EMMYS: Drama Series Overview

Michael Ausiello is Editor-in-Chief of TVLine.

At a glance, this list of probable contenders for the drama Emmy will look a lot like last year’s. AMC’s Mad Men and Breaking Bad are back. So are PBS’ Downton Abbey, HBO’s Game Of Thrones and, of course, 2012’s winner, Showtime’s Homeland. But also included among the frontrunners this year—as if the broadcast networks didn’t have a hard enough time getting any noms!—is Netflix’s first entry, House Of Cards. How will the wildcard fare against the cablers? While you ponder that question, here’s our assessment of its chances, as well as those of 23 other series and their stars:

Related: EMMYS: Comedy Series Overview

Since FX’s 1980s-set spy yarn is still in its freshman season—and still suffering from comparisons to Showtime’s Homeland—its best bets for nominations are its standout leads, Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys. But, since neither TV vet has been recognized before by the Emmys, even they are, if not long shots, pretty far-off medium shots.

Though A&E’s attempt to out-AMC with its moody Psycho prequel has scored big in the ratings, it isn’t the series but rather Oscar-nominated star Vera Farmiga who stands the best chance of receiving a nod.

HBO’s Prohibition-era shoot-’em-up had a superlative season. But, since this category is more crowded than a Game Of Thrones cast party—and the show has never generated as much heat as its gangsters have packed—it’s unlikely to eke out a third consecutive nomination. On the other hand, Bobby Cannavale—so good as the year’s Big Bad, Gyp Rosetti—is all but assured a TK nod.

Related: EMMYS: Movie/Miniseries Overview

Nominations for AMC’s meth-fueled hit and its stars—three-time lead actor winner Bryan Cranston and two-time supporting actor winner Aaron Paul—should be no-brainers. However, the fact that the series’ last season was an abbreviated eight episodes long—and those episodes aired a summer ago!—may, if only slightly, diminish its chances.

Passed over for the Emmy twice already, DirecTV’s now-dead-and-buried legal drama has approximately no shot at being nominated this year. On the flip side, the same can’t be said of Glenn Close, who’s already taken home the lead actress prize in 2008 and 2009.

Showtime’s serial-killer thriller finally played its trump card last season—by revealing the title character’s deadly pastime to sorta-sister Deb. Nonetheless, its time may have passed: 2012 marked the first year that it wasn’t nominated since 2007! So it may have to settle for a nod for five-time nominee Michael C. Hall or, if its really lucky, a first for Jennifer Carpenter.

PBS’ acclaimed period piece may no longer be quite as hot as a cup of tea fit for the Dowager Countess. But the pop-culture phenomenon did rebound from a shaky second season with a more warmly reviewed third. And it kept people talking by killing off two major characters (RIP, Matthew and Sybil!). If nothing else, count on a supporting actress nod for Dame Maggie Smith, who already won twice (once when the show was nominated as a miniseries, then again when it entered the drama race).

As poorly as the broadcast networks fare at the Emmys, CBS’ modern-day take on Sherlock Holmes is about as likely to be nominated as its lead detective is to miss a clue. Its only chance is a nod for either Jonny Lee Miller or Lucy Liu (a contender for Ally McBeal all the way back in 1999!).

If there’s one thing the Emmys love, it’s movie stars doing television. So, although Fox’s Kevin Williamson chiller probably won’t scare up a nod, matinee idol Kevin Bacon could.

No longer a niche hit, HBO’s mainstream breakout—buoyed by rising ratings and message board hysteria—is a lock for a third consecutive nomination. Unfortunately, the cast is so large that it’s nearly impossible for voters to single out any one performer. Well, any one performer, that is, except for two-time nominee and 2011 supporting actor victor Peter Dinklage.

Though passed over for a nomination in 2012, CBS’ law-office drama-procedural hybrid could break back into the race this year—first, because overall it’s having a great season, and second, because it’s the only broadcast drama that has any shot. Julianna Margulies (2011’s lead actress victor) is also a safe bet to receive a nod.

New as it is, NBC’s well-reviewed Silence Of The Lambs prequel probably needn’t set an extra place at dinner for Emmy. But, if for no other reason than making us forget Sir Anthony Hopkins’ version of Dr. Lecter for a moment, Mads Mikkelsen deserves to be a contender.

