LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Every year, critics bemoan the fact that the best examples of quality television are trampled beneath the boots of shows watched by the masses.
It's an annual struggle of highbrow expectations versus perceived lowbrow mass media, with the winners determined in just one night -- during the Primetime Emmy Awards on September 21. Nominations will be announced on Thursday.
But this year, critics are optimistic, noting that the Hollywood writers strike sidelined many series and gave some lesser-watched programming (translation: HBO's "The Wire," AMC's "Mad Men") a wider audience -- perhaps comprised of key Emmy voters.
The Hollywood Reporter ventured into the war zone, tracking down TV critics for their Emmy prognostications. There was a profound cynicism about the TV academy and its voters, but also plenty of passionate belief that this year, things might be different.
Drama series pick: "Dexter" (Showtime)
"The academy tends to pick the same shows over and over again. I would love to see them start spreading it around, but I am not going to hold my breath. I hope that 'Dexter' gets nominated. Maybe now that it (was) on CBS (to fill a programming gap caused by the writers strike), people will be more aware of it. I think that it is a really unusual show that tackles very difficult subjects very sensitively."
Comedy series picks: "The Office" and "30 Rock" (NBC)
"Comedy is a weird thing this year because there was not that much of it. It will be interesting to see if the standard studio half-hours are able to break in at all. 'The Office' and '30 Rock' are exactly the kinds of shows that the Emmys are now recognizing in comedy. It is interesting that there is a real split there between the audience and the academy, because the ratings for those shows are not that great compared to CBS' Monday night lineup, which is standard studio audience comedies."
Lead drama series actor/actress picks: Michael C. Hall ("Dexter," Showtime), Bryan Cranston ("Breaking Bad," AMC), Glenn Close ("Damages," FX)
"Michael C. Hall in 'Dexter' because I really feel like he was overlooked last year for the amazing work he did. I thought Bryan Cranston's performance was unbelievably great. I would be stunned if Glenn Close is not nominated. It's her show and she is a movie star, so obviously she is going to be nominated."
ED BARK -- WRITER, UNCLEBARKY.COM; FORMER TV CRITIC AT THE
Drama series picks: "Pushing Daisies" and "Lost" (ABC), "Friday Night Lights" (NBC)
"Among the new series, 'Pushing Daisies,' if it's entered as a drama, will likely get nominated. Hopefully, the beneficiary of this lackluster year will be 'Lost,' which has really been overlooked by the academy. This season has really delivered, especially since the show has come back after the strike. 'Friday Night Lights' absolutely, positively should be nominated. There is long-overdue recognition for that series."
Lead comedy series actor/actress picks: Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton ("Back to You," Fox), Patrick Warburton ("Rules of Engagement," CBS), Christina Applegate ("Samantha Who?" ABC)
"Kelsey Grammer and Patricia Heaton will get nominated. Christina Applegate's performance in 'Samantha Who?' is the best of this season in terms of comedy. Patrick Warburton also deserves a nomination for what he brings to that show. He makes the whole sitcom."
Lead drama series actor/actress picks: Damian Lewis ("Life," NBC), Clark Johnson ("The Wire," HBO), Michael Emerson ("Lost," ABC), Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights," NBC)
"Damian Lewis is really terrific in 'Life.' Clark Johnson on 'The Wire' deserves a nomination. Michael Emerson has really been extremely important this season and carried that show. His character is still very mysterious and really has a lot of screen time and presence this year. In terms of women, Connie Britton from 'Friday Night Lights' definitely would have my vote as best actress in a drama series."
Miniseries pick: "John Adams" (HBO)
"It is such a worthless category because the networks don't do them anymore. 'John Adams' should be a no-brainer."
DAVID KRONKE -- DAILY TV NEWS CRITIC, THE LOS ANGELES DAILY
Drama series picks: "Mad Men" (AMC), "Lost" (ABC), "The Closer" (TNT)
"After the acclaim it has received this past year and the Golden Globe Award (no matter how diluted it was this year), the TV academy will look pretty ridiculous if 'Mad Men' isn't nominated. But of course it won't win, because basic-cable dramas never get much love from the academy. 'Lost' will probably re-enter the academy's radar, as the show regained some urgency this truncated season. And given that 'The Closer' has become such a phenomenon, it might break through with a nomination, thereby proving my rule about the basic-cable prejudice by violating it, but only because it's a show that'd be perfectly at home on one of the Big Four."
