Ray Richmond contributes to Deadline’s TV coverage.

In the rush to honor Showtime’s Homeland in 2012, the one Emmy nominee considered something of a sure thing was Claire Danes for drama actress. And she did win. What surprised many was that costar Damian Lewis—and the series itself—also won. This time, while a Homeland sweep is even less likely, Danes remains the safest bet to repeat on the lead drama actress side. But among the actors, the race is less clear: A pair of previous category winners (Bryan Cranston of AMC’s Breaking Bad and Lewis) face off against an Oscar winner (Kevin Spacey of Netflix’s House Of Cards). An intriguing question is whether a Netflix series will be honored in its maiden Emmy voyage. Also bidding for Emmy love are first-time nominee Jeff Daniels of HBO’s The Newsroom, 11-timer Jon Hamm of AMC’s Mad Men and two-timer Hugh Bonneville of the PBS soap Downton Abbey. And if lead actress Danes does repeat, she will have overcome a formidable field headed by first-time nominees Kerry Washington (ABC’s Scandal), Vera Farmiga (A&E’s Bates Motel) and Robin Wright (Netflix’s House Of Cards). But Washington does stand a chance to win.

Related: EMMYS: Drama Series Overview


Emmy History: 10 noms, 3 wins

Cranston already has won three Emmys for his performance as teacher-turned-drug lord Walter White, and his series has arguably never been hotter. If anything, his performance only grows even more dynamic in Season 5. He lost last year in something of an upset to Homeland’s Damian Lewis, and this time he’s got to beat a two-time Oscar winner in Kevin Spacey plus Lewis. Spacey’s going to be tough to defeat. Maybe too tough.

Emmy History: 4 noms, 0 wins

He gives a typically incandescent performance as the conniving, mercurial Congressman Francis Underwood. As a bonus, he’s Kevin Spacey. Never underestimate a two-time Oscar winner. Being a two-time Oscar winner doesn’t matter that much when you have to go up against a three-time Emmy winner in Cranston. That probably carries more weight with the TV Academy. The fact that Spacey’s show is on Netflix also provides a huge question mark.

Emmy History: 2 noms, 1 win

Lewis came out of nowhere to take home the gold last year, and he’s more of a known commodity this time. Showtime is also awfully good at promoting its contenders. He’s no longer the fair-haired nominee, coming off a sophomore season for Homeland in which the buzz has largely evaporated. Lewis also is trying to win two in a row, always a tall assignment.

Emmy History: First nomination

The sizable lefty contingent in the TV Academy reveres Daniels’ wildly idealistic alter ego Will McAvoy. This group also loves feature actors, especially when they’re spouting the words of Aaron Sorkin. It’s difficult to imagine a more competitive category, and this character might be a tad too self-righteous to be seen as genuinely Emmy-worthy. He also has a tendency to grow tiresome with his rants.

Emmy History: 11 noms, 0 wins

Hamm has lost five straight times as a category favorite, so perhaps now that’s he’s a longshot, the sixth will finally prove the charm. Pretty soon, the TV Academy will feel compelled to give him one of these for career achievement. The TV Academy has yet to award any Mad Men performer a statuette and probably won’t blemish that perfect record here. Hamm’s best chance was when the show was the gold standard, which it no longer is.

Emmy History: 2 noms, 0 wins

It would require perhaps the biggest upset in Emmy history, but you never know. The voters have shocked us before. Bonneville is nothing if not a class act, and we love us a good British accent. But not this time. Aside from Maggie Smith, the Downton Abbey awards ship has sailed. We’re so very sorry, Mr. Bonneville. We were rooting for you and your show. But then Matthew Crawley (Dan Stevens) had to go and die.


Emmy History: 4 noms, 2 wins

Winning awards is what Danes does, and very well. She took home the statuette last year, and she’s submitted the very strong episode “Q&A” this time. Whether she’s Temple Grandin or Carrie Mathison, the TV Academy loves her. Homeland lacked the pulsating freshness and vigor of its freshman campaign, with Danes’ candidacy suffering as a result. Plus, Kerry Washington has plenty of buzz. Perhaps too much buzz.

Emmy History: First nomination

All of the signs are there for Washington to pull an Emmy semi-upset. Many also believe it’s time to honor an African-American in this category, as she’s the first black nominee in the lead drama actress race since Cicely Tyson in 1995. Being on a broadcast network series—with its attendant content limitations—hurts her candidacy some. And Washington will find that it’s tough for a first-time nominee to grab the prize.

Emmy History: First nomination

Being a one-time Oscar nominee (for 2009’s Up In The Air) certainly doesn’t hurt Farmiga. Plus, her work in the submitted pilot episode was awfully strong. Her star is rising, and voters like to get on the train as it’s leaving the station. She’s still something of an unknown with this academy, and A&E is no hotbed for generating acting honors. Farmiga will need to stand out far more than her series, which is unlikely.

Emmy History: First nomination

If voters are in the mood to honor the newest kid on the block in Netflix, she could well get swept along with the wave. Being a feature actress naturally helps Wright, possibly a lot. If a performer from House of Cards is going to be honored, it’s probably Wright’s costar Kevin Spacey. And it’s unlikely both would get the nod, last year’s wins by Homeland’s Claire Danes and Damian Lewis notwithstanding.

Emmy History: 4 noms, 0 wins

There is some residual support for Britton from those who believed she should have won for Friday Night Lights. Her work was good enough to get her a nom on a show that carried little critical buzz. Nashville lacks the muscle that’s necessary to carry her into the winners’ circle, as does her work in the submitted pilot episode. It also is an unusually strong actress field this year.

Emmy History: 6 noms, 0 wins

Everyone agrees that Moss is a terrific actress, and her work as Peggy Olson on Mad Men remains consistently spectacular. Her star rose even further with the Sundance mini Top of the Lake, for which she’s also nominated. It’s her fifth consecutive nomination for the series; however, her best chance to win was several years ago, when Mad Men ruled the world. There is seemingly a TV Academy edict that no performer from the show ever will win.

Emmy History: 2 noms, 0 wins

One can never count out Lady Mary Crawley, because we all know what suckers the TV Academy voters are for royalty. Maybe they’ll mistake her for Maggie Smith or something. Dockery isn’t really an upper-cruster; she just plays one on TV. Stunning upsets happen but remain rare, which is what makes them stunning and upsets. But she would stand a better chance were these the Golden Globes.