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MAKE US CARE

The Emmys, like every other televised awards show, faces a simple problem: Nobody cares who wins them anymore. - That's not exactly true; the industry still cares, especially performers, producers and technicians lucky enough to snag one. But the days when a few artfully timed Emmys could save a quality, lesser-known show are long gone (worked for All in the Family and Cheers; didn't work for Pushing Daisies or Arrested Development). - The Emmy organizers took a big step toward solving that problem by hiring as host How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris, a well-liked actor with a taste for comedy poised to do for the TV awards what hunky Hugh Jackman did for the Oscars and Tonys - entertaining with the winky charm of a Hollywood insider. - But they blinked when the idea to pretape eight awards and cut down all the speechifying produced a backlash of Michael Moore-sized proportions. - As Harris attempts to keep us from switching to the Giants-Cowboys game, here's a few more ideas for improving the Emmycast:

Make news: Yeah, Kanye West was a bonehead. But his antics have ensured that America is still talking about MTV's Video Music Awards a week after they happened. Unless Tina Fey announces she's marrying Amy Poehler at the podium tonight, Emmy's not getting that kind of bounce. But it should try.

Nominate shows people are watching: It may be time for new categories - say, best use of blurred video in a reality show, or separate categories for cable and broadcast. But when nominations are soaked up by well-produced but little-seen shows such as Mad Men, which is actually watched by less than 2 million people each week, viewers don't care so much about the winners.

Break up the familiar lists of nominees: Best comedy actress nominee Fey has been nominated 12 different times, her 30 Rock co-star Alec Baldwin has been nominated eight times and Law & Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay has been nominated six times. Too often, Emmy regurgitates the same lists of nominees in major categories with a few names changed; a limit of five career nominations for the same role would ensure a more diverse field.

Make winning count: I admit, I'm not sure how to pull this off. But winning big at the Golden Globes helped light fireworks under Slumdog Millionaire, making America aware that a blockbuster had been born. Emmy needs to do that for TV shows on the verge of success and spend less time feting programs already in the winner's circle.

YOUR HOST: Doogie Howser! He prefers to be called Neil Patrick Harris these days. Don't grimace ... the star of How I Met Your Mother was fantastic as the host of the Tony Awards and brought down the house with his tres gay tribute to Broadway sung to the tune of Tonight.

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INSTANT ANALYSIS: Follow me on Twitter @deggans to see my take on the hits, misses and disses during the broadcast (Kanye, if you show up, don't make me waste any of my 140 characters).

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ALSO LOOK FOR: If you ever starred in a movie or cut a record in the '80s, chances are you're a guest presenter tonight. Yep, I'm looking at you Rob Lowe, Michael J. Fox, Kevin Bacon, LL Cool J, Jon Cryer and ... Bob Newhart? (You bet! His Newhart show ran from '82 to '90.)

THE NOMINEES

Like every awards show, Emmy sometimes gets it right and often gets it wrong. And there's no greater pleasure for small screen fans than chewing over the possibilities.

Here's a little handicapping on who's likely to win and lose in major categories tonight:

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Best comedy series

Entourage, Family Guy, Flight of the Conchords, How I Met Your Mother, The Office, 30 Rock, Weeds.

Should win: 30 Rock.

Will win:30 Rock or HIMYM - Emmy voters love Tina Fey, but they also love HIMYM star Neil Patrick Harris, and he's also hosting the show.

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Best actor, comedy

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock; Steve Carell, The Office; Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords; Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory; Tony Shalhoub, Monk; Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men.

Should and will win: Big Bang's Parsons. He's a breakout star on a steadily growing show, and Sheen deep-sixed his chances by talking nutty 9/11 conspiracies.

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Best actress, comedy

Christina Applegate, Samantha Who?; Toni Collette, United States of Tara; Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine; Tina Fey, 30 Rock; Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds; Sarah Silverman, The Sarah Silverman Program.

Should win: Tara's Collette, shown here, for keeping her portrayal of a mom with multiple personalities from getting maudlin or cartoonish.

Will win:30 Rock's Fey, because Hollywood still loves her for taking down Sarah Palin.

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Best drama series

Big Love, Breaking Bad, Damages, Dexter, House, Lost, Mad Men.

Should win and will win: Lost. For being the only series to actually get better after last year's writer's strike.

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Best actress, drama

Glenn Close, Damages; Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters; Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU; Holly Hunter, Saving Grace; Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men; Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer.

Should win: Mad Men's Moss. The scene where she tells a co-worker she had his baby and gave it up for adoption - without sounding like a soap opera heroine - should go down in cable TV history.

Will win: Moss or Sally Field, depending on whether Emmy wants to recognize a young talent or reward an experienced one.

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Best actor, drama

Simon Baker, The Mentalist; Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment; Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad; Michael C. Hall, Dexter; Jon Hamm, Mad Men; Hugh Laurie, House.

Should win: Dexter's Hall. Because, in a field crowded with amazing work, he's playing the least sympathetic character: a successful serial killer. Besides, it's set in Miami.

Will win: House's Laurie. The show's popular, he had a great season and after four nominations, he's about due.

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