Comedy series picks: "The Office" and "30 Rock" (NBC), "Two and a Half Men" (CBS), "Samantha Who?" (ABC)
"'The Office,' '30 Rock' and 'Two and a Half Men' are all gimmes. And then, whatever voters really find funny -- and time has proven their sense of humor rarely skews with mine. They won't find (FX's) 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' funny, though I do. Maybe 'Samantha Who?' glomming off Christina Applegate's hilarious performances. The academy would earn so many credibility points if they nominated (HBO's) 'Flight of the Conchords,' and for that reason alone, they won't. But that show pretty much was the funniest on TV last year."
Drama series picks: "The Wire" (HBO), "Lost" (ABC), "Mad Men" (AMC), "House" (Fox)
"Surely the show that deserves it is 'The Wire.' If it doesn't get nominated it will show how absolutely out of touch the academy is and how bad the process is. 'Lost' is just roaring this year. It's got great publicity, and every episode has been terrific. 'Mad Men' will get nominated. It's a show that really does stand out and did something so visually unique; it seems that that can't escape Emmy voters. 'House' continues to be tremendously amusing, which makes it an easy nomination for someone who hasn't seen the show and is just looking at a few episodes."
Comedy series picks: "The Office" and "30 Rock" (NBC), "Breaking Bad" (AMC), "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO), "Two and a Half Men" (CBS), "Weeds" (Showtime)
"Comedy is tougher because this is the era of great dramas, and comedies are iffy. The two obvious choices are '30 Rock' and 'The Office.' I could see 'Breaking Bad' getting a nod in the comedy category. 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' is always a contender for all kinds of reasons. 'Two and a Half Men' is probably going to get nominated. It is a big, broad comedy, which is the kind of thing the academy seems to respond to. The one I would throw in there that ought to be nominated is 'Weeds."'
Lead drama series actress picks: Glenn Close ("Damages," FX), Holly Hunter ("Saving Grace," TNT), Connie Britton ("Friday Night Lights," NBC)
"For actresses this is really interesting because it's a big-name group this year. You have got to include Glenn Close and Holly Hunter, who I think are both Emmy-worthy. I loved Connie Britton; she is so good. It's an odd year because in some ways there are more obvious women (nominees) than there are men."
Lead comedy series actress picks: Mary-Louise Parker ("Weeds," Showtime), Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("The New Adventures of Old Christine," CBS)
"Mary-Louise Parker from 'Weeds' is good and Julia Louis-Dreyfus is charming. With anyone else cast in that part it just wouldn't be a good show, and she makes it hers."
Drama series picks: "Mad Men" (AMC), "The Wire" (HBO), "Lost" (ABC)
"It would be criminal and malpractice if both 'Mad Men' and 'The Wire' weren't in the list of nominees and if one or the other didn't win. The only broadcast show that would even deserve to be nominated would be (ABC's) 'Lost' because it has done some really daring storytelling this year."
Comedy series picks: "Weeds" and "Californication" (Showtime), "The Office" and "30 Rock" (NBC)
"Both 'Weeds' and 'Californication' were daring, good shows that had a dependable tone and an absurd but very human and realistic outlook. I laughed out loud as much during those shows as I did on the only two scripted broadcast comedies I think that you can include, which would be '30 Rock' and 'The Office."'
Lead comedy series actor/actress picks: Steve Carell ("The Office," NBC), Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey ("30 Rock," NBC)
"Steve Carell is brilliant and unstoppably funny. Alec Baldwin is just a continuing delight in that role, which must be very difficult for network executives to watch. Tina Fey is a really underrated comic actress. She is as funny as anybody on television."
Lead drama series actor picks: Jon Hamm ("Mad Men," AMC), Clark Johnson ("The Wire," HBO)
"Jon Hamm gave a very consistent performance in 'Mad Men' and delivered just some incredible moments in that show. The whole show was able to access a moment in time so accurately and with incredible fidelity, and I think his performance had an awful lot to do with that. The actors on 'The Wire' are a little trickier because it is such an ensemble. I would love it if Clark Johnson got two nominations for his role as the city editor; he just occupied that guy so fully."