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Comedy's Supporting Actresses Take Emmys to the Extreme

The Good, Bad and Well-Dressed

Vanessa Williams at first turned down the juicy and beautifully costumed role of Wilhelmina Slater on ABC's "Ugly Betty." Her father had recently died, and she was focused on her children at four different schools in New York. But she got an urgent late-night phone call from the series' producers the night before the pilot was slated to shoot. They insisted they had to have her on the show, and the next morning she was being fitted in the wardrobe trailer with esteemed costumer Patricia Field.

Now Ms. Williams is nominated for an Emmy Award as supporting actress, in the company of Jaime Pressly, Jenna Fischer, Conchata Ferrell, Holland Taylor and Elizabeth Perkins.

"I enjoy the way the writers write for Wilhelmina, and it was very clear to me where to take her and what to do with her," Ms. Williams said. "She's extremely driven and basically won't take no for an answer. She's extremely sly and cunning, very talented and deserving of the position she's striving for, to run the magazine. She knows it better than anyone. My favorite scenes are with Michael Urie [as her assistant, Marc]. From the very beginning it set up a relationship that was very co-dependent but very clear who was in power. There are a lot of subtle dynamics, and the writers continue to explore that."

Judith Light, who is nominated as guest actress for her turn as Daniel Meade's mother, Claire, on "Ugly Betty," is among Ms. Williams' fans. "We just did a scene together and it's a joy," Ms. Light said. "She's so talented. There's no prima donna aspect. She's gorgeous inside and out."

On NBC's "The Office," Jenna Fischer's nomination for her performance as receptionist Pam Beesly was no surprise to executive producer Greg Daniels.

"In the last 10 seconds of the season finale, Jenna was so luminous that everybody who saw it identified that as an Emmy moment," Mr. Daniels said. "As Pam, she doesn't have a lot of self-confidence and yet she's very lovely and funny. It's kind of a nerd's fantasy of this wonderful girl-next-door who doesn't know how wonderful she is. People get very bonded to her."

"I think Jenna has in a lot of ways the hardest role on the show because she is so gorgeous and funny, yet so all-American that everyone can identify with her," said Rainn Wilson, a supporting actor nominee. "She is Jennifer from suburban St. Louis, and she creates a character that is so completely identifiable, you could go to any office and find a Pam with a great sense of humor that's waiting to come out. She walks all those lines so deftly."

"Two and a Half Men's" supporting women, Holland Taylor and Conchata Ferrell, both picked up nominations for the CBS sitcom.

"Holland plays an unbelievably toxic character who torments children and is self-obsessed beyond anyone's ability to comprehend, and yet she makes you love the character," executive producer Chuck Lorre said. "When she crosses into a scene, you can feel the live audience respond with, 'Oh good, something good's going to happen.' It's an innate quality that comes through that allows you to laugh at narcissism beyond belief.

"Conchata is a gift from God," Mr. Lorre said. "She started as a guest, but it was so obvious immediately that we couldn't let her leave because she provided us with a whole other take on these characters. It's just like watching a great athlete; you know she's going to hit it. It's going to be executed above and beyond."

Elizabeth Perkins has said playing Celia Hodes on Showtime's "Weeds" is the favorite role of her career, because it's so different from anything else she has done, playing a recreational alcoholic who explores her dark side.

"Elizabeth's character is everything we don't want to believe we are but are -- selfish, jealous and blunt -- even as we'd like to believe we're all angels," said executive producer Roberto Benabib. "When we see a character like Celia who doesn't pretend to be an angel, we relate and laugh about it. She is a woman who's trying to reach out to people and doesn't know how, and that's incredibly relatable to the audience."

This year marks Jaime Pressly's second consecutive nomination for her role as Joy Turner, the title character's ex-wife on NBC's "My Name Is Earl."

"She's unbelievable, a tornado," said Kevin McDonough, United Feature Syndicate's TV critic. "I think that show allows almost cartoonlike characters to bring in human elements that are very surprising. It's a very deep and spiritual show, yet she says things that, five years ago, you couldn't get away with on network television. She's amazing. I love her."

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