In spite of complaints that, in its second season, the Showtime smash became a soap opera that reeked of too many red herrings, it is the series that finally stole away the Emmy from Mad Men. So, grumbling notwithstanding, it remains a lock for a second nomination. Mandy Patinkin might also sneak into the supporting actor race on the heels of last year’s lead actor and lead actress wins for Damian Lewis and Claire Danes.

Remember our discussion of how much Emmy loves movie stars doing television? It definitely applies to two-time Academy Award winner Kevin Spacey and his political drama. The only question is, will voters recognize the actor—a 2008 Emmy nominee for HBO’s Recount—or the series? If the answer turns out to be both, leading lady Robin Wright—herself no stranger to the multiplex—could also get lucky.

Thanks to Margo Martindale’s star turn two years ago as Mommie Dearest Mags Bennett, FX’s modern-day Western was able to really bust into the Emmy derby. Now, buoyed by a well-reviewed fourth season, the show seems well-positioned to do so again.

The good news for AMC’s crown jewel: Nicotine-stained though it may be, it still is AMC’s crown jewel. Therefore, a sixth consecutive nomination is a foregone conclusion. The bad news: So far, this season has had viewers and critics alike crying “been there, done that.” Worse, it’s yet to provide a showcase for any actor that might break the cast’s stunning losing streak. (To date, not even Jon Hamm has won an Emmy.) Perhaps worst of all, the Golden Globes didn’t nominate the show this year.

Just about any project that Connie Britton takes on becomes a contender. (See also: Friday Night Lights, American Horror Story.) But, even if the three-time Emmy nominee’s track record isn’t enough to get voters to recognize ABC’s backstage soap opera, it’s undoubtedly enough to bag her a fourth nod.

Though this HBO property is a freshman series, its creator is the ultimate Emmy catnip: six-time winner Aaron Sorkin. Add to that mix the two Golden Globe nods the show just received, and both it and leading man Jeff Daniels are looking pretty good to be nominated.

NBC’s sleeper may be coming off its strongest season yet, creatively speaking. But it’s still a long shot for a nomination. (To date, only guest actor Jason Ritter has been recognized.) Its great white hope: Monica Potter, who shone in the storyline that found her character, Kristina Braverman, battling cancer.

Watercooler buzz doesn’t get much louder than the fandemonium that surrounds this Shonda Rhimes sudser. If voters are willing to look past some of the D.C. drama’s over-the-top plot twisting, not only the ABC hit but leading lady Kerry Washington—and supporting players Jeff Perry and Bellamy Young—could be on the receiving end of nominations.

Though TNT’s gritty (and now all-but-cancelled) LAPD drama has long had critics behind it, the only Emmy love it’s ever been shown was for stunt coordination! Its best—and probably last—chance to change that is a nom for Michael Cudlitz, who gave the performance of a lifetime in the episodes leading up to his tragic demise as Officer John Cooper.

At this point, William H. Macy’s boozy Frank Gallagher has about as much of a shot of getting his hands on a top-shelf drink as his Showtime sleeper does of being nominated. However, the actor—as well as co-star Emmy Rossum—has a chance. Slim, but a chance nonetheless.

As much as Emmy loves movie stars doing television, that’s how much it hates bikers. That’s the only way to explain how—even coming off its highest-rated season to date—FX’s fringe hit still won’t get a nomination. (And, odds are, it won’t—so far, even badass Katey Sagal has been snubbed!)

Okay, if there’s one thing Emmy hates more than bikers, it’s ghouls. (See also: Buffy The Vampire Slayer and True Blood.) But, now that AMC’s monster smash is cable’s top drama, voters may not be able to look down their noses at it. So, even if the series itself doesn’t break in, perhaps at least Andrew Lincoln—on the heels of his spectacular meltdown as widowed Sheriff Rick Grimes—will earn a nod.



Andy Patrick contributed to this report.

  1. The best actress award belongs to Keri Russell. To claim otherwise is to have never watched The Americans. Everyone else, other than Robin Wright, is way back in the middle of the pack.

    1. Exactly. She did amazing work, as did Matthew Rhys. The supporting actors too. Noah Emmerich’s award this year might end up being that he got to act so much with a naked woman, but at some point he’ll get recognized. I realize Jane Fonda’s probably the frontrunner in guest actress, but in a perfect world Margo Martindale would take it. I don’t like rooting for shows to fail because there are people, esp. below the line, who really need this employment, but from a story standpoint I want Margo back on The Americans so I’d like it if The Millers stopped, you know, existing. Didn’t like the clips I’ve seen anyway.

