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A charmed Emmys

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As the television industry comes together Sunday night in Hollywood to honor the best work of last year, there will be few creative communities better represented than Baltimore.

The nominees include two generations of Baltimore-born-and-bred directors in Barry Levinson, Jason Winer and Bucky Gunts -- and Hollywood insiders say all three have excellent chances of leaving the Nokia Theatre, Emmys in hand.

"You Don't Know Jack," an HBO docu- drama on the life of Dr. Jack Kevorkian that Levinson directed and executive-produced, is up for 15 Emmys alone. Winer, a Baltimore Friends School graduate, has already won a Golden Globe and Directors Guild Award for his Emmy-nominated pilot episode of ABC's "Modern Family." And Gunts, who also attended Baltimore Friends, is nominated for his direction of the opening ceremonies of the Winter Olympics – a daunting task with a history of being rewarded on Emmy night.

Steve Lee Jones, one of the other executive producers on Levinson's HBO film, grew up in Pikesville, while another "Modern Family" nominee, Julie Bowen, was raised in Ruxton. Bowen is nominated as best supporting actress for her performance in the multi-generational comedy, which, along with "Glee," has re-charged the network sitcom.

"It's so rare that voters recognize someone whose performance is so effortless in facilitating the performances of others," says Winer, who is also an executive producer on the hit ABC series. "But that's what Julie does: She grounds the show."

Baltimore will also be front and center for Emmy's biggest award, best drama, with Matthew's Weiner's "Mad Men" going into the evening as the favorite to win. Weiner was born at Johns Hopkins Hospital, where his father was a professor and research scientist, and attended Park School before his family moved to Los Angeles when he was 11.

Weiner is also nominated for his work as a writer on the show. He and yet another Baltimore native, Robin Veith, are contenders for the episode they wrote, "Guy Walks Into an Advertising Agency." Weiner has a second writing nomination as well for his work on another episode.

While Josh Charles didn't get an individual nomination, "The Good Wife," a CBS ensemble in which he plays a featured role, is a contender for best drama. And such nominations matter, Charles says, especially for network shows in a category dominated by cable productions like "Mad Men."

"If you look at our show, it's a network show, and we made 23 of them [episodes] last year," Charles explains. "And whatever nominations mean, it's a nice thing for the show, because all the other shows except " Lost," which only made 16 episodes as far as I know, are cable shows. And with them, you're looking at only 10 to 13 episodes a year, so it's not really fair fight. In that regard, getting the nomination is really nice."

Speaking of "Lost," long-time Maryland resident Terry O'Quinn is in the running as best supporting actor for his work in the last season of the genre-bending show.

That's a lot of nominations and talent from any one place that isn't New York or Los Angeles — and a lot of rooting interest for local viewers.

Even some of nominees, however, urge area fans not to be disappointed Sunday night if their rooting is not rewarded. Emmys are an unpredictable exercise that are often influenced by factors beyond the quality of the performance or show.

"It's certainly hard to invest in it heavily," Bowen says of her own emotional involvement in Sunday's outcome. "It's not something quantitative: Who's running this race faster."

Offering a reminder about the roles that "taste and opinion" play, Bowen adds, "Guess what, I'm not winning, Jane [Lynch] is. But it doesn't really make any difference. There's no 'best.'"

While "Modern Family" has proven to be an industry favorite in previous awards shows this year, so has "Glee," the show in which Lynch appears, a musical comedy about a group of high school misfit performers. Bowen will be a strong contender in terms of votes, but Lynch will win, Hollywood handicappers say.

"Jane Lynch is unstoppable in that category," says Tom O'Neil, author of the book "The Emmys" and an awards show prognosticator at TheEnvelope.com.

As high as O'Neil is on Bowen's work, he says it ultimately comes down to what episodes were submitted for the nominations, and Lynch has a blockbuster with an episode in which she was featured in re-staging of Madonna's 1990 "Vogue" video.

"Jane Lynch has the Madonna episode," O'Neil explains. "So, she's in every frame of a one hour episode, while Julie Bowen is in one-third of the frames of a half-hour episode — and she doesn't get the big show-stopping musical number like Lynch. Nobody beats Lynch this year."

The prospects of winning are much better for Winer, based on him taking the Directors Guild award for the same episode of "Modern Family."

"The Directors Guild is a good gauge, because the Emmy is a peer group award as well, with only directors voting on directors," O'Neil says. "So the category Winer's in is probably being decided by 30 to 40 directors who volunteered for a jury to look at the sample episodes."

Winer is up against two episodes of "Glee," just as Levinson is up against two episodes of HBO's "Pacific" for best directing in a movie or mini-series. While both "Pacific" and "Glee" are expected to be big winners overall, having two episodes for competition can be a good thing in terms of splitting the vote.

"In both cases, the Baltimore guys have a good chance of winning — if the votes split properly," says O'Neil.

"Mad Men" might need a little luck as well to repeat as best drama.

"It's very close with 'Lost,'" O'Neil says. "They're neck and neck. Remember when 'Sopranos' went off the air, it got a farewell hug after its final season. It was also an innovative, groundbreaking drama series, and Emmy voters can be very sentimental."

On the other hand, Weiner's "Mad Men" has a few tricks up its sleeve.

"Their Emmy campaign was brilliant," O'Neil says, "because they started airing the new episodes of the current season to correspond exactly with the beginning of Emmy voting. You couldn't drive down Sunset Boulevard without being assaulted by 'Mad Men' billboards everywhere and ads on bus stops and the sides of buses."

The view from Sunset Boulevard is definitely different than it is from Belair Road — or even Charles Street.

"It's next weekend, and I don't have an outfit," Bowen said in an interview with The Sun last week. "I went with my sister Molly and a friend, I hired a stylist, and there were these wonderful outfits, like 100 of them. I tried on 30."

But she couldn't decide.

"The dress becomes this whole thing of who you are. It's like buying a car. Are you that person who drives that car? Are you a person who wears Versace? I'm insecure. It's like, I've got a big mouth, and later on, something I said, I might read something about it. An outfit comes back at me. I now understand why people make safe, bland choices."

Yet another reason for Baltimore viewers to watch the Emmys Sunday night: to see what Julie Bowen's wearing.

david.zurawik@baltsun.com

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