In Depth

Crowning Achievement

Drama Guest Acting Emmys Eye Long Careers

By definition, the guest actor or actress is a heavy-hitter with outsized name recognition who adds extra firepower to a TV show. No surprise, then, that we’re looking at two drama categories that include performances by everyone from Robin Williams to Anjelica Huston, Charles Durning to Diahann Carroll.

The embarrassment of riches in this category is proof that TV is in very good shape. “The marquee is filled with outstanding stars this year, and I think it’s most reflective of the fact that TV, both broadcast and cable, is now the place to be,” said Katz TV Group VP Bill Carroll.

That makes judging the category difficult. According to Mr. Carroll, it can come down to sentiment on the part of the Emmy voters. “I think that an overall feeling comes into play,” he said. “If the performance is so different or so unusual, then I think sentiment falls behind. But most times, I have to believe it has to do with what the judges are feeling.”

Going on sentiment, said Mr. Carroll, the voters would give the Emmy to 85-year-old Mr. Durning, who did a turn as John Gavin Sr. in FX’s “Rescue Me.” “Sometimes rightly or wrongly, the award isn’t an acknowledgement of a particular performance but the actor’s overall contribution,” said Mr. Carroll. “Charlie has been doing it for a long time. Often these are as much lifetime achievement awards.”

Horizon Media Senior VP Brad Adgate has his own take on the guest actor award. “The perfect role for the perfect guest star is usually what wins,” he said, offering his educated guess: Robert Morse as Bertram Cooper in AMC’s “Mad Men.”

“A show like ‘Mad Men’ isn’t very popular in terms of viewing numbers, but you wonder if they’ll get a viewing spike because of all these Emmy nominations,” he said. “There’s certainly a lot of room for growth, and the cable networks realize they have something with potential to become a franchise show. I think ‘Mad Men’ already is for AMC. The show will become a staple on cable for the upcoming years, and the nomination is in recognition of that.”

Stanley Tucci, who played “pain-in-the-neck” Dr. Kevin Moretti in NBC’s “ER,” is the guest actor pick of Jill Rosengard Hill, senior VP at Frank N. Magid Associates. “He was hilarious,” she said. “And he was a breath of fresh air in a stale drama.”

For guest actress, our pundits were more uncertain. Mr. Carroll mentioned Ms. Carroll as Jane Burke in ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy,” as did Mr. Adgate. “But ‘Big Love’ is so different from ‘Grey’s Anatomy,’ which is so different from ‘Law & Order: SVU,’ I don’t know how you could pick,” Mr. Carroll said in exasperation.

Ms. Rosengard Hill was again sure about her pick. “Ellen Burstyn will win for ‘Big Love,’” she said. “She embodied the character and made you love her and hate her at the same time.”

Regardless of who wins in each category, the nominations tell a story about the state of the art on TV, said Mr. Carroll.

“They say the Golden Age of TV is behind us,” he said, “but I think if you look at individual performances and the average episode of a well-produced show, if this isn’t the Golden Age, it certainly aspires to it.”