By Robert Bianco, USA TODAY
The official TV season is over, the campaigns for Emmy nominations are afoot, and the ballots have now electronically landed on academy voters' computers. But why should those busy voters struggle to fill them out all by themselves when help is available? USA TODAY's Robert Bianco offers his ideal ballot ? his advice on whom those voters should nominate for the Sept. 18 awards.
Boardwalk Empire (CBS)
The Good Wife (NBC)
The Killing (ABC)
Mad Men (ABC)
True Blood (Fox)
With Breaking Bad ineligible and Lost departed, two certain spots are now open from last year's list ? three, if voters agree it's time to replace Dexter with a new choice. One of those choices should be, and is almost certain to be, HBO's Boardwalk Empire, joining current champ Mad Man, a surging True Blood and the best broadcast hope, The Good Wife.
If there's any justice, one of the two remaining slots will go to Justified, which had as good a season as any show on TV. Had the ballots gone out in April, the final slot would almost certainly have been filled by The Killing (and still probably will be), but the show has faced blowback from those who feel the pace is too slow and the herrings too red. I wouldn't mind Fringe instead, but Treme, Men of a Certain Age, The Walking Dead, Rescue Me or Friday Night Lights is also acceptable.
The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Modern Family (ABC)
The Middle (ABC)
Others will no doubt advise voters to choose NBC's Parks and Recreation, The Office and 30 Rock. Ignore them. Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, Community, Episodes and The Middle had far better seasons and would make far better nominees.
The wild card is Glee. Its high notes rank with some of the season's best ? but those high notes this season were infrequent and too randomly dispersed. It earns a pass here on those best moments alone.
But anyone who thinks the nomination should represent the best body of work rather than a few choice episodes can consider Cougar Town, Nurse Jackie, Raising Hope or, if the pull of tradition is just too strong to resist, 30 Rock.
Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock (NBC)
Steve Carell, The Office (NBC)
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes (Showtime)
Joel McHale, Community (NBC)
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Matthew Perry, Mr. Sunshine (ABC)
Nothing says "nominate me" like leaving, so Carell is a lock to be nominated (and a strong contender to win), as are past winners Parsons and Baldwin. Friends co-stars LeBlanc and Perry should return to this category for equally good performances in very different roles, and McHale should join them for his under-appreciated work in an under-acknowledged show. It's time for Community to break through, and McHale can lead the way.
That leaves out two equally deserving actors: Neil Flynn (The Middle) and Johnny Galecki (Big Bang). It also skips Glee's Matthew Morrison, a nominee last year. But, like Hugh Laurie, he was a victim of inconsistent and sometimes contradictory writing. Actors benefit when scripts are very good and suffer when they're not.
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Patricia Heaton, The Middle (ABC)
Laura Linney, The Big C (Showtime)
Martha Plimpton, Raising Hope (Fox)
Courteney Cox, Cougar Town (ABC)
Kaley Cuoco, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
When the actual list is announced, five nominees from last year ? Tina Fey (30 Rock), Amy Poehler (Parks and Rec), Toni Collette (United States of Tara), Lea Michele (Glee) and Falco ? will almost certainly be on it. That will leave room for only one new nominee, who will most likely be Linney ? because she was good, and because it was the kind of over-the-top, big-name performance voters find hard to resist.
Still, with so much terrific work being done out there, isn't it time to spread the wealth? Count Falco and Linney as indispensable, and that still leaves room for Heaton, Plimpton, Cox and Cuoco ? or maybe even Brooke Elliott (Drop Dead Diva) or Melissa McCarthy (Mike & Molly). And that way, voters would avoid another round of complaints about the votes going by rote.
Steve Buscemi, Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
Kyle Chandler, Friday Night Lights (DirecTV)
Jon Hamm, Mad Men (AMC)
Michael Imperioli, Detroit 1-8-7 (ABC)
Denis Leary, Rescue Me (FX)
Timothy Olyphant, Justified (FX)
Male-driven dramas dominate the landscape, which makes this tough to narrow down. Hamm and Buscemi are obvious picks, as is Olyphant if voters give Justified its due. Imperioli not only deserves the nod, he also gives the voters a chance to recognize a show that wasn't given the chance it deserved. Chandler continues to give a terrific, understated performance in Lights, and Leary is just as terrific (if not exactly understated) in Rescue Me. But I won't argue with Simon Baker (The Mentalist), Nathan Fillion (Castle), Ray Romano (Certain Age), Jeremy Irons (The Borgias), Donal Logue (Terriers), Stephen Moyer (True Blood), Tom Selleck (Blue Bloods) or Michael C. Hall (Dexter). That ignores Laurie, but, as talented as he is, his House has earned an Emmy timeout.
