The drama acting categories—lead and supporting—gave Television Academy voters a real opportunity to inject some fresh blood into this year’s Primetime Emmy Awards race. The simple reason is that, in a confluence of circumstance highly unusual for the repetitive nature of awarding acting Emmys in these categories, neither of 2014’s winners will be hitting the stage again this year. That leaves an opening for such front-runners as Bob Odenkirk in the Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul, Kevin Spacey in his third consecutive nom for a first Emmy in House Of Cards, and the always-a-bridesmaid Jon Hamm in his last go-round for Mad Men. Here is how I see this race playing out.
OUTSTANDING LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Kyle Chandler Bloodline (Netflix)
This is Chandler’s fourth nomination, and it comes for a well-liked but very new Netflix entry. As perfect son John Rayburn in this family saga, Chandler again proves his durability as a compelling TV star. Having won the Emmy in this category in 2011 for Friday Night Lights, he is going to try and repeat for an entirely different role—something not often accomplished here. Odds are against it, but as his unexpected previous win proved, we can’t count him out in this race.
Jeff Daniels The Newsroom (HBO)
Daniels joins Chandler as the only previous winner in this category in the running for a second statuette. In Daniels’ case, he’s trying to pull off another win for his Newsroom character Will McAvoy, something he did in the show’s first season—against stiff competition—when he stunned with a 2013 victory. He was nominated again last year and now again for the third and final season of the HBO series that received not a single other Emmy nom this year, making his odds a little longer to play spoiler once again.
Jon Hamm Mad Men (AMC)
Hamm is clearly the sentimental favorite to take home the prize for his iconic Don Draper, but with an eighth nom in eight years for this role, Hamm could end up among Emmy’s most consistently overlooked talents if he has another loss. (He has one other nom this year to make 15 overall with zero wins.) But with Mad Men having such a successful final season and new rules making for a broader voting body, I would say he ought to dust off that acceptance speech he likely has been carrying in his tux since 2008.
Bob Odenkirk Better Call Saul (AMC)
The Emmy love for Breaking Bad has carried over to this exceptionally well-made spinoff, which owes so much to the crafty characterization of the title character by Odenkirk. He finds himself in the running as an actor for the first time despite six previous writing nominations that resulted in two wins. Odenkirk walks the line between comedy and drama brilliantly here, but the show is just finding its way, and voters might believe they will have other opportunities to honor him.
Liev Schreiber Ray Donovan (Showtime)
Schreiber deserved this recognition last year, but at least Emmy voters have awakened to the power of this great new TV character. I would say over anyone else in the category, Schreiber is the sleeper ready to pounce for his consistently interesting portrayal of Ray Donovan, and it could be a strong advantage to be nominated for a show whose title is simply the name of your character. If indeed there is a wild card to upset Hamm, it is this one. Unless….
Kevin Spacey House Of Cards (Netflix)
Oscar and Tony winner Spacey is overdue to add an Emmy to his trophy case, and this year represents his third nomination in three seasons of the Netflix juggernaut. Francis Underwood is a blissfully big and bold role that Spacey owns. He also brings a movie star’s sense of gravitas to the category and might be rewarded simply for being an early adopter and disrupter among actors looking for new opportunities in the ever-changing TV landscape.
The Winner: Jon Hamm
OUTSTANDING SUPPORTING ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
This category mostly has been owned by Breaking Bad in recent seasons, so here is another place we might see some fresh blood. I think blood could be the operative word here and bring Game Of Thrones’ Peter Dinklage back into the winner’s circle, where he won this category in 2011 for GoT’s debut season; he’s had three strikeouts since then. The popularity of this show just keeps growing, and its leading 24 total Emmy noms this year could be a factor in delivering gold again to Dinklage. That said, it will be no cakewalk and this category actually is harder to call since there doesn’t appear to be an obvious winner. Dinklage’s advantage could come because of name and character recognition since rules have been changed in widening the voting pool. He still will have to overcome strong competition from Better Call Saul’s Jonathan Banks, Bloodline’s Ben Mendelsohn, Downton Abbey’s ever-reliable Jim Carter, previous contender Alan Cumming from The Good Wife, and House Of Cards’ Michael Kelly. Mendelsohn’s Danny Rayburn could be the upset if enough acting branch voters actually watch the submissions like they are supposed to.
The Winner: Peter Dinklage