Emmys 2012: The Drama Actor Race in Review, Including Our Dream Nominees

After sitting out of the race last year due to Breaking Bad‘s extended hiatus between seasons, Bryan Cranston reclaims his familiar perch as the frontrunner of Emmy’s Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series derby. But is he a lock to win? Not necessarily. The three-time champ faces stiff competition from Homeland‘s Damian Lewis as well as Emmy darling Kelsey Grammer, whose twisted turn on Starz’ Boss earned him a Golden Globe earlier this year. And don’t rule out possible sentimental dark horse Hugh Laurie, who is angling for his seventh — and final — nod as Dr. Gregory House.

More Emmy Races In Review | Outstanding Drama Series | Lead Drama Actress | Supporting Drama Actor | Supporting Drama Actress | Outstanding Comedy Series | Lead Comedy Actor | Lead Comedy Actress | Supporting Comedy Actor | Supporting Comedy Actress | Outstanding Reality-Competition Series | Outstanding Movie/Miniseries

Review this slideshow of the major contenders — including TVLine’s Dream Nominees — then vote below for who you think are the six best. And check back Friday for our preview of the Lead Drama Actress race!

Comments are monitored, so don’t go off topic, don’t frakkin’ curse and don’t bore us with how much your coworker’s sister-in-law makes per hour. Talk smart about TV!

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  1. Autumn says:

    Yawn. Just the obvious choices. Again. It just makes me bored. Reminds me why I never tune in. It’s all about being part of the ‘in’ crowd. I’m sure almost all of the nominees will be from cable shows with one or two actors that have been nominated a million times already.

    • Superhero says:

      If they consistently deserve to be nominated, than they should be nominated. It’s as simple as that.

      • Autumn says:

        Which is fine if the committee didn’t consistently ignore other just as worthy contestants. It’s all political rather than about who deserves it. A lot deserve it but the same ones get noticed again and again.

        • Superhero says:

          Again, if they keep on giving better performances over the other contestants, then they should be nominated. Bryan Cranston has been nominated (and won) each year he’s been eligible, but that’s not due to any political crap. It’s because he’s consistently better than pretty much anybody on television. What you’re saying isn’t necessarily wrong – the Emmys can get comfortable with nominating the same shows/people over and over again, even when they don’t deserve it – but I’m not seeing that in this particular race. All of the likely nominees deserve it.

          • Jill says:

            Yep like they gave James Spader an EMMY for so many years in a row. Now its Cranston’s turn. It is political. I am not saying Bryan Cranston is a bad actor. But if you want to be fair, lets have 6 actors playing the same role, then say who is the best. All these stupid show biz awards are and always have been political. Winning an EMMY or an oscar or any of these awards, do not make you the better actor. Many of the greats in TV and movies never won these awards.

    • TheBeach says:

      Perhaps that is because most of the quality dramas on TV are on cable.

  2. Superhero says:

    Bryan Cranston
    Kelsey Grammer
    Jon Hamm
    Damian Lewis
    Steve Buscemi
    Timothy Olyphant

    • Britta Unfiltered says:

      I like you, Superhero, and your comments above about Castle were spot on. I think your list of nominees is the way it could actually go down. Though I don’t know about Timothy Olyphant. I drool over the guy, but I think he had a limited performance last season that could hurt his chances of a nom.

  3. Catherine says:

    As much as I love Hugh Laurie, he really should have gotten it for season 6. The finale from that season was crazy good, especially the scene where he convinced the woman to agree to having her leg amputated without anesthesia. It’s a shame he’s never won an Emmy, but I don’t know if this season’s performance is the most deserving over previous seasons of House. Still, I won’t be surprised if he gets the sympathy vote.

    I would love to see someone win who has never won. The Emmys are often so repetitive, as if the voters are on automatic. Once an actor or show wins, they just keep giving it again, which is why Hugh Laurie has missed out so far, I think.

  4. Ray says:

    HLaurie deserves an Emmy nod, that guy is amazing through the whole 8 years and his hardwork should be rewarded.

