Pete Hammond

We’ve tackled the hot races in Movie/Minis (Movies & Miniseries Race Is On) and Drama series (‘Mad Men’, Bad Men And A Good Wife). Now it’s time to laugh. And it is the Big Four networks who are having the last one.

Comedy is the one place the four broadcast networks reallly shine this Emmy season as they have reversed the drama series trend to cable by nabbing all six off the nomination slots for Best Comedy Series with each net represented in the category. It’s an encouraging trend upward for a format that was almost comatose on the nets just a few short seasons ago, but crafty scheduling including the continued revitalization of NBC’s once — and now future – ”Must See” Thursday night sitcoms, ABC’s major critical and growing audience smash Modern Family (which won this category in its first season last year) and CBS’ successful switch of The Big Bang Theory to compete on Thursdays means good times for the nets on Emmy night. And then there’s Fox’s Glee in there, too. We’ll get to that.

Ballots are due back Friday, Aug. 26, from the select group of Television Academy members voting in this and the other major comedy categories. Here’s a primer for all of you and anyone else trying to figure out where these races are headed.

Best Comedy Series

Despite Steve Carell’s much-talked-about swan song on The Office and the first ever nod in this category for The Big Bang Theory, this grouping is probably the easiest of all the major programs to call. Last year’s champ, Modern Family leads the field with a whopping 17 nominations and certainly didn’t lose any of its creative mojo this season. And since its win at the Emmys for its debut season it has swept all the major guild prizes including SAG, DGA, PGA and WGA, stumbling only at last January’s Golden Globes where Glee was victorious. Let’s face it, this race is Modern Family’s to lose. It is on a roll. Producer 20th Century Fox television probably knows this but publicly is once again running an even-handed campaign between its two darlings in the lineup here, the other obviously being Glee.

Of course, the Fox Network, which is airing the Emmys this year with Glee co-star Jane Lynch as host, is hoping for a different result and earlier this week even dragged out cast members again for another live concert event aimed at TV Academy members in Santa Monica, an advantage their show has over Modern Family, which likely does not have an ensemble of such accomplished singers. But unfortunately just as voting was getting underway the film division of Fox released what is essentially a slickly produced (but entertaining) 80-minute Gleekfomercial for the show, Glee The 3D Concert Movie. The resounding thud you heard was at the boxoffice (despite an “A” Cinemascore rating), a flop that may have tarnished the cool image of the series which has also been battling critics and some viewers complaining the show was uneven last season. Apparently Glee will return to its roots next season, but it may be too little, too late for this year’s Emmy contest.  True, creator Ryan Murphy upset the Modern Family applecart by picking off the Best Director of a Comedy Series Emmy last year, but in another ominous sign for the show’s chances, this time there were no nominations in key writing, directing and lead acting categories. It may be that Glee, despite sterling production values and flashes of brilliance, is too much a hybrid to compete fairly against the five more traditional sitcoms it finds itself sharing this category. Golden Globe aside, it’s a bit of a long shot here.

So who has the best chance to pull off an upset? The much-awarded  30 Rock’s prime Emmy time is probably behind it, and first-timer Parks and Recreation should be happy to have the nomination. With the Steve Carell finale, The Office could be ripe to pull off a stunner, but it won in 2006 and not since. Its best chance may be in the lead actor and writing categories, where Carell’s departure episode could get its due. The wild card here is The Big Bang Theory, a popular favorite that grabbed a Lead Actor Emmy last year for co-star Jim Parsons and finds itself finally nominated in the series category, too. A Chuck Lorre show has never won, and there may be what amounts to a sympathy vote for what he had to endure with Charlie Sheen on Two and a Half Men – but don’t count on it.

Acting  in a Comedy Series

For Lead Actor, the smart money seems to be on six-time nominee Carell for his last round on The Office. In this case, go with the smart money. None of the competition has an episode like that one. Alec Baldwin in 30 Rock won twice, before losing last year to Big Bang’s Parsons. He’s unlikely to reverse the trend. Parsons could pull off a two-peat, but co-star Johnny Galecki grabbed his first nod in the category this year and they could cancel each other out. Louis C.K. for FX’s Louie is an interesting contender, coarsely funny and non-PC, but probably stands a better chance of cashing in on one his multiple nominations in the variety specials area.

