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LET'S SEE IF THE EMMY VOTERS CAN GET IT RIGHT AGAIN<

THE BALTIMORE SUN

I can think of a dozen reasons to dislike the Emmy awards. Five of them served as co-hosts of last year's telecast.

But for all the excess of the TV show itself, and some of the winners that seem totally off the wall, it is still the one night and morning after that millions of us watch, talk and argue about. We focus on quality - whatever each of us means by that - rather than ratings.

And last year, with "Mad Men" and "30 Rock" winning as best drama and comedy, it seemed like the voters finally and mysteriously got it right. So let the picking and arguing begin.

My first pick is for the telecast itself. Neil Patrick Harris will be host for the "61st Primetime Emmy Awards" show starting at 8 tonight on WJZ (Channel 13). The show will be broadcast live from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles, and it promises to be a lively one if nothing else. Harris gave the Tonys telecast a jolt of joy this year, and there is every indication that tonight's Emmys show will be a good one as well.

Best Drama Series: Starting with the big award that will be given last, I am expecting AMC's "Mad Men," the stylish drama set on Madison Avenue in the 1960s, to repeat.

In my heart, I believe "House" had a better year. I had problems with the way the suicide of Dr. Lawrence Kutner (Kal Penn) was handled, but I was also deeply moved by the sensitive way in which the emotional fallout of his death was treated in subsequent episodes. And I loved House's (Hugh Laurie) refusal to accept any bromides about death in trying to ease the pain of Kutner dying. The intellectual honesty of this series would be rare even on cable TV.

But "Mad Men" has the buzz and the aura of being the best series on TV - and I am guessing academy members will vote that way whether they really believe it or not. Besides, the cast provided such a good-looking onstage finale for last year's telecast.

By the way, Oprah has a "Mad Man" 1960s-themed show planned for Monday with stars Jon Hamm and January Jones. And if Oprah doesn't know, who does?

Also nominated: "Big Love," "Breaking Bad," "Damages," "Dexter" and "Lost"

Best Comedy Series: No doubt about it: "30 Rock." Last year, on the eve of a watershed presidential election, Fey owned Washington, New York and Hollywood. Her Sarah Palin impersonation was adored by millions of fans and worshiped by political and entertainment writers alike. She and "30 Rock" rocked the Emmys.

Fey might not win that big again tonight, but she should and will win for best comedy. There is nothing that compares with the satire of her backstage NBC sitcom about a fictional NBC out-of-control show.

Also nominated: "Family Guy," "Flight of the Conchords," "How I Met Your Mother," "The Office" and "Weeds"

Best Actor Drama Series: I believe with all my heart that Gabriel Byrne deserves the award for his in-practically-every-frame performance as a therapist on HBO's "In Treatment." But I don't think he will get it; the show flew too far below the ratings radar.

While many are picking Jon Hamm of "Mad Men," I am going with Hugh Laurie of the Fox medical drama "House." If I can't have Byrne, Laurie is far more deserving than Hamm, who has been getting worse as the series has progressed.

Also nominated: Simon Baker ("The Mentalist"), Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad") and Michael C. Hall ("Dexter")

Best Actress Drama Series: Glenn Close, from the FX drama, "Damages," wins hands down on presence if nothing else. I don't particularly like this series, but she does fill up the screen with her persona like almost no one else in this category.

Kyra Sedgwick continues to do great work on TNT's "The Closer," but her role as Deputy Police Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson lacks the gravitas and heft that it usually takes to win for drama.

Also nominated: Holly Hunter ("Saving Grace"), Mariska Hargitay ("Law and Order: Special Victims Unit"), Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men") and Sally Field ("Brothers and Sisters")

Best Actor Comedy Series: This is not a great category, which is why Alec Baldwin, from "30 Rock," should win in a walk. He plays a ridiculous character, an NBC executive who defines empty suit, but instead of making him seem silly, he makes the character seem almost believable. That conjurer's trick is what makes the comic clashes between him and Fey's Liz Lemon resonate with such gender and workplace tension.

