If the CBS smash was only TV's top-rated comedy or if it was only firing on all cylinders creatively, it would stand a good chance of taking the Emmy away from Modern Family. But its numbers are through the roof and it's as funny (and touching) as ever, which means the two-time contender actually stands a great chance of coming out on top.
ENLIGHTENED (Comedy Series)
You could argue that this show belongs on our list of long shots, not in this list. But the HBO underperformer had a huge fan base among Hollywood types – exactly the sort who are Emmy voters. Also, is anything better than a nomination to say, "We're sorry you got cancelled!"?
HAPPY ENDINGS (Comedy Series)
With the cancelled ABC comedy on the prowl for a new home on cable, the timing of an Emmy nod would be beyond amahzing. The odds of an Emmy nod, however, are the opposite of amahzing.
LOUIE (Comedy Series)
In the wake of Louis C.K.'s writing win last year – and his nominations for lead actor and director – his FX series stands a fair chance of getting a long overdue first best series nomination. If not, it will have to wait two years for another shot because, like Curb's Larry David, Louis C.K. is taking extra time between seasons.
NEW GIRL (Comedy Series)
Having lost none of their sparkle in this Fox romcom's second season, the show could grab that open Curb Your Enthusiasm slot and slip a New face into the comedy race.
PARKS AND RECREATION (Comedy Series)
In spite of (continued!) glowing reviews, Amy Poehler's small-town political comedy will have to pull off an upset to get back into the comedy series race. (It's only received a nom once, in 2011.)
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock (Lead Actor)
Yeah, yeah, we know. The two-time Emmy winner has already been nominated more times than he's been photographed by the paps. But he still deserves to be recognized for the comedy's stellar final season, in which he further evolved Jack from cartoonish blowhard to true-blue friend.
Don Cheadle, House of Lies (Lead Actor)
This Showtime series has yet to attain greatness — or the kind of buzz that tends to generate Emmy noms — but its star continues to turn in performances that are (no, ahem, lie) impressive. Plus, since he's coming off a Golden Globe win, he's got momentum.
Louis C.K., Louie (Lead Actor)
If you ask us, the Emmy winner (for writing) deserves another statuette for his SNL Lincoln sketch alone! But he ought to be a real contender in this race as well. His namesake character's quest for love this season — with the likes of Parker Posey and Melissa Leo, no less! — was as hysterical as it was calamitous.
Jake M. Johnson, New Girl (Lead Actor)
It's a good thing Zooey Deschanel's leading man bumped himself up from supporting this year — if he hadn't, we'd have had to get on his case! (No one wants that!) Not only was he front and center, but as Jess fell for Nick, we fell for his portrayer.
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory (Lead Actor)
In the CBS smash's best season yet (and that's saying something!), the two-time Emmy victor was able to flesh out his brainiac alter ego as Sheldon moved ever (slowly!) forward in his relationship with Amy and even showed signs that he's — gasp — human?!
Adam Scott, Parks and Recreation (Lead Actor)
If the category was most swoon-inducing, Amy Poehler's "better half" would be a lock. As it is, as Ben and Leslie's romance approached (arguably) the wedding of the year, we asked ourselves repeatedly, "Do you think the groom deserves an Emmy?" Every time, our reply was the same: We do.
Laura Dern, Enlightened (Lead Actress)
Though the veteran actress’ underdog HBO series was cancelled, her insecurious Amy — and viewers — still got their happy endings. So, shouldn’t the four-time nominee (for other projects) who kept us rooting for the character get one, too – in the form of a nice, shiny Emmy nod? We think so.
Zooey Deschanel, New Girl (Lead Actress)
It’s easy to dismiss the Fox hit’s leading lady as “quirky.” It’s also wrong. A deceptively sly actress, she’s blessed with timing any comic would kill for. Plus, as the show finally “went there” with Jess and Nick, she revealed a heart big enough for two love stories!
Lena Dunham, Girls (Lead Actress)
Season 2 of the triple threat’s HBO series may have been… let’s say “uneven.” But even when it was off, its star remained right on, transitioning from funny to fragile as deftly as we change channels. In addition, she just won the Golden Globe — a great omen, come Emmy night.
Sutton Foster, Bunheads (Lead Actress)
Just as Lauren Graham never received a nod for nailing Amy Sherman-Palladino's rapid-fire Gilmore Girls dialogue, Foster seems destined to be an also-ran. And, just like with Graham, it's a shame, because the Tony winner doesn’t just infuse AS-P’s patter with hilarity and heart, she does it without breathing… much.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep (Lead Actress)
Last year’s victor is no less deserving of the accolade this go-’round. And, in fact, since her HBO laffer has really started to gel in its sophomore season, the Seinfeld alum may be even better positioned for a win now than she was then.
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation (Lead Actress)
What is it going to take to get this woman a friggin Emmy? Seriously. She’s been nominated in this category three times already, and, defying all the laws of probability, she just keeps getting better. Maybe another appearance on TVLine’s dream Emmy ballot will do the trick?
