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Picking A Moment

Actor in a drama series

August 08, 2007|Tom O'Neil

BELIEVE it or not, series actors don't win statuettes based upon who gave the best performance over the entire TV season. Victory can be determined by a single episode.

That's because the Emmy -- unlike the Oscar, Grammy and Tony -- is a juried award, which means nominees must pick a sample of their best work to be evaluated by a panel of their peers. The episode is not the only criterion used by judges, who also weigh buzz, past wins and losses and the actors' larger bodies of work. But it's often the deciding factor since it must be viewed at voting time.

Strategy is key when determining just the right episode to submit. The most common mistake: contenders thinking nonstop screaming or tears equal great acting. Judges want to see a money scene, yes, but they're also looking for broad emotional range. And it helps if a character is empathetic.

A typical category is judged by about 75 actors who watch DVD screeners at home. Ballots must be returned by Aug. 31 with an affidavit attesting that a judge viewed all acting samples.

Here's what they're seeing this year in the lead series categories.

James Gandolfini "The Sopranos"

Episode: "The Second Coming." Tony (Gandolfini) battles depression, rescues his son from suicide and tries to mediate a mob turf war.

Plus: After not being nominated last year, Gandolfini is back in full force. He knocks out a thug's teeth, confesses to his therapist that he misses his monstrous momma and comforts his sobbing son after snatching the boy from a pool: "My baby, my baby

"

Minus: Fuggedaboutit. "Sopranos" is whacked and Gandolfini has already won three times.

Hugh Laurie "House"

Episode: "Half-Wit." House (Laurie) toys with his colleagues, letting them believe that he's dying of cancer, while he fights to help a brain-damaged musical prodigy.

Plus: Laurie's fueled with heroic medical passion one moment, then angst the next as he struggles with chronic pain and addiction to opiates. Interspersed is appealing wit. A pal asks, "Are you curious about heroin?" House replies, "Not since last year's Christmas party."

Minus: Will Emmy voters want to embrace such a grouch? And such a smug one?

Denis Leary "Rescue Me"

Episode: "Retards." Recovering alcoholic Tommy (Leary) goes on a bender when he can no longer cope with the death of his son and the collapse of his marriage.

Plus: Ablaze with rage, this NYC firefighter gulps expensive whiskey he can't pay for, barking, "I betcha -- all the people in this bar -- you could name five finalists from 'American Idol,' but (not one) of the 343 firemen who gave their lives on 9/11."

Minus: Tommy confesses, "I'm more bad boy than you'll ever be able to handle."

James Spader "Boston Legal"

Episode: "Angel of Death." Alan (Spader) defends a doctor who administered euthanasia to five unwitting patients who probably would've died in Hurricane Katrina.

Plus: Spader has pulled off upset Emmy victories twice, usually thanks to having a flashy, final jury speech. This year he thunders: "Surrounded by pain and suffering, she stayed and helped and watched as those five patients slipped quietly into the good night!"

Minus: Preachy! Preachy! Alan, she's a murderer.

Kiefer Sutherland "24"

Episode: "Day 6: 5:00AM - 6:00AM." In the season finale, Jack (Sutherland) saves his nephew's life, watches as his father presumably dies and must say goodbye to the woman who paid a horrendous price for loving him.

Plus: Thrillers are usually cursed, but Sutherland won last year. This episode ends in a quiet, triumphant scene where he stands alone on a windy cliff.

Minus: Voters who aren't regular viewers of this serialized drama may have no idea why he's pouting so much.

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