Connie Britton, Friday Night Lights (DirecTV)
Mireille Enos, The Killing (AMC)
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife (CBS)
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men (AMC)
Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer (TNT)
Anna Torv, Fringe (Fox)
Margulies, Sedgwick and Britton should retain their spots from last year. But otherwise, it's an open field, as Glenn Close is out because Damages didn't air this season, January Jones (who submitted here again instead of in the more appropriate supporting category) is misplaced, and Mariska Hargitay really has occupied a space for long enough.
Unlike Jones, Moss did register strongly enough to count as a lead. And whatever one thinks of The Killing, Enos has been wonderful in it. Torv finally got a chance to show some range in a dual-role season, but that last slot could go instead to Kathy Bates (Harry's Law), Dana Delany (Body of Proof), Lauren Graham (Parenthood), Stana Katic (Castle), Anna Paquin (True Blood) or Ellen Pompeo (Grey's Anatomy).
SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA
Andre Braugher, Men of a Certain Age (TNT)
Alan Cumming, The Good Wife (CBS)
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones (HBO)
Walton Goggins, Justified (FX)
John Noble, Fringe (Fox)
Michael Kenneth Williams, Boardwalk Empire (HBO)
For two years, we've been begging voters to notice Noble, and for two years, they haven't. Maybe the third time is a charm, particularly since this season he played not just one role brilliantly, but two.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA
Khandi Alexander, Treme (HBO)
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife (CBS)
Michelle Forbes, The Killing (AMC)
Margo Martindale, Justified (FX)
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men (AMC)
Archie Panjabi, The Good Wife (CBS)
Every year, one actor emerges as an "are voters actually watching?" test case, and this year, it's Martindale. Nominate her, and all will be well. Ignore her, and we may have to post pickets at academy headquarters.
SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY
Ty Burrell, Modern Family (ABC)
Chris Colfer, Glee (Fox)
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family (ABC)
Ed O'Neill, Modern Family (ABC)
Eric Stonestreet, Modern Family (ABC)
Danny Pudi, Community (NBC)
Talk about a category that could use more slots. You could easily nominate twice as many actors and still feel you'd left out someone worthy. Just please, don't make the same mistake as last year and leave out O'Neill. He's essential on that show.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY
Julie Bowen, Modern Family (ABC)
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family (ABC)
Eden Sher, The Middle (ABC)
Merritt Wever, Nurse Jackie (Showtime)
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory (CBS)
Tamsin Greig, Episodes (Showtime)
Skipping someone as fabulous as Glee's Jane Lynch may be as unfair as it is unlikely. But even more than Morrison, she was the victim of some of the show's ? and the season's ? worst writing. There should be a cost for that, even if it hurts to make Lynch pay it.
BEST MOVIE OR MINISERIES
Downton Abbey (PBS)
Luther (BBC America)
The Sunset Limited (HBO)
Upstairs Downstairs (PBS)
Unable to fill separate categories, the academy combined movies and minis, and may still have trouble filling six slots. The solid choices are Downton, Luther, Sunset, Sherlock and (less solidly) Upstairs. Past that, go with Sundance Channel's Carlos if you consider it a TV movie and not a film moved to TV (as some do), or substitute HBO's Too Big to Fail.
ACTOR, MOVIE OR MINISERIES
Hugh Bonneville, Downton Abbey (PBS)
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock (PBS)
Idris Elba, Luther (BBC America)
Tommy Lee Jones, The Sunset Limited (HBO)
Samuel L. Jackson, The Sunset Limited (HBO)
There are only five slots available in the movie/mini acting categories. You can give one to Carlos' Edgar Ramirez if you like, but not at the expense of Cumberbatch. No one gave a more entertaining movie performance all year.
ACTRESS, MOVIE OR MINISERIES
Jean Marsh, Upstairs Downstairs (PBS)
Elizabeth McGovern, Downton Abbey (PBS)
Kate Winslet, Mildred Pierce (HBO)
Keeley Hawes, Upstairs Downstairs (PBS)
Diane Lane, CinemaVerite (HBO)
Winslet will, and should, be nominated despite being wrong for the role. But we can worry about that when it comes to picking a winner.
SUPPORTING ACTOR, MOVIE OR MINISERIES
Brendan Coyle, Downton Abbey (PBS)
Billy Crudup, Too Big to Fail (HBO)
Martin Freeman, Sherlock (PBS)
James Gandolfini, CinemaVerite (HBO)
Guy Pearce, Mildred Pierce (HBO)
If you're looking for substitutes, look at Adrian Scarborough from Upstairs Downstairs or any of the hordes of actors from Too Big to Fail.
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, MOVIE OR MINISERIES
Eileen Atkins, Upstairs Downstairs (PBS)
Melissa Leo, Mildred Pierce (HBO)
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey (PBS)
Ruth Wilson, Luther (BBC America)
Evan Rachel Wood, Mildred Pierce (HBO)
A category with Eileen Atkins and Maggie Smith? How tough, and how much fun, will that be come September?