This leaves comebacker Matt LeBlanc of the Showtime series Episodes, who has received his fourth Emmy nomination (the previous three for Friends) and is perfectly cast in this show which, alas, aired only six episodes in its debut season. The triumph, though, is that he still managed to land a spot in this category, a tip of the hat to the deceptively difficult job of playing himself, or at least a fictional version of himself, which is no easy trick. Carell is likely to get it, but LeBlanc would be an interesting choice.

In the Lead Actress category, Laura Linney is where you want to put your money just based on her track record of turning all three of her previous nominations for three different projects into gold. That’s right, she’s three for three and going for a quartet with a much-lauded role in the cancer “comedy” The Big C. Is there anyone who can put a curse on her? Martha Plimpton is fun in Fox’s Raising Hope, but a real long shot in her first season. Edie Falco won last year for the dramedy Nurse Jackie and is obviously an Emmy fave, having racked up a lot of them for The Sopranos as well, but voters might think it is someone else’s turn. Maybe Amy Poehler, with her second nod for the ever-growing-in-stature-and-critically-applauded Parks and Recreation? Yes, maybe. Her former SNL cohort Tina Fey has certainly proved that Emmy voters respond to SNL vets in this category and is competing again with Amy, but doesn’t she have enough of these statuettes??? Best bet to upset to Linney in this intriguing race is possibly Melissa McCarthy of Mike and Molly. As one of those chosen to announce this year’s nominees, her genuine shock at being nominated was charming, she’s a sitcom natural on the freshman show, and she stole the hit summer movie Bridesmaids, showing remarkable versatility. Hmmm. Linney? Poehler? McCarthy? This one could be a squeaker.

Unlike in the lead categories, the supporting races may see the exact same thing as last year when actors from two brand new shows took the gold, Modern Family’s Eric Stonestreet and Glee’s Jane Lynch. The latter is hosting this year, giving her extra visibility, and Stonestreet gets more laughs than his three male co-stars, who are all nominated against him, so its possible Emmy’s actors branch will want to retain the status quo. If not, then who?

For Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, 2009 winner Jon Cryer survived the Charlie Sheen meltdown and his show’s temporary demise to somehow stay in Emmy’s heart, perhaps as much a tribute to his consistently terrific work as a tip-of-the-hat to keeping his dignity intact. It’s not out of the question that Emmy voters will want to see his acceptance speech even though the quality of the performance may have been buried by the Sheen circus that came to town over at CBS and Warner Bros. Glee’s Chris Colfer is back in the pack for a second year and won a Golden Globe, giving a great speech. Even though they shipped his character off to another school, he stood tall as a gay icon and role model and carried a number of highly dramatic moments like a seasoned pro (Oh wait! This is a comedy category, right?) Common wisdom would then say the four Mod men might cancel each other out, but that didn’t happen last year when Stonestreet prevailed over Jesse Tyler Ferguson and Ty Burrell. This year, finally Ed O’Neill landed a deserved nomination and he could get it not only for his role on the show but also for his long TV career. Still, Stonestreet tends to dominate, and this category has a history of handing the Emmy to the Jane Lynchsame guy over and over (John Larroquette and Don Knotts come to mind).

For Best Supporting Actress, Lynch faces the same Modern Family competitors as last year in Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara and is likely to surpass them again. Emmy loves her funny ladies, and Lynch is as funny as it gets when she’s on game and has the right script. Jane Krakowski is back from 30 Rock, and Kristen Wiig is back from Saturday Night Live, but they aren’t likely to change their luck. That leaves Hot in Cleveland’s Betty White, a seven-time winner including for her SNL guest-hosting gig last year and winner of a SAG award for Cleveland this year. She’s obviously Hot, and was just voted the most trusted celebrity in America right smack in the middle of the Emmy voting period. At nearly 90, she’s still going strong and is the safest bet to keep Lynch offstage when this winner is announced.

Awards Columnist Pete Hammond - tip him here.