Emmys Circuit: Drama Lead Actor



As I mentioned last week, aside from Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series*, Lead Actor in a Drama Series might be my favorite acting race at the Emmys—at least currently. This category presents an interesting, and almost guaranteed massive shake-up from the 2013 lineup. ****CLAYTON’S PREDICTIONS***

*For this and future Emmy Circuit articles, I’ll be using shorthand re: Emmy categories. Since Emmy category titles tend to be longwinded (see: Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series), I’m going to abbreviate them in the vein of: Comedy Supporting Actor.

2013 Nominees:

Jeff daniels

  • Jeff Daniels, The Newsroomwinner
  • Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey
  • Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
  • Jon Hamm, Mad Men
  • Damian Lewis, Homeland
  • Kevin Spacey, House of Cards

Last year saw a perfect example of why episode submissions are important. Nothing against Jeff Daniels’ turn in The Newsroom, but his show had little love, was a critical punchline, and in his first invitation to the Emmys, he beat a fan favorite and three-time winner and a fan-favorite 0-5 loser AND the previous year’s reigning champ. All six of the 2013 Drama Best Actor nominees are eligible to return…so theoretically, we could see a complete 6 for 6 rerun of the nominees. But will that happen? Unlikely, says I.


The Contenders:

 bryan cranston

The most recent multiple winner in this category used to own this race. For the first three seasons of Breaking Bad, Bryan Cranston was underdog after underdog after underdog. Now, since he won three consecutive times (2008 – 2010)1   `, he’s failed to tie Dennis Franz for the most wins in this category. He’s the only lock in this category for a nomination. But the real question is: can he tie Franz, or will he have to settle for another producing Emmy? Could he get a Tony bump from his nearly locked Tony Award for All the Way? Plus, he’ll likely submit the most buzzed about TV episode this season (“Ozymandias”)—which helps.

matthew mcconaughey

I’m this close to calling recent Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey a lock for True Detective. But, since he and his show are new to Emmys and since I can foresee a potential backlash since this show isn’t a drama series, I’m holding off on calling him a lock for a nomination just yet. Nevertheless, I think Cranston aside, McConaughey is the safest bet in this race for a nomination, and deservedly so. But does he have an episode to win?

Woody Harrelson True Detective

While all the spotlight in True Detective went to Woody Harrelson’s Oscar-winning co-star, this Emmy champion for his supporting turn in Cheers was no less stellar. Having the less flashy role is always tough, but Harrelson manages something great with his performance. If he can make the final lineup, I think McConaughey’s win is all but engraved. But given the way the nomination process works (the submit 5, with preference) I wonder if he can muster any preferential rankings about McConaughey. He has a good tape, too; but, his tape also gives McConaughey 2 hours of submissions.

Jon Hamm

The perennial bridesmaid. Will Jon Hamm ever win an Emmy for Don Draper in Mad Men? After he lost in 2011 for his historically awesome submission, “The Suitcase,” I came to terms that Hamm will probably leave Mad Men sans Emmy. However, not being an Emmy favorite when they vote for the winner doesn’t mean they don’t like you in the nomination process. I’d be shocked if Hamm misses this season, though it wouldn’t be unprecedented for Leads in respected drama series to be snubbed for the show’s known penultimate season (see: Martin Sheen and James Gandolfini). He has a winning tape.


Because I love Hannibal and like Hugh Dancy, I’m putting the Critics Choice nominee and his cannival co-star on this shortlist, despite by lack of faith in the TV Academy to even watch the gristly network drama. I’d squeal if either Dancy or Mads Mikkelsen managed an Emmy nomination. Last year, NBC submitted Mads in supporting, presumably with the thought that he had a better shot there than in lead (and given 2013’s supporting drama actor lineup, he should have). Will NBC repeat their curious campaign strategy this year, despite the title of the show? We’ll see.


The unlikely 2012 nominee Hugh Bonneville repeated with equally unlikelihood in 2013 for back-to-back nominations for his stoic work on Downton Abbey. Unlike the first three seasons of Downton Abbey, the fourth season didn’t capture the zeitgeist—there was no compelling love story or tear-jerking death. No tape, as ever.


Oh how the mighty fall. The surprising—and very deserving—winner of this category just two years ago is now fighting tooth and nail for a spot. Heck, Damian Lewis nearly won last year, too. Last I checked, Showtime hasn’t confirmed that Lewis is heading back to the lead category, since he was hardly in this season of Homeland. In the end, I wonder how the vehemently sour reception to Homeland’s third season will effect Lewis’ odds.


Two-time Oscar champion. Lead in a flashy, prestige show. Plays high-style camp. Pretty good. I can’t think of a reason why Kevin Spacey is in trouble for House of Cards’ second season. Helps all the more that, while his show is either hot or cold with most people, his co-star, Robin Wright, is the prohibitive frontrunner in her category. A good tape to submit, too.


While I think Steve Buscemi doesn’t have a good shot after being snubbed last year for his performance in Boardwalk Empire, there’s still no denying that Emmy voters keep watching the show. Despite being left out of the Drama Series race in 2013, it still won a ton of Emmys, including a shocking Best Supporting Actor in a Drama Series trophy for Bobby Cannavale. Never say never.


Again, much like Buscemi, Michael C. Hall may not be much of a threat, but he’s a former nominee and in his last season of eligibility for Dexter. The final season was reviled and overshadowed by the concurrent airings of Breaking Bad. Will anyone care?


Three-time Drama Actor victor James Spader managed a Golden Globe nomination and has propelled The Blacklist to NBC’s biggest success in years. The TV Academy loves him and he gets the privilege to chew the scenery for 44 minutes a week. Hugh Laurie’s 2011 nomination for House was the last network nominee in this category, but if anyone can end that drought, Spader can.


Along with the True Detective boys and James Spader, Michael Sheen is trying to break into this packed lineup for the first season of hit show. Masters of Sex aired in the fall, which typically isn’t a barrier for winning an Emmy category, but can potentially be an issue when it comes to nominations. Is he showy enough to sneak in this packed field?


Ugh. Without a year-in-advanced slam dunk submission episode, I wonder how Jeff Daniels and The Newsroom will fare. The second season was even more ignored than the first by the critics, and it aired last summer and won’t air the third and final season until this fall. Will voters care? Will voters remember? Will voters want to waste time on a cancelled show?


Many thought that Matthew Rhys would break into this lineup for the first season of The Americans, but it was not meant to be. However, as Justified proved, FX dramas tend to do better in their second season. Rhys’ clutch Critics Choice nomination put him in the spotlight, if only momentarily.

So…my predictions? Well, I’m predicting the last TWO winners of this category to be left off the final ballot (Damian Lewis and Jeff Daniels). This isn’t unprecedented: just last year in Lead Drama Actress, the Emmys snubbed eligible former winners Glenn Close (2008, 2009), Kyra Sedgwick (2010), and Julianna Margulies (2011). Despite all 6 of last year’s nominees being eligible, I’m predicting only three to return, two of which are the most stalwart and bankable actors in this category the last seven years.

Predicted Nominees, In Order Of Nomination Likelihood (NOT winning likelihood):

  1. Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
  2. Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
  3. Jon Hamm, Mad Men
  4. Kevin Spacey, House of Cards
  5. Woody Harrelson, True Detective
  6. James Spader, The Blacklist

So did I forget anyone? Where am I wrong? Speak to me, Emmy gurus!