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IN CONTENTION / TOM O'NEIL

Best In Shows

September 17, 2008|Tom O'Neil

EMMY winners are determined by judges who watch DVD screeners. In the race for outstanding comedy and drama series, producers submit six sample episodes that are divided into three pairings that are randomly distributed to voters. Programs nominated in the reality and variety genres submit just one sample episode. Winners will be announced at the ceremony Sunday at the Nokia Theatre that will be telecast on ABC at 8 p.m.

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COMEDY SERIES

"Curb Your Enthusiasm": After the show's four consecutive losses, Emmy enthusiasm seems curbed. Apparently, it's no "Seinfeld" (winner, 1993) -- not that there's anything wrong with that.

"Entourage": An upset win is possible. The deciding factor: Do voters look at this wolf-pack cast with warm fuzzies, recalling their own early careers, or with horror, viewing them as pampered thugs who turned dear ol' Hollywood into a club-crazy playground for Paris Hilton?

"The Office": When "The Office" won in 2006, it was a groundbreaking novelty that made TV viewers squirm. Now it's still great but still off-putting without being fresh and new.

"30 Rock": Last year's winner is the fave to triumph again. Like "The Office," it spotlights a wacky work environment but it's the Emmy judges' work -- the TV biz -- so that's OK. Can voters resist?

"Two and a Half Men": It's TV's top-rated comedy because it's outrageously brave, daring to reward Charlie for often being a skirt-chasing hooligan. That can be a turnoff to Emmy voters, notorious snobs who usually prefer uppity shows like "Frasier," which won this category an unprecedented five times and holds the record as Emmy's biggest champ (37 awards).

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DRAMA SERIES

"Boston Legal": A winning verdict is unlikely, but never count out a legal show by David E. Kelley, who's won the most Emmys as producer of series voted best drama or comedy. Six of his eight wins were for shows about lawyers: "Ally McBeal," "The Practice" and "L.A. Law."

"Damages": Just the kind of stylish, critically hailed thriller that voters adore, but it has two problems. First, it aired last fall. Second, serialized dramas with complex plots usually don't win their first Emmy outing. "The Sopranos" and "24" didn't prevail until Season 5.

"Dexter": "The Sopranos" proved that shows about sympathetic killers can win as long as they're cool. Even better, "Dexter" is sexy and elegant and it's impossible to overstate how snobbish Emmy voters can be. However, most judges probably aren't regular "Dexter" viewers and may be squeamish about embracing a stranger who's spattered with blood and smirking.

"House": Deserves to win, so this medical show's prognosis is OK, not great. It may be too focused on one (crotchety) character.

"Lost": After winning here in 2005, then mysteriously vanishing, "Lost" has finally found its way back into this category but without crucial backup. Over the last few decades, only once did a show win best drama without being nominated for writing or directing ("The Practice").

"Mad Men": With the most nominations (16) and buzz, "Mad Men" is considered the front-runner, but things could get crazy. With six nominees in this category, a show can win, theoretically, with only 17% of the vote. "Mad Men" is vulnerable because Emmy judges unfamiliar with the show may find its pace slow.

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TV FILM

"Bernard and Doris": This smartly crafted drama offers new insights into the lives of tobacco heiress Doris Duke (Susan Sarandon) and the butler (Ralph Fiennes) she forms an attachment to, but it's missing an urgent political or social message.

"Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale": Last year's best comedy actor, Ricky Gervais, is the king of award upsets, so don't write off this scathing riff on how fickle TV fame can be -- a topic close to Emmy voters' hearts.

"The Memory Keeper's Daughter": Not even a memory keeper can recall a time when a weepie beat four prestige TV films.

"A Raisin in the Sun": TV critics cheered this screen adaptation of the 2004 Broadway production starring Tony winner Phylicia Rashad and Sean Combs, but Lorraine Hansberry's 1960 racial drama may seem dated and too been-there-done-that for Emmy voters.

"Recount": Fits the profile of a classic winner in this category. A cast of past Oscar winners or nominees (Kevin Spacey, Laura Dern) re-enact a scathing political controversy at just the right time -- during a presidential election just as its subject, George W. Bush, exits office.

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MINISERIES

"The Andromeda Strain": This TV ratings blockbuster was a critical disappointment, so its best Emmy hopes are in the tech categories.

"Cranford": Possible spoiler. Emmy voters are suckers for British costume dramas. Remember the big upset three years ago when "The Lost Prince" conquered "Empire Falls" and "Elvis"?

"John Adams": HBO has claimed this category five times in the last decade and now has another likely winner: The $100-million, seven-part saga about a founding father got socko reviews.

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