Although HBO's Prohibition-era Mob drama was received warmly enough in its first season to earn it a nomination, it really hit its stride in its second season. The dazzling downward spiral (and eventual murder) of Michael Pitt's Jimmy Darmody proved to be the shot in the arm that the show needed.
Kelsey Grammer's new political drama delivered underwhelming ratings for Starz, which had renewed it before the premiere. However, Boss landed Golden Globe nominations for drama series and lead actor, and won for the latter.
AMC's other prestige drama, which sat on the sidelines last year, returned with what many considered its strongest season to date. But was it strong enough to stop Mad Men from becoming the first drama series in history to win five years in a row?
Since the legal thriller's penultimate season, its first on DirecTV, flew so far under the radar that it scarcely generated a blip, it's a bit of a long shot for a drama series nod.
In spite of its long and illustrious Emmy history, Showtime's killer serial is facing a daunting uphill battle this time around. Thanks to villains who paled in comparison to their predecessors, played by Emmy winner John Lithgow and nominee Jimmy Smits — and an unpopular plot hinting at a possible a romance between sorta-siblings Dexter and Deb — the show (and its star, Michael C. Hall) could be left on the sidelines for the first time since 2007.
Having emerged victorious in the miniseries or made for television movie category in 2011, PBS' pop-culture phenomenon is gambling by putting itself in the running for drama series: Its second season was regarded with a good bit less enthusiasm than its first. However, the buzz surrounding its switch of categories should increase its visibility and, with that, its chances.
GAME OF THRONES
Since HBO's medieval fantasy got better — and grew more popular — as its wars got underway in its second season, a repeat drama series nomination is the safest of bets.
THE GOOD WIFE
The drama remains CBS and broadcast TV's best — and likely only — chance at a drama series nomination. And with good reason. The show’s third season, which deftly handled the coupling and subsequent breakup of Will and Alicia, was every bit as compelling as the two that preceded it.
Showtime's new breakout hit is riding such an enviable wave of acclaim that it is arguably the only series other than Breaking Bad that has a real shot at ending Mad Men's reign.
Creatively, FX's modern Western remained in great shape. However, as stellar an actor as Neal McDonough is, his Robert Quarles was a far less showy villain than his predecessor, Emmy winner Margo Martindale's Mags Bennett, making the show, as ever, a long-shot for a nomination.
Promising as it was, HBO's cancelled racetrack drama stumbled out of the gate, delivering low ratings and bad press. So, in spite of its impressive pedigree — its creator is four-time Emmy winner David Milch (NYPD Blue); its executive producer, two-time victor Michael Mann; its star, Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman — in this derby, it's a dark horse.
Obviously, having won four times in a row for drama series, the show will be nominated again — that's as certain as Don Draper going through a pack of cigarettes over the course of any given episode. The question is: will the AMC juggernaut be able to win again? Or is the race primed for an upset by the superlative Breaking Bad or Homeland? By well past mid-season, it had yet to yield an episode as wildly (and rightly) praised as "The Suitcase," although last Sunday’s hour, “The Other Woman,” came damn near close.
ONCE UPON A TIME
To overcome Emmy's bias against genre series, ABC's freshman fairy tale will likely need more magic than even its strong ratings can conjure up.
Since historically the Emmys haven't taken soap operas seriously — Dallas was only nominated for drama series twice in its 1978-91 run! and recent best series Emmy nominee Desperate Housewives has competed as a comedy — ABC's Hamptons-set grudge match should be braced for a snubbing.
What could have been a garden variety procedural about a formidable fixer evolved into a compelling and unpredictable frisson of plot twists, all against the always-sexy backdrop of D.C. politics. Admittedly a long-shot opposite estimable rivals, it at the very least confirmed that storyteller Shonda Rhimes has other tools beyond scalpels and clamps.
While awareness of Showtime's dysfunctional-family affair grew in its second season, it remains as much of an underdog in the Emmy races as its low-class clan is in life.
After The Good Wife, NBC's musical drama is probably the strongest broadcast contender for the series category, though its chances might be affected by the critical beating the show took, as well as recent shakeups both on screen and off.
SONS OF ANARCHY
Were it not for the number of strong new shows vying to break into the drama series category this year, FX's biker series might have been able to sneak into the race, finally: Its fourth season was that solid. Unfortunately for the show, as well as for standout cast members Charlie Hunnam and especially Maggie Siff (the Mad Men alumna who got better and better, the worse things got for her character, Tara Knowles), the best chance of a nod is for series' female lead Katey Sagal who is seeking her first Emmy nomination.
Season 4 of TNT’s gritty L.A.-set police drama was its most taut and compelling to date — with Det. Lydia Adams concealing her pregnancy, Officer Jessica Tang concealing evidence that would implicate her in a bad suspect shooting, and Officer Ben Sherman crossing all kinds of ethical boundaries in his attempts to protect the teenage daughter of a street prostitue. Dark stuff, to be sure, but Southland handled it with an unflinnching observer’s eye that rivaled any drama on television in the last year. If Emmy ignores the cult favorite again, call 9-1-1 and report a felony-level snub.
THE WALKING DEAD
Given Emmy's longstanding bias against genre shows (see also: Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Fringe) and the fact that AMC's monster hit wasn't nominated last year, when its freshman season generated such deafening buzz, it's highly unlikely that it will get a nod this year.