Jon Hamm, Julianna Margulies

Most years, the best we can hope for from an Emmy night is a few new winners and a few (arguably, as always) correct winners. This year, the probability for fresh blood at the winners' podium is especially high, given what a terrific season it was for freshman series. (The same will not be said for the batch of new shows about to premiere over the next month.) What follows aren't exactly predictions, because that game can be such an unhappy crapshoot, given the capricious nature of Emmy voters, who tend to vote for what they've always voted for, year after year — until they suddenly don't. (For a list of nominees, and a chance to play along, click here)

This is my take on how I'd like to see things go in the major categories, with some handicapping on why some are more likely to win than others.

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There are only a few slam-dunks this year: HBO's The Pacific for miniseries and the sublime Temple Grandin for movie, with Al Pacino (You Don't Know Jack) and Claire Danes (Temple) a lock for best actors in their respective movies. Julianna Margulies has won everything imaginable for her lead drama actress work on CBS's The Good Wife, and there's no reason to think that will stop now. And Glee's Jane Lynch appears unstoppable as comedy supporting actress. If I'm wrong about any of the above, the Emmys will have some 'splaining to do.

Now on to the interesting races.

Comedy Series

Let's start with the most heated contest between freshman shows: Glee vs. Modern Family, two immediate critical hits (from the same studio, which makes for intriguing politicking and campaigning), with one a certified pop-culture phenom. NBC's 30 Rock, which has won three in a row, will have to sit this one out. (Given how uneven the show was last year, if it wins, it will be an unpleasant upset. Forget The Office, and Curb, and Showtime's great Nurse Jackie, which is the darkest horse imaginable.)

Glee has racked up most of the big wins to date — Golden Globes, the SAG ensemble award, the TCA's Program of the Year — and is the year's most nominated series, which attests to the fact that even if Glee (which even fans concede is erratic) may not be the best show in the category, or even a conventional "comedy" series, it's certainly the most, as in biggest, or (in Emmy parlance) "outstanding," which counts for something. Its scope, its impact, its enormous entertainment value, its noise: hard to ignore. But Modern Family's more traditional strengths are the sort of thing the Emmy voter is likely to place a very high value on: an instant ensemble classic with consistently hilarious writing and sharply tuned performances (nearly all nominated in the supporting categories). Modern Family is favored to win in writing, and directing is a draw (for me) between Family and the incredibly ambitious Glee. But for the big prize, I believe the voters will go with the modern classic.

Should Win: Modern Family (with Glee a close second); Most Likely to Win: Modern Family

Comedy Actor

Once again, it looks to be a toss-up between 30 Rock's Alec Baldwin, who has won the last two years, and The Big Bang Theory's Jim Parsons, who has yet to win. (The possible spoiler: three-time winner Tony Shalhoub for Monk's sentimental farewell. But please: No.) I don't know anyone who isn't rooting for Parsons to finally take it for his genius work as the fussily neurotic Sheldon. (Other contenders: Steve Carell, Larry David, Matthew Morrison.)

Should Win:
Parsons; Most Likely to Win: Parsons or Baldwin

Comedy Actress

Edie Falco's uncompromised performance as the self-destructive Nurse Jackie is a post-Carmela career high, even if her peaks are often as dramatic as they are comic. Her chief competition is another Showtime star: Toni Collette, last year's winner for the multiple-personality tour de force of United States of Tara. Spoilers include Tina Fey, much beloved as star and sometimes writer of 30 Rock, and fellow SNL vet Amy Poehler of cult fave Parks and Recreation. Still, given the range Falco displays, I'm thinking the voters will take a turn for the nurse.

Should Win: Falco; Most Likely to Win: Falco or Collette

Comedy Supporting Actor

I worry that Modern Family's three nominees — Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet — may split the vote, in which case the most deserving spoiler would be either Neil Patrick Harris, long overdue for How I Met Your Mother (although not so much for last season), or Glee's show-stopping discovery, Chris Colfer. (Jon Cryer won last year, so again, I'm begging: No.) Of the three Family men, Stonestreet gives the biggest and most flamboyantly funny performance, but Burrell's uncanny spin on the dad-as-lovable-doofus is never less than brilliant. (I'm thrilled that Julie Bowen, as his partner, and Sofia Vergara made the cut in the supporting actress category, but this is Jane Lynch's year.)