    2. Agree. She should be at least a strong candidate for the nominations.
      The whole cast has done an spectacular work, though.

    3. Orphan Black’s Tatiana Maslany is so superior to Keri. and I do love her . But theres no comparison. Tatiana plays 5 roles

  2. You completely ignored Orphan Black. Though a long shot for series nomination, it looks like the lead will win the best actress emmy and it may even sneak in a supporting actor nom.

  3. Do we know if “Shameless” is being submitted as a drama? It could just as easily be pushed as a comedy contender.

  4. Lets face it. Without a major network studio’s en Masse block voting to help you.
    You can forget a nomination.

  5. Orphan Black Orphan Black Orphan Black!!!
    The show and lead actress are great, but since its Canadian does that mean its not eligible?

  6. Parenthood’s best creative season? I can agree, except for the Ray Romano crap that destroyed both Sarah’s storyline and character.

  7. Have to echo the Tatiana Maslany comments. She’s a major contender now, and has tons of buzz. As for other shows, The Americans really deserves recognition. Its first season was stronger than Homeland’s second, and Keri Russel is brilliant. Justified really deserves some nods as well. The fourth season was its strongest, and holds up to any other show on TV. Lastly, I’d love Michelle Fairley to get a nod, if only for her work during the “Red Wedding” on Thrones.

  8. Sons of Anarchy should finally get a nod this year. Emmy has snubbed Kurt Sutter for far too long. His writing this year can’t be denied, as well as Jax for acting and Perrineau as Damon Pope.

  9. Orphan Black! It was original. It was incredible to watch Tatiana Maslany’s stunning performance. It was a also just a fantastic show with an amazing supporting cast (Jordan Gavaris, Maria Doyle Kennedy, Dylan Bruce, Kevin Hanchard, Michael Mando, Matt Frewer, Evelyne Brochu). Overlooking this show, and its cast, would be a travesty.

  10. Jax would be for lead actor in a Drama Series just FYI, and Perrineau would be in a totally different category, Guest Actor in case you weren’t aware.
    But lets not forget Katy Sagal for best actress while we are at it, cool?

  11. Where is Orphan Black? By far the best show for years. Tatiana Maslany should be nominated and win.

  12. Whew! I was almost scared Orphan Black, Hannibal, Tatiana Maslany, or Mad Mikkelsen might actually get some serious recognition. Looks like the award shows really dodged a bullet! Wouldn’t wanna see them ever become actually relevant.

  13. Where is Orphan Black and Tatiana Maslany? She and Vera Farmiga should be nominated for Drama actress. No question asked.

    Also Downton Abbey should not be nominated for ANY award. It was so bad. With Silly deaths, actors waling out. It’s a sinking ship. Storyline this season was bad. There was no good acting. Downton Abbey should be erased from awards nominations. It does not deserve it anymore.

    Also I hope that Jonny Lee Miller will be nominated for Best Actor Drama. Because he is so unexpectedly good as Sherlock. No one expected it. People were ready to hate new Sherlock tv show, with female Watson… and yet actors are so good that it’s interesting to watch.

  14. Jonny Lee Miller deserves a nomination, if not the Best Actor Emmy, for Elementary; his work is superb. No one on MadMen deserves anything this year, the writers made sure of that; I find it unwatchable this season. Game of Thrones was a snorer until the final two episodes, another let down. The Borgias, on the other hand, had their BEST season, incredible on every level, and deserve to be recognized for not letting down their audience a la MadMen & Game of Thrones. Just my opinion, of course. No accounting for tastes.

  15. I’ll give ‘Homeland’ credit for making ambitious choices, but it falls on its face too often to be considered a serious contender in a just world (something like ‘Game of Thrones’ – based on its source material – makes similar choices but ALWAYS DELIVERS). The idea that it beat out many of the listed shows last year is a joke. It should miss out this year: in that case, the third season could be a return to form that justifies its Emmy win or would confirm the voting body’s mistake of giving it a first season win.

  16. Downton Abbey is awful. It’s an embarrassment to be mentioned with any other show on American tv – period. Just because it’s British doesn’t mean it’s any good.

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