They've drafted their hippest slate of contenders in years.
But organizers of this year's Emmy awards, while trying mightily to build the Oscars of TV, still get flak from some stars. Especially those left out of the running.
"I think it's all a crock . . . " said Charlie Hunnam, star of FX's action drama about a motorcycle club, Sons of Anarchy. His show may have taken the toughest snub by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, left without a single nomination despite critical praise and solid ratings.
"It's corrupting,'' Hunnam added. "But it does have the potential to ruin a good thing. So (screw) 'em."
Few stars in Hollywood are so candid about a ceremony that can be so maddening. Perhaps for that reason, Modern Family star Ed O'Neill had a more charitable take on missing out, as the biggest name on ABC's breakout hit to be excluded from nominations in a year where the series snagged 14 nods.
"I think if the writers would have given me more (to do) — I could have been, like, a cross-dresser part time," said O'Neill, laughing off the notion he and Sons co-star Katey Sagal, who starred together on the controversial '80s sitcom Married . . . With Children, wound up on the business end of some Emmy curse or grudge. "Maybe I would have been nominated then."
This gives late-night host Jimmy Fallon a few hints on how to approach hosting tonight's 62nd Primetime Emmy Awards, a show where, no matter what he does, a significant slice of the audience will be severely bummed by the closing credits.
"An hour into it, 80 percent of the room are going to be losers," he said, laughing. "I know that. I've sat next to people. (Arrested Development star) Will Arnett, I sat next to him and he said 'Look at this loser coming over' — and it was his wife, Amy Poehler. I want this to be a fun party for everybody. The people who watch the Emmy awards keep us all employed, so it should be fun for everybody."
Beating expectations got a little tougher after last year, when host Neil Patrick Harris scored the best Emmy ratings in four years, 13.3 million viewers. Often the show suffers from a curious schizophrenia, honoring critical and industry darlings like AMC's Mad Men or NBC's 30 Rock — wonderful series lacking blockbuster audiences (back in the day, shows such as All in the Family snagged big audiences after crucial Emmy wins). But this year, buzzed-about hits such as Fox's Glee and CBS's The Good Wife join the roster of top nominees.
Fallon's reputation as an online guru led NBC to air the Emmycast at the same time across the nation, setting up a backstage "Thank You Cam" so winners can deliver longer acceptance speeches without jamming up the broadcast. Fallon will read introductions for at least 15 Emmy presenters sent by fans over Twitter, and the show has an active Facebook page.
It's all part of Fallon's diabolical plan to turn the Emmys into a rollicking party where nobody gets hurt, particularly the easily bruised egos of Hollywood stars. "If you work with me or do any bit on my show, my goal is to make you look good," he said. "That's my job as host, to make everyone else look good and have a good time."
And what will he do if ousted Tonight Show host Conan O'Brien, nominated for his brief time hosting NBC's top late-night show, wins a trophy after his high-profile dismissal? When the guy who took back his job (Jay Leno) wasn't even nominated? On the network that fired him?
Is there any way to make that look good?
"I'd like to hear what he has to say," offered the relentlessly cheery Fallon. "I want to see if he still has the beard; (I hear) he's living in a cabin somewhere, working on his manifesto."
Emmy's math is liable to challenge Fallon's good-guy reputation. For every winner, there are three or four losers to complain about it all.
Eric Deggans' short list of who's winning and who isn't tonight:
Best drama series
Nominees: Lost, Breaking Bad, Dexter, Mad Men, True Blood, The Good Wife.
Should win: Breaking Bad. You probably haven't seen it yet, but this is the best drama series now airing on TV, about a cancer-surviving, ex-high school chemistry teacher-turned crystal meth cooker who is slowly losing his humanity. And no, it's not as uplifting as it sounds.
Will win: Mad Men. Because academy voters don't watch Breaking Bad, but they have seen the Mad Men fashion spreads in Esquire magazine.
Best comedy series
Nominees: Glee, Modern Family, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Nurse Jackie, 30 Rock, The Office.
Should win: The two best comedies on TV go head-to-head here, but Modern Family gets my vote over Glee because it has been more consistent and successful, without a lead-in boost from American Idol. And way fewer Rolling Stone covers.
Will win: Glee. Because this is its last triumph before the inevitable backlash.
Best actress, drama
Nominees: Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife; Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU; Glenn Close, Damages; Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer; January Jones, Mad Men; Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights.
Should and will win: Margulies by a nose. Britton has been fantabulous as the wife of a hard-nosed football coach and high school principal, but Margulies' turn as cuckolded political wife trying to build a new life resonates with recent history and way more viewers.
Best actor, drama
Nominees: Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights; Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad; Hugh Laurie, House; Michael C. Hall, Dexter; Matthew Fox, Lost.
Should win: Cranston. His portrait of a man forced to confront the curdling of his own soul is unmatched on television right now.
Will win: Hamm. Because his portrait of a man struggling to reinvent his carefully manufactured life was the best work of his career. And his character is cooler.
Best actor, comedy
Nominees: Larry David, Curb Your Enthusiasm; Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock; Matthew Morrison, Glee; Steve Carell, The Office; Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory; Tony Shalhoub, Monk.
Should win: David. Because I can't wait to hear his acceptance speech (I bet he shows up in tennis shoes and khaki pants).
Will win: Baldwin. Because academy voters don't seem to know how to write anyone else's name on this category's ballot.
Best actress, comedy
Nominees: Lea Michele, Glee; Tina Fey, 30 Rock; Toni Collette, The United States of Tara; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine; Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie; Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation.
Should win: Falco. You try making a drug-addicted, adulterous hypocrite head nurse seem funny, empathetic and lovable in a crusty kind of way.
Will win: Fey. Because she's still very good. And most academy voters have actually seen her show once or twice.