Should Win: Burrell; Most Likely to Win: Burrell or Stonestreet

Drama Series

I'm rarely happy when the same thing wins year after year, but it's hard to deny Mad Men its third consecutive Emmy for the season where everything changed — in Don Draper's life and at work. I have to believe this sophisticated drama is the front-runner, because as unquestionably great as Breaking Bad is — and I hope it wins for direction of the thrilling "One Minute" episode — and as sensational as Dexter was last year, they still feel a bit "out there" where Emmy sensibilities are concerned. I'd be happy to be wrong, as both deserve it. Network dramas haven't fared well lately, but The Good Wife is a solid contender and Lost's nod for its final season is at the very least a show of respect. True Blood? Odd vamp out.

Should Win: Mad Men (with Breaking Bad a close second); Most Likely to Win: Mad Men

Drama Actor

Always the toughest call, and this year is no exception. Bryan Cranston's chances for a three-peat are strong, because Breaking Bad gets better by the year, and so does he. (Plus, it's no secret he's one of the great gentlemen of the TV biz and is very well liked.) But I have to think this year the Emmy will go to one of the other guys, all deserving, who have yet to win. My money's on Michael C. Hall to continue on his recent awards-show roll (Golden Globes, SAG) for holding his own against the chilling John Lithgow last season. But personally, I'd prefer Jon Hamm's leading-man stature on Mad Men to get its Emmy due. The spoiler, as in years past: the long-overdue Hugh Laurie, who was handed primo Emmy bait in House's unconventional two-hour season opener and riveting season finale. Don't count him out. And how happy are we to see Kyle Chandler and Matthew Fox in the running at last?

Should Win: Hamm; Most Likely to Win: Hall or Laurie

Drama Actress

As noted above, Julianna Margulies is the one to beat, and so far, no one has or is likely to. But a special shout-out to Connie Britton for being acknowledged after years of Friday Night Lights being invisible to Emmy voters, and to January Jones for doing the most with one of TV's least sympathetic characters. This is her role of a lifetime.

Should Win and Most Likely to Win: Margulies

Drama Supporting Actor

If we're judging solely on the basis of the work, no one in this strong category can touch Aaron Paul's searing performance as the battered, broken Jesse on Breaking Bad. The Lost duo of Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn have been honored before, and if I had to pick one, I'd go with O'Quinn's playful reincarnation as Smokey the Villain. Martin Short's against-type sinister lawyer and John Slattery's wry ad exec were terrific scene-stealers, and Andre Braugher brought poignant dimension to his sad-sack middle-aged car salesman. Any of these could just as easily win.

Should Win: Paul; Most Likely to Win: Paul or O'Quinn

Drama Supporting Actress

Another anything-goes category, with terrific and very diverse choices, from veteran Emmy faves (Christine Baranski, Sharon Gless) to up-and-comers like Archie Panjabi as The Good Wife's enigmatic Kalinda and Christina Hendricks as Mad Men's office goddess, Joan. Elisabeth Moss and Damages' Rose Byrne have the meatiest roles in this field — Byrne's is almost a co-lead — but these weren't their strongest seasons. I'm torn between Panjabi and Hendricks, and imagine the voters will be as well. Joan had more dramatic highs and lows, so I'll go with the redhead. (But I won't be shocked if Baranski or Gless pull an upset.)

Should Win: Hendricks (with Panjabi a close second); Most Likely to Win: Panjabi or Hendricks, but who knows?

Reality Competition Show

I know, how boring for The Amazing Race to win eight in a row, never losing since this category was invented. But with Survivor having been snubbed inexplicably for its stellar season-of-Russell, what are the options? American Idol for arguably its worst year ever, both in talent and in execution? The comparatively modest-in-scale Project Runway or Top Chef? Unlikely. Only Dancing With the Stars, which generated plenty of headlines and watercooler buzz last spring — thanks, Kate Gosslin — would seem to be a contender. Though very much a long shot.

Should Win: Race (with Dancing a close second); Most Likely to Win: Race

Variety, Music or Comedy Series

How historically wild would it be for Conan O'Brien's short-lived version of The Tonight Show to win an Emmy — on NBC? (Leno's version was rightfully snubbed.) Not that I'm counting on the voters to be that adventurous. Though Saturday Night Live has its moments, and Real Time With Bill Maher its champions, the contest is between those Comedy Central mainstays The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. Jon Stewart FTW!

Should and Most Likely to Win: The Daily Show

So who are your faves? And are you expecting to be cheering or groaning Sunday night?

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