The television academy is handing out Emmys this coming Sunday, and that means predictions. There is a lot of inertia that goes into the Emmys, with the same people and series tending to get nominated every year, but since we know there will be at least one surprise in the big categories, let's see if we can figure out what that might be. Could Tina Fey actually lose for once?
Best Actor in a Comedy: Alec Baldwin will probably be the favorite in this category as long as 30 Rock is on the air. The only factors working against him might be 1) a desire to break up the 30 Rock hegemony at some point (since Fey is an even bigger favorite in her category); and 2) competition from another Emmy favorite in Tony Shalhoub, whose Monk is nearing the end of its run. Steve Carell and Jim Parsons are longshots; not enough people have seen Flight of the Conchords, which hurts Jemaine Clement; and Charlie Sheen should feel honored just to be nominated. Prediction: Baldwin.
Best Actress in a Comedy: Defending champ Fey remains a heavy favorite, but there are some mitigating factors that give one pause. First, she has already been honored for her work as Sarah Palin on Saturday Night Live, and let's face it: that was a much more newsworthy gig than this past season of 30 Rock. Second, there could be some sentiment to honor Christina Applegate, who had a tough year even beyond the cancellation of Samantha Who? And then there is Toni Collette, whose work in United States of Tara was significantly more demanding than that of anyone else. Collette also has the movie background that the Emmy voters like to honor. Prospects for Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Mary-Louise Parker, and Sarah Silverman are a good deal more bleak. Prediction: Fey.
Best Actor in a Drama: Again, it looks like a three-man race, with apologies to Simon Baker, Gabriel Byrne, and Michael C. Hall. It becomes more obvious with every week how much Mad Men relies on Jon Hamm, and his loss last year was one of the night's few surprises. The academy might feel that he has waited long enough. Hugh Laurie will always be listed as a major contender; despite a season of House that disappointed many, his downward spiral is traditional Emmy bait. And Bryan Cranston, last year's stunned recipient of an Emmy for Breaking Bad, did even better work this year as Walter White's life continued to get more complicated. Prediction: Hamm.
Best Actress in a Drama: A very tough race to predict, given all the big names in contention. My guess is that Holly Hunter's Saving Grace is a little too obscure, even by cable standards; Sally Field has too small a role on Brothers & Sisters; Elisabeth Moss is too new and has had too few "star" turns on Mad Men; and giving an Emmy to Mariska Hargitay would mean honoring Law & Order: SVU, which...c'mon. So it will come down to Glenn Close, so often an Oscar nominee but never a winner, as the indomitable Patty Hewes on Damages; or Kyra Sedgwick, who continues to carry The Closer, even as it seems past its prime. Flip a coin. Prediction: Close.
Best Reality Competition Show: You know most of the folks in attendance will be gritting their teeth through this award. Any of the five nominees have a plausible chance, though the prospects are likely weaker for Top Chef (still a bit too much of a niche show and not a true watercooler hit) and Project Runway (the fifth season was not at all strong). Dancing With the Stars is well-produced and would be a rare Emmy chance to honor a major public hit, and The Amazing Race, which has won this category every year of its existence, is the old reliable. But my guess is that this might be the season that another veteran reality show will take home the Emmy, as the voters take note of its return to the center of pop culture conversation, even as they ignore the fact that its producers can't seem to finish a live show on time. Prediction: American Idol.
Best Comedy: Also known as "Can anybody beat 30 Rock?" Some critics felt the show had an off season, as Fey got distracted and celebrity cameos threatened to overrun the main cast, but there is such a lack of plausible alternatives. The nomination for Family Guy was enough of a shock; there is no way it can actually win. Entourage definitely hits home for a lot of voters, but it's hardly a classic. Weeds barely qualifies as a comedy (the average episode of Dexter probably contains more humor). And too few voters understand what Flight of the Conchords is trying to do. That leaves either The Office or How I Met Your Mother as the only threats to the dominance of 30 Rock, and while either would be a worthy winner, the NBC show just seems to have too much cultural weight behind it. Prediction: 30 Rock.
Best Drama: How close are we to the day when it will no longer be possible for a show from the major commercial networks to get nominated in this category? Only House and Lost got nominated from the Big Four. Forget House, which had an unsuccessful season artistically -- way too much Thirteen. Damages has barely avoided the axe after its two seasons, and both Dexter and Big Love had inconsistent years (it's a mystery why none of the Big Love actors can ever get nominated). I think Breaking Bad is the best show on television right now, but not enough viewers agree with me and the same will likely be true of Emmy voters. Mad Men was the winner last year and remains the favorite in most eyes, but I suspect the voters will be in the mood to strike a blow for tradition by honoring what may go down as the last great network series. Prediction: Lost.