  5. Beckstle says:

    OUAT has a major ensemble cast, but the characters of Emma, Henry, Regina/Evil Queen, Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin, Mary Margret/Snow White, and David/Prince Charming are the characters integral to the plot and, if not actually featured, appear in every episode. I think that puts Carlyle in the lead actor category, even though, yeah, he’d have a better shot as supporting.

  6. No John Noble (“Fringe”) on the list? That’s crazy talk.

  7. Heidi says:

    Simon Baker is always a pleasure to watch, and past TV year he delivered outstanding performances (just as an example, S3 finale and the 2 final episodes in S4). I hope to see him again among the nominees.

  8. Jennifer says:


  9. Jennifer says:

    Why is Thomas Gibson or anyone from Criminal Minds never on this list??

    • Mike says:

      Because he’s in a remarkably unchallenging role. Nathan Fillion is a great actor. Captain Mal is one of the great TV characters of all time — still doesn’t mean Fillion deserves a trophy for Castle.

    • Rachel says:

      I totally think Thomas Gibson should be nominated!!!! He is amazing as Hotch, and if you see him in real life you would realize he’s not that serious. I wish people from shows like Criminal Minds and NCIS would get some love in awards shows. I’m glad I’m not alone in thinking that.

  10. Mike says:

    Is Robert Carlyle considered a supporting actor?

  11. Scarlett says:

    It’s ridiculous Hugh Laurie hasn’t won yet for such an iconic character and consistently amazing performance. They should give it to him this year; it’s the voter’s last shot to give him his long overdue Emmy.

  12. Britta Unfiltered says:

    My dream picks would be: Bryan Cranston, Kelsey Grammer, Jon Hamm, Steve Buscemi, Damian Lewis, and William H. Macy. If Macy had gone into the comedy category (I know it’s weird I think Shameless is a comedy), then I probably would have gone with Timothy Olyphant or Andrew Lincoln.
    I think out of all the categories, this is the one where my dream picks will almost match up with what almost exactly happens, though I don’t know about that 6th spot. The Emmy voters certainly do have a heart on for Buscemi. They won’t forget that this year. I figure the 6th spot probably goes to either Macy or Hoffman, as they do like big name actors. Hoffman might be hurt by the show’s early cancellation though and all the bad press with the horses dying on set.
    I still maintain Kelsey Grammer is probably going to win, though Bryan Cranston is definitely not out for the count. I just think this year will probably reflect what happened at the last Golden Globes with their winners. Grammer is pretty mesmerizing on Boss, and his character really scares me way more than Walter White does. Those who don’t think he has a shot to win have probably not seen the show, I’m guessing. This thing is a shoot-out between Cranston and Grammer. Though I would happily see Hamm or Lewis accept an Emmy this year.

    • TheBeach says:

      You’re not alone. I also feel that Shameless is more of a comedy and usually laugh out loud several times per episode.

  13. cj says:

    if steve carrell taught us anything, it’s that your last season, no matter how good your performance, does not make it any more likely you will win.

  14. holly says:

    not even a one I would choose. but then what else could I expect from the Emmys other than this?

  15. Poppy says:

    It would be great for Andrew Lincoln to be nominated – he is underrated – but unlikely to happen for a genre show.

  16. Gary says:

    Why don’t popular series actors get a chance thomas Gibson in criminal minds mark harmon in NCIS or nathan fillion in castle it seems the Emmys have got to hung up on cable tv shows

  17. Greg says:

    The maniacal crazy laughter scene where Walt shouts where is the money…. ‘Nuff said.

  18. Jim Caviezel not being listed is a joke, He’s better than half the names on here and others are just plain overrated.

    • kel says:

      Word. JC never gets any credit. Is it because he was Jesus? That was like 8 years ago…time to move on people! He’s brilliant as Reese. Would he win, no, but not even to have him on a list of 20?? Not surprised though, TVLine barley acknowledges PoI’s existence.

  19. Maggie says:

    It would be a disgrace for the Emmys if Hugh Laurie ends his run as House without ever winning an Emmy. He’s created one of TV’s most memorable characters, and given a consistently brilliant performance (no matter what the quality of the writing.)