Max Greenfield, New Girl (Supporting Actor)
Sure, we were bummed when Schmidt and Cece called it quits. But putting the player back on the market afforded his portrayer plenty of juicy (and hilarious) material. Heck, his tragicomic romance with Nurse Jackie's Merritt Wever alone made the break-up worth it to the Fox hit's breakout star.
Simon Helberg, The Big Bang Theory (Supporting Actor)
Even if voters see no other episode than the one in which Howard discovers an unopened letter from his estranged father, they'll understand why we've been saying for years that this scene-stealer is not only the CBS smash's secret weapon but breathtakingly versatile to boot.
Alex Karpovsky, Girls (Supporting Actor)
As Girls‘ sad-sack cafe manager Ray, Karpovsky walks a tightrope in which he must balance his character’s amusingly misanthropic tendencies with his wide-eyed romantic adoration of college-age girlfriend Shoshanna. And while his character often misfires — he even botches the return of a stolen dog to its rightful owner — the actor himself remains steadfast in bringing to life the show’s most fully realized male character.
Taran Killam, Saturday Night Live (Supporting Actor)
Killam proved to be one of the few consistent lights in SNL‘s otherwise gloomy Season 38. Whether headlining pop-culture spoofs (as The Walking Dead‘s Rick and Homeland‘s tiny-mouthed Brody) or popping up in wildly random sketches (as a dancing pig and an angry brother unloading his rage on Justin Bieber), Killam was game for anything — and seriously funny in the process.
We'd say this funnyman deserves an Emmy for giving real heart and depth to Brad, aka the most endearingly childish metrosexual this side of New Girl's Schmidt. Except the real reason he deserves it is hello — he's made Brad the most endearingly cartoonish metrosexual this side of New Girl's Schmidt!
Rainn Wilson, The Office (Supporting Actor)
This having been the NBC comedy's final season, this is Emmy's last chance to recognize its thrice-nominated second banana. Luckily, the series' last episodes — in which Dwight finally got the job (of manager), the girl (Angela) and even a family (Phillip is his!) — were an enviable showcase.
Eliza Coupe, Happy Endings (Supporting Actress)
She kept Jane so tightly wound that we couldn't help but watch… albeit from a safe distance!
Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory (Supporting Actress)
This unsung heroine is what gives the show about brainiacs its heart.
Ana Gasteyer, Suburgatory (Supporting Actress)
When alpha female Sheila went from homemaker to Realtor, the hot property who plays her got even hotter.
Jane Krakowski, 30 Rock (Supporting Actress)
This is Emmy's last chance to give the three-time nominee the award that Jenna would be quick to point out she deserves.
Melissa Rauch, The Big Bang Theory (Supporting Actress)
As Bernadette adjusted to married life, we remained as enamored of her portrayer as a newlywed.
Casey Wilson, Happy Endings (Supporting Actress)
Because it's never too late to make this a Year of Penny…
BREAKING BAD (Drama Series)
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. The fact that the series' last season was an abbreviated eight episodes long — and those episodes aired a summer ago! — might, if only slightly, diminish its chances. However, the launch of the final eight-episode installment will coincide with the kickoff of the second phase of Emmy voting, with the media and marketing blitz surrounding likely to keep the show on voters' minds.
GAME OF THRONES (Drama Series)
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.
THE GOOD WIFE (Drama Series)
Though passed over for a nomination in 2012, CBS' law-office drama-procedural hybrid could break back into the race this year — first, because it had a solid season, and second, because it's one of very few broadcast dramas that have any shot. Julianna Margulies (2011's lead actress victor) is also a safe bet to receive a nom.
HOMELAND (Drama Series)
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.
SCANDAL (Drama Series)
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.
THE WALKING DEAD (Drama Series)
OK, 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 might 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 nom.
Hugh Dancy, Hannibal (Lead Actor)
You know an actor's doing something right — and has lucked into a helluva fascinating character — when he manages to upstage the world's most famous cannibalistic shrink.
Peter Krause, Parenthood (Lead Actor)
Though Monica Potter (understandably) is getting the most attention for this season's cancer storyline, her on-screen better half gave equally impressive performances. Heck, we'd give him an Emmy for Adam and son Max's birds-and-bees talk alone!
Damian Lewis, Homeland (Lead Actor)
The Showtime hit's second season may have wobbled, but its leading man — last year’s victor — remained a force to be reckoned with. (In particular, he wowed us in the interrogation-themed “Q&A” episode.)
Andrew Lincoln, The Walking Dead (Lead Actor)
Though Emmy has long had a hate-on for supernatural series (see also: Buffy the Vampire Slayer), voters would have to be colder than zombies not to have shed a tear during newly widowed Rick's heartbreaking meltdown.
Matthew Rhys, The Americans (Lead Actor)
In a word, a revelation. Somehow, though all the wigs, the aliases and the period trappings, this Brothers & Sisters alum managed to give what, for our money, was the performance of the year.