Also nominated: Steve Carell ("The Office"), Jemaine Clement ("Flight of the Conchords"), Jim Parsons ("The Big Bang Theory"), Tony Shalhoub ("Monk") and Charlie Sheen ("Two and a Half Men")

Best Actress Comedy Series: Please, I won't waste your time with a lot of analysis: It's Fey. She is superb at playing the smartest person in the room except when it comes to herself. And as slapstick and broad as her comedy can be, she has created a razor-sharp satire of network television today. Not surprisingly, her toughest competition comes from cable with Toni Collette of Showtime's "United States of Tara" and Mary-Louise Parker in Showtime's "Weeds." But I think Fey will prevail. She is the salvation of the network sitcom.

Also nominated: Christina Applegate ("Samantha Who?), Sarah Silverman ("The Sarah Silverman Show") and Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("New Adventures of Old Christine")

Best Reality Host: Like it or not, this has become a major category. This is the group that gave us the five co-hosts at last year's telecast - and what a wretched job they did. This year, I think Ryan Seacrest gets the award. He did stand up to Simon Cowell on some nights and seem to take over the "American Idol" stage like he never had before.

Also nominated: Tom Bergeron ("Dancing With The Stars"), Tom Colicchio and Padma Lakshmi ("Top Chef") , Heidi Klum ("Project Runway"), Phil Keoghan ("The Amazing Race") and Jeff Probst ("Survivor")

Best Reality Show: Don't scoff, reality TV is now the dominant genre on network TV. Nothing compares. I would love to see "Antiques Roadshow" from PBS win in this category. It's engaging, fun and smart TV. The smart part is probably a deal breaker. But let's hope.

Also nominated: "Dirty Jobs," "Dog Whisperer," "Intervention," "Kathy Griffin: My Life On The D-List" and "MythBusters"

Best Reality Competition: "Amazing Race," from CBS, should be the winner again. For one thing, it is the only such series that deftly captures the global sensibility of younger viewers today. And the producers understood the importance of diversity in casting before almost anyone else in the genre. But it does face stiff competition.

Also nominated: "American Idol," "Project Runway," "Top Chef" and "Dancing with the Stars"

Best Made-For-TV Movie: HBO's "Grey Gardens" should take the Emmy. Note that three of the movies are from HBO and two from Lifetime. One of Lifetime's entries, "Prayers for Bobby," starring Sigourney Weaver, is my sleeper pick. But this is another category where cable excels, and the networks punt. Making movies, something the networks once did almost as well as the old Hollywood studios, is deemed too expensive by the new calculus of prime time.

Also nominated: "Coco Chanel," "Into the Storm," and "Taking Chance"

Best Miniseries: Weak field with only HBO's "Generation Kill" and "Little Dorrit" from PBS. "Generation Kill," written and produced in part by David Simon and Ed Burns, should win if for no other reason than the importance of its subject matter. The film took viewers inside the lives of Marines in Iraq, and it did so without piety or pity. Making it all the more socially significant is the fact that much of the rest of the media paid so little attention to the war and the toll it took on America's warriors.

Best Actor Miniseries or Movie: Now here's a great category, with Kevin Bacon ("Taking Chance"), Kenneth Branagh ("Wallander: One Step Behind"), Ian McKellen ("King Lear"), Keifer Sutherland ("24"), Brendan Gleeson ("Into the Storm") and Kevin Kline ("Cyrano de Bergerac"). I can't decide between Branagh and Bacon. They were both terrific. I'm picking Branagh, but hoping for Bacon. I would love to see the actor and this gem of a film about a Marine, who accompanies the remains of a comrade killed in Iraq to a final resting place, honored in some way.

Best Actress Miniseries or Movie: Another great lineup, but I am dead set on Drew Barrymore for her brilliant performance as the eccentric Edith "Little Edie" Bouvier Beale in "Grey Gardens."

Also nominated: Jessica Lange ("Grey Gardens"), Shirley MacLaine ("Coco Chanel"), Chandra Wilson ("Accidental Friend") and Sigourney Weaver ("Prayers for Bobby")

Best Variety, Music or Comedy Series: I'm picking "The Colbert Report" over "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart." Night in and night out, Stewart is superior, but Colbert managed to get the media chattering about him this year even more than Stewart. I think he's the one who gets the trophy tonight.

Also nominated: "Late Show with David Letterman," "Real Time with Bill Maher" and "Saturday Night Live"

On TV

The 61st Primetime Emmy Awards air at 8 p.m. on WJZ, Channel 13

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