  20. Kate says:

    I really want Dennis Leary to get nominated. He portrayed his chararecter so well on Rescue Me, touching subjects that many actors wouldnt dare to go. His performance was ground breaking, and he deserves at least a nod for the final season of his show. And I would say that the final season was pretty good!

  21. LonePalm says:

    Charlie Hunnam was spectacular in last years 4th season of Sons Of Anarchy his material was byond demanding and he more than wowed me in every single episode, but the final 5 episodes of the season…he was a tour de force!

  22. Heather says:

    Kyle Chandler finally winning the Emmy last year for Friday Night Lights gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, Hugh Laurie will finally get the Emmy recognition that he deserves as well. We can hope, right? =)

  23. you missed one says:

    Why isn’t Ed Westwick on this dream list? His portrayal of a troubled young billionaire whose father never believed in him and whose once loyal girlfriend cavorted around with princes and paupers instead of helping him overcome the lack of self-worth that caused him to drunkenly attack her is more worthy of recognition than half of the other names mentioned here.

  24. Ally says:

    I haven’t seen most of the shows on the list. I haven’t seen Southland since it shifted to cable but I do know Damien Lewis was fantastic on Life so he gets my vote since I know he is talented.

    Gabriel Mann is awesome on Revenge but maybe he’s considered a supporting actor in which case I’d vote him for that category.

    I just realized that most of the shows I watch there aren’t very many male leads. I guess I tend to gravitate to female-centered shows.

  25. This says:

    They’d be included in Miniseries, I guess, but I want Cumberbatch and Freeman to get nominated for Sherlock!! They are outstanding. Out of this list, I really think Damian Lewis needs to get a nod. And for God’s sake, he needs to win. Poor man is always nominated for his work, but he never wins…

  26. John says:

    Boss doesnt deserve any Emmy Nominations. It is boring pretentious crap that thinks its saying more than it actually is. The characters are boring as well as unlikeable, the stories are boring and derived from better shows. That’s enough for me to hate this show. I know its just my opinion but I’m right. The fact that it got a Golden Globe nomination over far better shows like The Good Wife, Once Upon A time, Revenge and Person of Interest shows just how much they suck.

    • Superhero says:

      “I know it’s just my opinion but I’m right.”

      Sound argument.

      Look, I certainly see how one could not like the show. I like it, but it has plenty of flaws. But you can’t possibly knock Grammer’s performance in it. He absolutely deserves an Emmy nomination, even if nothing else in the show does.

  27. SG says:

    Peter Dinklage should submit himself as lead actor this season, but I don’t think anyone deserves to win over Bryan Cranston. His scenes in “Crawl Space” alone should be enough to clinch the award if that is his submission episode.

  28. anna says:

    Would love to see Lewis and Macy nominated and we all know Cranston will win again. Hamm will get nominated of course even though he hasn’t done much on Mad Men this season.

  29. Michelle says:

    Charlie Hunnam. Sons is the best show I’ve seen in a long time!

  30. CJ says:

    SO HAPPY to not see Castle on here. I love Nathan Fillion, but that show is overrated. What I DO want to see is some SOUTHLAND LOVE!!!!!!! Cudlitz for the WIN!

  31. Lourdes T says:

    Whatever it is, all I know if that WILLIE GARSON from White Collar should be nominated for best supporting actor. He’s outstanding. Nominate him now!

  32. Tas says:

    Charlie Dunham should win this award, he has been skipped BUT much appreciated for his Outstanding work on SOA!! Truly a Gifted Actor!!

  33. bhm1304 says:

    Liam McIntntyre, “Spartacus: Vengeance”

    Liam McIntyre took a role under the most difficult circumstances imaginable – filling in for a beloved actor who had passed – and he did so brilliantly. By the end of “Wrath of the Gods” the part was his and I don’t think any of the fans that fell in love with the awesome Andy Whitfield’s “Spartacus” left because of Liam. Everyone was just as fired up as the last scene from Andy’s fantastic finale. Great show that gets no respect at all from critics. You couldn’t have found a spot on your list for Liam ? Andrew Lincoln over Liam McIntyre? LMFAO.