Kevin Spacey, House of Cards (Lead Actor)
Not only has Emmy always adored movie stars on the small screen (right, Kiefer Sutherland, James Spader, Glenn Close?), this particular movie star sunk his teeth into his vengeful politico role like a terrier seated in front of a steak.
Claire Danes, Homeland (Lead Actress)
Saturday Night Live may have made sport of her acting choices, but there was nothing funny about her work this season. As Carrie discovered Brody's duplicity (then gave in to her feelings for him, anyway!), last year's Emmy victor kept her basket-case character breathtakingly relatable.
Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel (Lead Actress)
Norman's the crazy one on A&E's Psycho prequel, but we're mad about the actress who plays his Mommie Dearest. She didn't just go from defiant to defeated, from deceitful to deluded over the course of a season, she did it over the course of a single episode. Repeatedly!
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife (Lead Actress)
As Alicia addressed the future of not only her personal life but also her professional one, her portrayer reminded us why she took home the Emmy in 2011. Even the buzz surrounding the newbs won't be enough to keep her from offering stiff competition.
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black (Lead Actress)
Though the BBC America series' lead probably deserves an Emmy for quantity — she plays seven different characters, after all! — it's actually the quality of her work that makes her such a contender. Stunningly, she makes each of her half-dozen roles unique.
Emmy Rossum, Shameless (Lead Actress)
Apparently, it's award show voters that are really shameless. How else can you explain the fact that the closest this gem of an actress has come to an Emmy is her own name?
Keri Russell, The Americans (Lead Actress)
In lesser hands, Elizabeth could have come off as a one-note ice queen. But, thanks to the erstwhile Felicity, she's as complex as she is dangerous.
Bobby Cannavale, Boardwalk Empire (Supporting Actor)
This 2005 guest actor winner (for Will & Grace) and 2012 nominee (for Nurse Jackie) was so scary good as psychotic Gyp Rosetti, we didn't know whether to applaud or run for cover.
Michael Cudlitz, Southland (Supporting Actor)
Not only did this (appallingly!) never-nominated veteran actor take home the Critics' Choice Award for his career-best portrayal of troubled Officer John Cooper, he deserved the hell out of it. If there's any justice in Hollywood, his name's already being engraved on this Emmy.
Freddie Highmore, Bates Motel (Supporting Actor)
Even if we had no other reason to nominate the JV Norman Bates' portrayer — and we have plenty (kid breaks our hearts weekly!) — we'd still give him a nod just for the scene in which the future Psycho snaps and channels his controlling mother for the first time.
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland (Supporting Actor)
Though he was snubbed last year, he isn't likely to be overlooked again by Emmy: Saul's storyline was so meaty in Season 2 that his portrayer could just as easily have submitted himself as a lead.
Jeff Perry, Scandal (Supporting Actor)
Besides tearing Cyrus' monologues (and, for that matter, his friends!) to shreds, this powerhouse is the only guy on this list who we still rooted for after his character came thisclose to murdering his own husband.
Corey Stoll, House of Cards (Supporting Actor)
As congressman Peter Russo, Stoll was handed — and superbly handled — an emotionally turbulent arc, unwittingly manipulated to and fro by Kevin Spacey’s powerful politico while wrestling with all manner of demons. Amid a cadre of cold, calculating characters, he was the closest to a warm, beating heart, and certainly one of the few you rooted for.
Jennifer Carpenter, Dexter (Supporting Actress)
Though she's never been nominated, her chances are better this season than ever — not only did Deb untangle her serial-killer brother's web of lies, but she came unraveled herself in the process.
Joelle Carter, Justified (Supporting Actress)
It takes a helluva woman to hold her own alongside Boyd Crowder, but Ava does that — and then some. As her character ventured forth into the dark territory that comes part and parcel with her union, Carter showed us a woman grappling wth the difficult (and sometimes deadly) decisions that need to be made in the name of self preservation.
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad (Supporting Actress)
After receiving her first nod in 2012, she's a shoo-in for another one this year. As Skyler and Walter's relationship grew increasingly adversarial, her portrayer was served her meatiest material to date.
Hayden Panettiere, Nashville (Supporting Actress)
In one of the year's biggest — and most revelatory — surprises, the Heroes alum elevated Juliette from one-note bratdom into the realm of compelling complexity. Don't hate her because she's beautiful — and don't count her out because of it, either.
Monica Potter, Parenthood (Supporting Actress)
If the Emmys more often made sense, we'd be confident that Kristina's portrayer would get a nomination. Her work in the cancer arc was that sublime. Unfortunately, since the Emmys so often befuddle us — and since, to date, this family drama's only ever received a single nod — we can only be cautiously optimistic, emphasis on the "cautiously."
Abigail Spencer, Rectify (Supporting Actress)
Spencer was so breathtakingly vulnerable on The Sundance Channel's heart-crushing new series that we weren't not sure whether we'd rather give her an Emmy or a hug.