Who'll win at this year's Emmys? Who knows? It's the only major awards show where the old guard and new blood clash on an annual basis, and among the few things you can bet on in this unpredictable process are that Michael Douglas will win for his Liberace impersonation (ditto his HBO movie Behind the Candelabra) and that host Neil Patrick Harris will do his damnedest to make CBS's live Emmys telecast (8/7c, 5 Pacific) as enjoyable as the Tonys.
The celebration of all things TV will include an expanded "In Memorium" tribute with celebrity testimonials, an homage to Liberace featuring an Elton John performance, and 50th-year remembrances of TV's coverage of the JFK assassination and, on a happier cultural-milestone note, the Beatles' breakthrough on The Ed Sullivan Show (with Carrie Underwood performing songs of the era).
The main event, though, is the awards, and while I am duty bound to make my own predictions (a full list of my and other experts' picks, including those of TV Guide Magazine President/Editor-in-Chief Debra Birnbaum, can be found on goldderby.com), here's a quick take on some of my preferences:
Drama: It's Breaking Bad's time (though Game of Thrones had quite a year).
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THE FRIDAY GUIDE: The play's the thing, even if the timing (in the teeth of the new fall season) leaves much to be desired. For the next four Fridays, PBS's Great Performances lives up to its billing with a spectacular and dazzlingly acted mega-miniseries titled The Hollow Crown (check tvguide.com listings), comprising four of Shakespeare's history plays that form a progression from this week's Richard II (starring Ben Whishaw as the foppish, doomed monarch) through the two parts of Henry IV and culminating with the epic Henry V on Oct. 11, with Tom Hiddleston maturing from the callow Prince Hal to the warrior king in the final three movies. Sounds dry? It's anything but, enlivening the classic texts with rich cinematic production values and starry casting, including in the first play alone Patrick Stewart, David Morrissey, David Suchet, The Following's James Purefoy and rising star Rory Kinnear as the banished Bolingbroke — who will become Henry IV (played in later years and installments by Jeremy Irons).
A rare Hallmark Channel movie that merits comparison with the good old Hall of Fame days, The Watsons Go to Birmingham (8/7c), based on an award-winning children's book, is an earnest but effective family drama set against the tumultuous backdrop of the civil rights movement. The versatile Anika Noni Rose and The Wire's Wood Harris are Michigan parents who take their kids — including a teenage delinquent and the wide-eyed brother, who acts as narrator — on a road trip in the volatile summer of 1963 south to Alabama, where they experience a changing world first-hand.
In brief: Stars of their own real-life sitcom, Duck Dynasty's Si Robertson and nephew Willie guest on the third-season opener of ABC's Last Man Standing (8/7c) as regular customers of The Outdoor Man Store. ... ABC's daffy The Neighbors moves to its new and more appropriate night (8:31/7:31c), kicking off year two with the Weavers and the alien Bird-Kersees discovering that their respective offspring, Amber and Reggie, are dating. ... Simulcast on National Geographic Channel and Nat Geo WILD, Secret Life of Predators (8/7c) follows nature's most deadly in their natural habitats. ... Cult comedy Community begins an open-ended semester of syndicated repeats on Comedy Central, with a weekly four-episode block starting at 9/8c. ... Discovery goes Inside Raising Concordia (10/9c) with a look at the engineering challenge involved in the salvage of the Costa Concordia cruise ship, which capsized in January 2012 off the coast of Italy. ... Tune in early to see Billy Crystal as the top-of-show interview guest on HBO's Real Time With Bill Maher (10/9c).
THE SUNDAY GUIDE: With the exception of NBC's top-rated Sunday Night Football, where Al Michaels will be calling his 25th Steelers game in Pittsburgh (against the Chicago Bears), most networks go dark against the Emmys. But not on cable. The two most notable finales air on Showtime, with Dexter signing off after eight seasons (9/8c) as a hurricane bears down on Miami at the worst possible moment. Dexter's (Michael C. Hall) plans to escape to Argentina with Hannah (Yvonne Strahovski) could be thwarted by lurking bounty hunters, or possibly by the fate of his beloved sister Debra (Jennifer Carpenter), who lies wounded — thanks to his inexplicable decision last week not to execute "brain surgeon" fiend Oliver Saxon/Daniel Vogel when he had the psycho strapped down. Consequences, Dex. Will he get away? Will he kill again? Will Miami Metro ever figure out they had a vigilante serial killer under their nose all this time?
In a crackling and satisfying first-season finale to Showtime's summer addiction Ray Donovan (10/9c), already renewed for a second year, the fallout from Ray's failed hit on his incorrigible father Mickey (next year's Emmy favorite, Jon Voight) takes surprising — though unsurprisingly violent — twists as Ray's mini-army goes after Sully (a blistering James Woods) and the money he took. But the real fireworks are between Voight and Liev Schreiber as the unforgiving, grievously damaged Ray.
In brief: More cable finales, including BBC America's Copper (10/9c), which wraps its second season as Corky teams with Morehouse and Doc Freeman to help search for President Lincoln's assassin, the infamous John Wilkes Booth. ... A daylong marathon of Lifetime's Devious Maids, starting at 10 a.m./9c, culminates in the first-season finale (10/9c), where the maids plot to trap Flora's murderer. ... More intrigue in the second of three new Foyle's War movies on PBS's Masterpiece Mystery! (check tvguide.com listings), when the suspicious deaths of Russian defectors lead Foyle to a secret military facility that if exposed could threaten British Intelligence. ... And last but definitely not least, AMC's audacious, electrifying Breaking Bad (9/8c) will air an expanded 75-minute episode against the Emmys, with only one more remaining before it's curtains for all but Spin-off Saul. How can they possibly top last week's shattering episode, which provided next year's Emmy reel for Bryan Cranston and Anna Gunn (That phone call! That knife fight!), Dean Norris (R.I.P., Hank) and even the underappreciated RJ Mitte, whose despair upon learning his dad's true character was possibly the most wrenching of all.