  34. Sue L says:

    So Supernaturals got totally missed and it has two of the best dream actors on it with Jensen Ackles and Jared Padalecki

  35. Sarah says:

    I vote CHARLIE HUNNAM hands down, amazing actor and not to mention yummy eye candy, love in in SOA and he is even nicer in person!

  36. mco says:

    I am not american so I might no right to say something. However, If you don’t have cable, you can’t really find 6 actors here that you have seen to judge based on their work. As I say every year since..well a while, There should be a difference between cable and network. It’s way easier to give challenging role to actors in cable show than network. Easier to wrote perfect script for actors when you have “only” 12 scripts a year to write instead of 20 to 24.
    Just saying.

    • Kenneth says:

      I agree to a point. But voter’s are not givin a season catalog of an actors series. Like the Acadamy Awards give certain scene’s from a film for a voter to review, so does the Emmy hand out specific episodes recieved from the network of the nominated. Besides good writing is good writing whether it’s long form or short form, but he actor who interprets that writing with skills they have, is what seperates the craft.

  37. Juju says:

    Not having Robert Sean Leonard is a joke..what more do you want an actor do ?

  38. Marie says:

    I certainly hope Hugh Laurie and Robert Sean Leonard both are nominated for best actor and best supporting actor and win. They were both extraordinary.

  39. Amy says:

    Surely Peter Dinklage is the lead actor of GoT now? He should be nominated and WIN.

  40. Iga says:

    I voted for Jason :)

  41. P.G. says:

    JOEL KINNAMAN “THE KILLING” & BRENT SEXTON “THE KILLING” should be included. That show is amazing.

  42. Maricela says:

    Would Benedict Cumberbatch be best actor in a mini-series?

  43. Vatican Cameos says:

    Missing: Benedict Cumberbatch from “Sherlock.” Dude is the best Sherlock, ever. His silences speak volumes.

  44. R.J. Edwards says:

    Jeffrey Dean Morgan for Magic City. Mhm

  45. Kenneth says:

    Jon Bernthal deserves an emmy nomination for The Walking Dead. Few actors matched his intenced focus this year.His charactors tourtured soul lept out the screen at you.

  46. soarin829 says:

    I know it’s been said before, and I’ll say it again. They NEED to separate cable and network shows. It is truly ridiculous that so few network shows and actors get recognition anymore. If they were separated, Peter Krause (among so many others) would easily get the recognition they deserve. And Friday Night Lights and its AMAZING cast would have during its run as well.

  47. Liz says:

    Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Cumberbatch, Benedict Cumberbatch! Is Sherlock apply for drama- I know it’s mini-series, but it’s so much better than many full-length season shows. Come on Cumberladies I know you’re here!

  48. ship says:

    okay maybe not Fillion, but they HAVE to nominate Stana in the female category, the show goes on coz of her… And Sherlock should win !!, in just about any category !!!!

    • jeeb says:

      now that’s some weird stuff if I ever heard one. neither Fillion nor Katik deserve emmies for Castle. Fillion is actually a good actor but his material is crap so no go. And Katic is very uneven with that same crappy material so saying that the show goes on because of her is even weirder.. The show is called Castle for chrissake if it goes on because of anything it’s Fillion or their romantic chemistry, not Katik alone. And Castle could get nominated for emmies only in a dreamworld

  49. Keely says:

    Other – Jensen Ackles, from Supernatural. He’s shown himself to be very versatile, from big drama to slapstick and anything in between. Also has a great abilty to put subtext into a performance, express complicated emotions through his eyes, face and body language and is always in character, even in the background of a scene. He sells the reality of that universe and that character consistently.

  50. Mare says:

    I know he will never get an actual Emmy nominee, but I vote for Jensen Ackles on “Supernatural!” Granted, he hasn’t had as much to do this season, but he still is top notch in what little the show gives him!