Ed Martin's exclusive annual two-part pre-Emmy Award preview and commentary is being distributed only to Jack Myers Media Business Report subscribers as a bonus feature.
The economy may be weighing heavily on the television industry, but you wouldn't know it from the ever-increasing number of high-quality dramas being produced for broadcast, basic cable and pay cable networks. The near-embarrassment of riches in this Golden Age of Drama – which began approximately ten years ago with the arrivals of The West Wing and The Sopranos and exploded with the arrival of The Shield in 2002 -- is never as obvious as on the night of the Emmy Awards. Indeed, the Drama categories this year are so full of extraordinary programs and performances that those of us on the outside looking in can only wonder how voting members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences made their choices. It's a small wonder that with one or two exceptions the real excitement of Emmy night is largely focused on the categories below.
Here are my predictions:
Outstanding Drama Series: AMC's Mad Men
Even with the increase this year from five to seven nominees in the Outstanding Drama Series category there isn't enough room for all the shows that deserve recognition. ABC's Boston Legal, HBO's True Blood, FX's The Shield and Rescue Me, DirecTV's and NBC's Friday Night Lights, Syfy's Battlestar Galactica, Fox' 24 and USA Network's Burn Notice were all left at the curb, in favor of AMC's Breaking Bad, FX's Damages, HBO's Big Love, Showtime's Dexter, Fox's House, ABC's Lost and this year's likely winner, AMC's Mad Men. Another Emmy would make it two in a row for this one of a kind show. The buzz around Mad Men is simply too loud to ignore, but I won't be shocked if Breaking Bad ekes out a win here. As grand as the sophomore season of Mad Men was, season two for Breaking Bad included a couple of episodes that were some of the finest hours of dramatic entertainment (including feature films) during the Emmy eligibility period (especially Peekaboo, the one in which Aaron Paul's deadbeat druggie Jessie was kidnapped by a drug-ravaged couple, one of whom eventually was crushed by an ATM machine). Regardless, September 20 should be a great night for AMC. Read on.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series: Bryan Cranston, AMC's Breaking Bad
Just like last year, the media is beating its collective drum set on behalf of Mad Men's tall, dark and dashing star, Jon Hamm. And once again I am sitting here at a loss for words wondering how I can properly express my admiration for Bryan Cranston's galvanizing performance as an everyman under extreme duress in Breaking Bad. I realize that Mad Men virtually revolves around Hamm's superstar turn as confident and conflicted advertising executive Don Draper, but I believe Cranston, a surprise winner last year, is going to make it two for two. All that said there will be no complaints from me if Hugh Laurie of House or Michael C. Hall of Dexter takes home the award.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series: Glenn Close, FX's Damages
The repetition of it all may compromise the excitement of Emmy night, but I think Glenn Close will join Bryan Cranston and the producers of Mad Men in the Second Consecutive Win Club. As always, my preference in this category is Kyra Sedgwick for her consistently entertaining turn in TNT's The Closer. But Close had even more dramatic material to work with during the second season of Damages than the first. She has made her character, Attorney Patty Hewes, a lethal force of nature that the Academy can't possibly overlook. A long shot here is Elisabeth Moss for her perfectly modulated performance as the always surprising junior advertising executive Peggy Olson in Mad Men.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series: Walton Goggins, FX's The Shield
What's that you say? Goggins wasn't nominated? Even though he gave the performance of the year as murderous and increasingly desperate Detective Shane Vendrell? I still don't believe it. Moving on …
My prediction and my preference in this category is Aaron Paul of Breaking Bad, because his character, druggie doofus Jessie, was prominently featured in the best episodes of its stellar second season. Jessie's addiction to heroin near season's end and his bottomless grief at the loss of his girlfriend were harrowing and heartbreaking. But I can't pass by this category without admitting that I would love to see the much-missed Boston Legal receive one final honor before it forever fades from Emmy ceremonies. With apologies to his co-star and fellow nominee Christian Clemenson, I'd like to see William Shatner enjoy one last walk to the stage. There will never be another character quite like Denny Crane!
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Drama Series: Dianne Wiest, HBO's In Treatment
Never underestimate the promotional power of HBO. No other network puts more effort into championing its Emmy nominees, almost always with spectacular results. Wiest, the best thing about the uneven talk fest In Treatment, was honored last year and will likely be so again, unless her well-received season two co-star Hope Davis is the voters' choice. A win for the luminous Cherry Jones as President Allison Taylor on Fox's 24 would be a pleasant surprise. Fingers crossed.
Outstanding Miniseries: HBO's Generation Kill
There are only two nominees in this category (the other being PBS' production of Little Dorrit). I think the Academy will get behind HBO's timely war story, in part because it brought Alexander Skarsgard to the attention of the media even before his star-making role as vampire Eric on True Blood.
Outstanding Made for Television Movie: HBO's Grey Gardens
HBO's acclaimed drama about "Big Edie" and "Little Edie" Beale, an eccentric mother and daughter who were relatives of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis but lived in squalor and seclusion in East Hampton, New York, is the industry favorite, though Prayers for Bobby, Lifetime's gut-wrenching drama about a mother's catastrophic homophobia, could be a spoiler.
Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie: Kevin Bacon, HBO's Taking Chance
To the best of my knowledge, the always reliable Kevin Bacon has never received a major acting award of any kind. With the support of HBO and the possibility that voters might be split between Brendan Gleeson of HBO's Into the Storm and Sir Ian McKellan of PBS' Great Performances: King Lear, I'm thinking this might be Bacon's big moment. The timeliness and emotional impact of Taking Chance will also work in his favor.
Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie: Jessica Lange, HBO's Grey Gardens
The much-honored Jessica Lange is one of our finest actresses and she was a marvel once again in the role of "Big Edie" Beale. That's the reason I'm going with Lange over her spirited co-star Drew Barrymore, who was equally wonderful as "Little Edie." Of course, if the Academy goes with Prayers for Bobby as Outstanding Made for Television Movie then Sigourney Weaver might just win this one.
Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or a Movie: Len Cariou, HBO's Into the Storm
Len Cariou would seem the likely winner for his solid portrayal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, especially if the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie goes to Brendan Gleeson as Winston Churchill.
Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie: Jeanne Tripplehorn, HBO's Grey Gardens
Jeanne Tripplehorn has never been nominated for her acclaimed work in the HBO series Big Love, so I think the Academy is going to seize this opportunity to honor her memorable portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis in Grey Gardens. But don't rule out Marcia Gay Harden in CBS' The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler. I didn't see this Hallmark Hall of Fame Presentation, but Harden has been the toast of Broadway all year for her Tony Award-winning work in the drama Gods of Carnage and all that buzz might influence Emmy voters.
Check out the complete list of nominees for the categories mentioned in this column.