As regional manager of the Scranton, Pa., office of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Co., the management skills displayed by Steve Carell's Michael Scott are sorely lacking, often resulting in his paying more attention to his and the staff's personal lives than to the work at "The Office."
But Mr. Carell's comedic acting ability is not in question. For the second year he's nominated as lead actor in a comedy series, competing against Alec Baldwin, Tony Shalhoub, Ricky Gervais and Charlie Sheen.
"Steve is the star of the show, no question," said co-star Rainn Wilson, nominated for his supporting role as Dwight Schrute on the comedy. "He drives every episode; he's really the most brilliant actor I've ever worked with. I don't know how he does what he does. It's like watching mercury. He's such a brilliant improviser. Everyone has worked for a boss that's an idiot but thinks they're the greatest boss in the world. It starts with that, but you start to feel for him."
Executive producer Greg Daniels, who adapted the series for U.S. audiences in 2005 from the British show of the same name, said the decency that shines through Mr. Carell's humor has become more evident as the show has evolved.
"After a year or so we were able to take advantage of his personality, and that's largely why the show started to go into this direction," Mr. Daniels said. "After 'The 40 Year Old Virgin,' we saw him as a romantic lead and well-meaning. Previously the boss character was a character study in what not to be. After the film, we saw ways he could be funny but also more of how he could be in a relationship -- the personal and not just the business side. There's so much subtlety in his face. We reminisce about it, like, 'That's the face he made in the Christmas episode.' He just has a million expressions."
Tony Shalhoub's portrayal of Adrian Monk on USA Network's "Monk" seems to have nearly a million neuroses. Yet warts and all, he has endeared himself to ATAS voters, who voted him the Emmy Award in 2003, 2005 and 2006.
"Emmy loves him, and they should. It's a wonderful character, and he's one for the ages, as long as people are watching TV. He's like Columbo. You're always going to remember him," said United Feature Syndicate TV critic Kevin McDonough.
For Charlie Sheen, this is the second consecutive year he has been nomined for his performance as bachelor Charlie Harper on CBS' "Two and a Half Men."
"There's an innate charm and elegance to everything Charlie does as an actor that allows him to play decadent and self-obsessed, but you still love him," exec producer Chuck Lorre said. "There's a little wish fulfillment, in that he's the guy every guy wishes he could be. Charlie's almost a magical character in a way, but we punish him mercilessly for enjoying life."
On NBC's "30 Rock," Alec Baldwin's meddling network executive Jack Donaghy enjoys the finer things in life -- and imposing his opinion whenever he can. Earlier this year Mr. Baldwin earned both Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards for his work on the show.
"Jack is a really interesting character who is as three-dimensional as you would ever want," said executive producer and co-star Tina Fey. "We wanted him to be obnoxious but often right. He's a success-driven guy who likes the finest of everything, and compared to Liz, he's significantly more knowledgeable about what's going on in the world, with a more complicated worldview. Yet he takes us to a place of vulnerability with his compulsive eating or while talking to his mother. It's fun watching the mother crumble him."
For Ricky Gervais' character Andy Millman in "Extras," the tagline is, "Never forgets his lines because he never gets any." But Mr. Gervais does get recognition, scoring nominations for writing and directing the HBO comedy as well as his acting nod.
"He takes so much comedic abuse for the great gag," Mr. McDonough said. "There's a scene in which David Bowie rips him to shreds that's one of the funniest, most unique and unexpected of the year. He's almost a masochist. It takes a great amount of talent to be the foil of comic abuse."
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