more loathe to shake things up. One or two freshmen per year is the norm. Last year it was just a pair: Donald Glover (“Atlanta”) and Zach Galifianakis (“Baskets”).

This season, embattled comedian Aziz Ansari will be absent with “Master of None” on hiatus, while “Transparent” star Jeffrey Tambor won’t be submitted for consideration by Amazon following sexual misbehavior allegations, allegations he has denied. (Tambor will, however, get a shot at recognition in the supporting race for “Arrested Development.”)

Eric McCormack picked up a Globe nom for NBC’s returning “Will & Grace,” while Larry David was recognized by the Screen Actors Guild for HBO’s own returning series, “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” And speaking of returns, Matt LeBlanc is eligible one last time for the final season of Showtime’s “Episodes” (as well as his CBS sitcom “Man With a Plan”).

Debuting comedy contenders include Iain Armitage in “Young Sheldon” (CBS) and Tracy Morgan in “The Last O.G.” (TBS). They and the rest will be looking to join a race that already includes Galifianakis and last year’s winner, Glover, along with other incumbents including Anthony Anderson (“Black-ish”) and William H. Macy (“Shameless”). Also lurking are Ted Danson (assuming NBC’s “The Good Place” can find footing), Will Forte (a former two-time nominee for Fox’s “The Last Man on Earth”) and Thomas Middleditch (also a former nominee, for HBO’s “Silicon Valley”).

The good news for whichever newbies make the cut? Fully half of the last 10 lead actor winners (drama and comedy combined) have taken the gold on debut nominations. So hope springs eternal in the lead-up to the 70th annual Primetime Emmy Awards.

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