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Emmys preview: Will it be Breaking Bad or House of Cards?

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Catch our live blog of the 65th annual prime time Emmy Awards from 10am today.

Comedies, miniseries, reality TV shows. They all come to the Emmy Awards looking for glory, but ultimately there is only one category which matters. One category where the industry's best compete for top honours on the night: drama.


Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

  • Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey (PBS)
  • Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad (AMC)
  • Jeff Daniels, The Newsroom (HBO)
  • Jon Hamm, Mad Men (AMC)
  • Damian Lewis, Homeland (Showtime)
  • Kevin Spacey, House of Cards (Netflix)

One of the tightest competitions on Emmy night, this is the award which in recent years has landed mostly in the hands of Damian Lewis from Homeland. And rightly so, Lewis is an outstanding actor and his work has been par excellence.


But this is a game-changing year. It is the final year of Breaking Bad, so naturally, all eyes fall to that show and its star, Bryan Cranston.In a scant few years, Cranston has transformed himself from a TV sitcom dad into Hollywood's greatest TV actor with a luminous performance.

So just when you think it's a done and dusted deal for Breaking Bad to take out line honours in the best actor category, along comes Netflix's House of Cards and a stunning performance from Kevin Spacey.

Ultimately, Bryan Cranston deserves to win this. His performance has been slowly constructed over five years, culminating in one of the most extraordinary performances in television drama. But this looks certain to be the year of the big Netflix upset, so most people in the room will be expecting Spacey to win.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

  • Connie Britton, Nashville (ABC)
  • Claire Danes, Homeland (Showtime)
  • Michelle Dockery, Downton Abbey (PBS)
  • Vera Farmiga, Bates Motel (A&E)
  • Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men (AMC)
  • Kerry Washington, Scandal (ABC)
  • Robin Wright, House of Cards (Netflix)

This is a slightly more open field. There is no doubt Robin Wright's turn in House of Cards was extraordinary, but House of Cards was ultimately Spacey's platform and the competition here is much stronger.

Elisabeth Moss in Mad Men, Kerry Washington in Scandal and Claire Danes in Homeland have all delivered towering work. Connie Britton in Nashville could be a contender here too. She's not long out of the Emmy darling American Horror Story, which adds a little sparkle to her name on the list.

Vera Farmiga is the dark horse. While Bates Motel, a sort of Psycho prequel, has been left sitting on the sidelines to some extent as the US media lavishes its affection on bigger, noisier shows like Breaking Bad and House of Cards, it does deserve some notice. It's a great show and Farmiga delivers a brilliant performance.

This looks to be a three horse race: Wright, Danes or, possibly, Farmiga.

Outstanding Drama Series

  • Breaking Bad (AMC)
  • Downton Abbey (PBS)
  • Game of Thrones (HBO)
  • Homeland (Showtime)
  • House of Cards (Netflix)
  • Mad Men (AMC)

The big award of the night. The one everyone will be waiting for. And what a terrible dilemma for Emmy voters. Do you reward Breaking Bad, in its final year, for five years of outstanding achievement? Or do you give it to House of Cards, in its first, for re-writing the rulebook on drama commissioning?

This is supposed to be the year of the big Netflix upset and truth be told, if they can't deliver on this category, then we may have to re-think that. With an outstanding drama statue to its name, Netflix has well and truly changed the game. Without one, it will be left for the pundits to debate for years to come.

If we look for the most deserving, the answer is Breaking Bad. Its final season has been stupendously brilliant, with episode after episode stretching the nervous tension further and further towards the snap we all know is coming in its thrilling conclusion.

If we look for the most likely, we must consider House of Cards, the made-for-Netflix drama which seems to have ruffled feathers at every level of the TV business and has become a favourite topic of discussion for journalists and commentators around the world.

But Netflix's footprint is, in relative terms, not as big as the noise is makes in media coverage. And the conclusion to Breaking Bad is, in no uncertain terms, the biggest TV event of the year. If you were a betting man you'd probably have a bob each way.

Miniseries and telemovies:

Once the bastard child of the drama category, flush with turgid mini-soaps, these miniseries and telemovie categories have become a new battleground for extraordinary dramatic work. American Horror Story is the clear standout on that front.

They also boast some of the most amazing talent in contention on Emmy night, including Jessica Lange, Helen Mirren, Al Pacina and Michael Douglas.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie:

  • Benedict Cumberbatch, Parade's End (HBO)
  • Matt Damon, Behind the Candelabra (HBO)
  • Michael Douglas, Behind the Candelabra (HBO)
  • Toby Jones, The Girl (HBO)
  • Al Pacino, Phil Spector (HBO)

At first glance, the nominees for outstanding lead actor could read like it's Oscar night: Matt Damon, Michael Douglas and Al Pacino chief among them.

No disrespect to television, or indeed to Benedict Cumberbatch and Toby Jones, who both did extraordinary work, but the winner is going to be one of those first three.

Most likely? Michael Douglas.

While there's a lot of true-life work in the category - Pacino played Phil Spector, Jones played Alfred Hitchcock - the real jewel here is Douglas's turn as Liberace in the HBO telemovie Behind The Candelabra. No question that's going to make a clean sweep of the Emmys.

Damon could be a surprise here. Like Douglas, he brought great humanity and dignity to Behind The Candelabra. Prior to its broadcast there was some uncertainty about its tone. Afterwards, there was no doubt it was genuinely brilliant.

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie

  • Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Asylum (FX)
  • Laura Linney, The Big C: Hereafter (Showtime)
  • Helen Mirren, Phil Spector (HBO)
  • Elisabeth Moss, Top of the Lake (Sundance Channel)
  • Sigourney Weaver, Political Animals (USA Network)

This is Jessica Lange's category. Her work on American Horror Story is luminous. Alchemy of that kind is difficult to create, particularly with the production pace and budgetary pressures of television.

But Ryan Murphy is somehow greater when he's writing for Lange, and Lange is somehow more brilliant when she's speaking Murphy's words. Individually each is excellent. Together they are breathtaking.

Helen Mirren is an outside chance here, as an old favourite of the miniseries and telemovie category. And Sigourney Weaver, whose work in Political Animals is excellent. The problem here is a lack of oxygen during the critical voting window for Emmy voters.

And like the actor category, the actress category is loaded with prime film talent: Lange, Mirren, Weaver. Add Meryl Streep and you'd have four women all worthy of an Oscar.

Outstanding Miniseries or Movie

  • American Horror Story: Asylum (FX)
  • Behind the Candelabra (HBO)
  • The Bible (History)
  • Phil Spector (HBO)
  • Political Animals (USA Network)
  • Top of the Lake (Sundance Channel)

For obvious reason, Australia will be backing Top of the Lake. It screened in the US on Sundance, but its genesis is very much Australian, and no doubt its commissioning executives at UKTV will be cheering from the sidelines.

In the end, of course, it's down to American Horror Story or Behind The Candelabra. American Horror Story comes into the fight as the incumbent, and perhaps as the most genuinely startling of all of the projects.

But Behind The Candelabra is a safe bet for a clean sweep of the awards. It was screened smack bang in the middle of the Emmy voting window and there is still enormous affection for it in the media.

* The 65th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast on Monday, September 23, on FOX8 from 9am.