"True Detective" and "Breaking Bad" produced only eight episodes apiece but, for their ensembles, it's the quality not the quantity that counts. The shows should dominate the Emmys' drama series acting nominations. Here's an early look at the front-runners in the four categories.
Matthew McConaughey, "True Detective"
Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
Woody Harrelson, "True Detective"
Kevin Spacey, "House of Cards"
Jon Hamm, "Mad Men"
James Spader, "The Blacklist"
Prime contenders: Michael Sheen, "Masters of Sex"; Jeff Daniels, "The Newsroom"; Damian Lewis, "Homeland"; Matthew Rhys, "The Americans"
Bubbling under: Hugh Bonneville, "Downton Abbey"; Hugh Dancy, "Hannibal"; Steve Buscemi, "Boardwalk Empire"
For your consideration: We know everyone has jumped off the "Homeland" bandwagon, but it'd be a shame if voters didn't send Lewis, playing the late, great Nicholas Brody, out in style. Yes, the Venezuela drug house scenes didn't move the needle, but that changed when the action moved to Iran. The man will always have a star on our Emmy memorial wall.
Analysis: Room must be made for the "True Detective" partners, which will probably be bad news for a trio of 2013 nominees — Daniels, Lewis and Bonneville. And while "The Blacklist" doesn't deserve a place among TV's great dramas, it does afford Spader, a three-time Emmy winner, the chance to devour acres of scenery. The question: With Spacey a sure bet to return, is there room enough for a couple of great hams from patently ridiculous shows?
Julianna Margulies, "The Good Wife"
Robin Wright, "House of Cards"
Claire Danes, "Homeland"
Kerry Washington, "Scandal"
Lizzy Caplan, "Masters of Sex"
Elisabeth Moss, "Mad Men"
Prime contenders: Keri Russell, "The Americans"; Vera Farmiga, "Bates Motel"; Michelle Dockery, "Downton Abbey"; Tatiana Maslany, "Orphan Black"
Bubbling under: Connie Britton, "Nashville"; Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: SVU"
For your consideration: There was justifiable gnashing of teeth last year when Emmy voters shut out the Cold War spy drama "The Americans." The show was even better this season, with Russell's hard-core Commie turning into one of television's great antiheroes. Hey, somebody has to replace Walter White, right?
Analysis: This is the deepest of all the Emmy acting categories, and come nomination morning, there will be plenty of reasonable cries of "snubbed" surrounding deserving contenders such as Caplan, Russell, Farmiga and Maslany. Who knows? Maybe, like last year, there will be room for seven. It's hard to see either Dockery or Britton returning, which should provide a little wiggle room for some worthy choice. But there's such an embarrassment of riches here, it's impossible to make anything approaching a definitive call. So we'll just go with one of our favorites: Caplan.
Aaron Paul, "Breaking Bad"
Josh Charles, "The Good Wife"
Peter Dinklage, "Game of Thrones"
Dean Norris, "Breaking Bad"
Jon Voight, "Ray Donovan"
Mandy Patinkin, "Homeland"
Prime contenders: Jeffrey Wright, "Boardwalk Empire"; Jim Carter, "Downton Abbey"; Brendan Coyle, "Downton Abbey"; John Slattery, "Mad Men"
Bubbling under: Noah Emmerich, "The Americans"; Mads Mikkelsen, "Hannibal"
For your consideration: How has Norris never been nominated for "Breaking Bad"? Now that it's over, it doesn't seem possible that "Bad's" true hero never received his due, but that will likely change this year (it will, right?) with all the high drama that happened after Hank, sitting on the toilet, discovered Walt's epic betrayal by way of "Leaves of Grass."
Analysis: Last year, the Emmy went to Bobby Cannavale, whose character met an untimely end on "Boardwalk Empire." With the spectacular exits of Charles and Norris, it could be back-to-back years for the dearly departed. The remaining spots will go to past favorites Paul and Dinklage, with the "Downton" gents battling Showtime's finest — Patinkin and Voight — and Wright, one of the bright spots in "Boardwalk's" fourth season. Slattery, based on the "Mad Men" finale alone, also deserves to be in the mix.
Anna Gunn, "Breaking Bad"
Maggie Smith, "Downton Abbey"
Christine Baranski, "The Good Wife"
Emilia Clarke, "Game of Thrones"
Michelle Monaghan, "True Detective"
Joanne Froggatt, "Downton Abbey"
Prime contenders: Bellamy Young, "Scandal"; Christina Hendricks, "Mad Men"; Archie Panjabi, "The Good Wife"
Bubbling under: Lena Headey, "Game of Thrones"; Betsy Brandt, "Breaking Bad"; Monica Potter, "Parenthood"
For your consideration: It's not too late to give Potter the nomination she deserved last year for her fantastic work as the oh-so-relatable mom on "Parenthood." Her character didn't have to battle cancer this year, but Potter delivered plenty of fine, four-hankie moments. (We're tearing up just thinking of that car ride with Max.) Make it right, Emmy voters.
Analysis: Four members of last year's class — Gunn, Smith, Baranski and Clarke — are no-brainer nominees. "Homeland's" Morena Baccarin didn't see much screen time this season, nor did Hendricks in "Mad Men's" truncated seven-episode run. (Though we did love how she handled Bob Benson's proposal.) Their absence will give Froggatt a spot again for her harrowing storyline involving Anna's rape, with the sixth slot likely going to "True Detective's" Monaghan, who more than held her own with the show's celebrated men.