The nominees for this year's Primetime Emmy Awards were announced a couple of weeks ago, and while there is room to criticize what didn't make the lists (no Best Drama shot for the terrific FX crime drama "Justified," for example) and what did (Emmy voters, "Nurse Jackie" isn't even close to being a comedy). Here's a look at some of the major categories, with my best guesses as to who will take home the prizes on Sunday, Sept. 23.
Outstanding Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Modern Family (ABC)
30 Rock (NBC)
"Modern Family" is the two-time defending champ in the category, and long-time Emmy observers know that once the TV Academy's voters have a favorite, they don't tend to change their minds -- or ballot selections -- unless there's a massive shift. "Family" was solid again this year, so it's my pick to win for the third year in a row.
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Comedy Series
Girls -- Lena Dunham as Hannah Horvath
Mike & Molly (CBS) -- Melissa McCarthy as Molly Flynn
New Girl (FOX) -- Zooey Deschanel as Jess Day
Nurse Jackie (Showtime) -- Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton
Parks And Recreation (NBC) -- Amy Poehler as Leslie Knope
30 Rock -- Tina Fey as Liz Lemon
Veep -- Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Selina Meyer
I hate to sound like a broken record, but why is Edie Falco nominated here? No offense, she's a very fine actress, but she herself said -- when accepting a previous Emmy for this role -- that she "isn't funny." Apparently, the TV Academy doesn't agree, hence the nomination. On the other hand, Amy Poehler is funny, and her nomination for her work in last season's "Parks and Recreation" is quite deserved; she's my pick to win here in a mild surprise.
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory (CBS) -- Jim Parsons as Sheldon Cooper
Curb Your Enthusiasm -- Larry David as Himself
House Of Lies (Showtime) -- Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan
Louie (FX Networks) -- Louis C.K. as Louie
30 Rock -- Alec Baldwin as Jack Donaghy
Two And A Half Men (CBS) -- Jon Cryer as Alan Harper
Louis C.K. is nominated for 7 individual Emmys this year, not just for acting in his self-titled FX dark comedy, but also writing, directing and even editing the show. His ability to be a "one-man band" has drawn a lot of critical praise, and it likely will translate to a few wins. I think this will be one of them.
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Comedy Series
The Big Bang Theory -- Mayim Bialik as Amy Farrah Fowler
Desperate Housewives (ABC) -- Kathryn Joosten as Karen McCluskey
Modern Family -- Julie Bowen as Claire Dunphy
Modern Family -- Sofia Vergara as Gloria Delgado-Pritchett
Nurse Jackie -- Merritt Wever as Zoey Barkow
Saturday Night Live (NBC) -- Kristen Wiig as various characters
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Comedy Series
Modern Family -- Ed O'Neill as Jay Pritchett
Modern Family -- Jesse Tyler Ferguson as Mitchell Pritchett
Modern Family -- Ty Burrell as Phil Dunphy
Modern Family -- Eric Stonestreet as Cameron Tucker
New Girl -- Max Greenfield as Schmidt
Saturday Night Live -- Bill Hader as various characters
The adult members of the "Modern Family" cast -- since the show was first eligible -- have elected to submit in the supporting categories, and that strategy has borne fruit. The show has picked up two consecutive Supporting Actor trophies (for Eric Stonestreet and Ty Burrell) and Julie Bowen took home a Supporting Actress Emmy last year. I'm going to predict another pair of winners from that cast again in 2012. This time, I think the prizes will go to Sofia Vergara and Ed O'Neill -- both did some of their best work this past season.
Outstanding Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Breaking Bad (AMC)
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Game Of Thrones (HBO)
Mad Men (AMC)
I'm going to get this out of the way first: every show on this list deserves to be here. But "Breaking Bad" is operating in a different plane right now. Again, Emmy voters sometimes need a tectonic shift to change their minds -- and their minds have locked onto "Mad Men" -- but this past season of "Breaking Bad" was something truly rare and special.
Outstanding Lead Actress In A Drama Series
Damages (DirecTV) -- Glenn Close as Patty Hewes
Downton Abbey -- Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley
The Good Wife (CBS) -- Julianna Margulies as Alicia Florrick
Harry's Law (NBC) -- Kathy Bates as Harriet Korn
Homeland -- Claire Danes as Carrie Mathison
Mad Men -- Elisabeth Moss as Peggy Olson
This is a really strong group of performers, a great indicator of how television is providing space for talented female actors to thrive. Of this group, I have to say that Claire Danes is my favorite to win. Emmy voters (them again?) have loved her for years, yes, but her performance in the debut season of "Homeland" was messy, gutsy and real.
Outstanding Lead Actor In A Drama Series
Boardwalk Empire -- Steve Buscemi as Nucky Thompson
Breaking Bad -- Bryan Cranston as Walter White
Dexter (Showtime) -- Michael C. Hall as Dexter Morgan
Downton Abbey -- Hugh Bonneville as Robert, Earl of Grantham
Homeland -- Damian Lewis as Nicholas Brody
Mad Men -- Jon Hamm as Don Draper
My advice to every actor in this category not named Bryan Cranston: Enjoy your limo ride. Get comfortable in your chair. Think about all the parties you'll be attending after the show. And don't worry about preparing an acceptance speech. Cranston's name is practically already carved into the plaque on the statue -- and it oughta be.
Outstanding Supporting Actress In A Drama Series
Breaking Bad -- Anna Gunn as Skyler White
Downton Abbey -- Maggie Smith as Violet, Dowager Countess of Grantham
Downton Abbey -- Joanne Froggatt as Anna
The Good Wife -- Archie Panjabi as Kalinda Sharma
The Good Wife -- Christine Baranski as Diane Lockhart
Mad Men -- Christina Hendricks as Joan Holloway Harris
Another tough category full of marvelous female actors. I find myself leaning toward Christina Hendricks from "Mad Men" -- she was terrific again this year -- but it wouldn't surprise (or disappoint) me at all if Anna Gunn of "Breaking Bad" took the trophy.
Outstanding Supporting Actor In A Drama Series
Breaking Bad -- Aaron Paul as Jesse Pinkman
Breaking Bad -- Giancarlo Esposito as Gustavo 'Gus' Fring
Downton Abbey -- Brendan Coyle as John Bates
Downton Abbey -- Jim Carter as Mr. Carson
Game Of Thrones -- Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister
Mad Men -- Jared Harris as Lane Pryce
Giancarlo Esposito -- one of the more remarkable actors working today -- delivered a singularly stunning performance as Gus on "Breaking Bad." Esposito's cunning, chilling character work was emblematic of the brilliant high-wire act in the midst of a hurricane-spawned tornado that was the show's fourth season.