In Depth

New Guy Takes on Veterans

Pace Is Fresh Face in Comedy Actor Race, But Voters May Stick With Longer-Running Series

Lee Pace plays a character with magical powers of life and death on ABC’s “Pushing Daisies,” and he has conjured up an Emmy nomination as lead actor in a comedy series.

Mr. Pace, star of the freshman program, is the only Emmy newcomer in the group, which includes three-time winner Tony Shalhoub of “Monk,” “30 Rock’s” Alec Baldwin, Charlie Sheen of “Two and a Half Men” and Steve Carell of “The Office.”

All four veteran actors were nominated in the category last year, when Ricky Gervais won the Emmy for “Extras.”

Mr. Pace at first turned down the part of Ned, the pie shop owner who can revive the dead with one touch, simply because he wanted to focus on film rather than television. “I loved the script and thought it was a really special and unique character,” said Mr. Pace.

He had previously worked with co-creator Bryan Fuller on the short-lived 2004 Fox series “Wonderfalls.” When he asked Mr. Fuller who was going to be cast in the lead, Mr. Pace was told it was actually written for him.

“There’s the power Ned has, and another big part is he’s a good guy at heart, but he has a lot of problems,” Mr. Pace said of his character, whose touch also can return people to the un-living. “The formative experiences he had as a child give him other difficulties connecting with people. He wants life to be safe, but he gets pulled outside his comfort zone and has to struggle to get everything back in place or get comfortable. As an actor, it always gives me something to do.”

As the charming, brilliant yet annoyingly neurotic San Francisco detective Adrian Monk, Mr. Shalhoub is clearly the object of great affection and admiration by Emmy voters; he has taken home the statuette for his role in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

“Monk” premiered on USA in 2002, and the title character has suffered from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder and a variety of phobias in the wake of his wife’s murder in a car bombing, which Mr. Monk believes was intended to kill him. His subsequent nervous breakdown forced him to leave the San Francisco police force and work as a for-hire detective and crime consultant. The series began its seventh season last month on USA.

“I’m absolutely thrilled and honored to be nominated. It’s very exciting,” Mr. Shalhoub told TelevisionWeek at an event celebrating “Monk’s” 100th episode. “But I think it’s Alec Baldwin’s year.”

Mr. Baldwin’s nomination as meddling network executive Jack Donaghy on NBC’s “30 Rock” is one of 17 nods the sitcom received, and his second for the role, for which he won both a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors Guild Award in 2007.

Mr. Baldwin first met creator and co-star Tina Fey on one of his many outings hosting “Saturday Night Live,” material that is mined for the program, set around a fictional sketch comedy show featuring Tracy Morgan, another “SNL” alum.

Mr. Sheen received his third nomination as lead actor in a comedy series for playing bachelor Charlie Harper on “Two and a Half Men,” the popular CBS half-hour sitcom revolving around a self-centered bachelor living in a Malibu beach house with his brother and young nephew, who crimp his style with the ladies.

“I get to watch his work every day, and there’s an enormous amount of craft behind every choice he makes on camera. What’s amazing is it’s invisible to the audience and looks effortless,” executive producer Chuck Lorre said of Mr. Sheen.

“In anyone else’s hands, the character would be despicable. There’s a charm and sweetness to [Mr. Sheen], and he’s very much a team player on the show—it comes across and it rescues his character from being slimy. A drunken womanizer is a dangerous character, but Charlie makes it hilarious. The obsession, the narcissism—he makes it all play, and that’s a testament to great acting,” Mr. Lorre added.

Mr. Carell also scored his third Emmy nomination this year as lead comedy actor for his performance as Michael Scott, the regional manager of the Scranton, Pa., office of the Dunder-Mifflin Paper Company and a poster child for questionable management skills, on NBC’s “The Office.”

“He deserves to win, as he’s been doing brilliant work from the first season and getting even better,” said executive producer Greg Daniels, who adapted the series for U.S. television in 2005 from the U.K. program of the same name with creators Stephen Merchant and Mr. Gervais. “It’s an enormous range in the same episode for him to be completely deluded, and then turn on a dime and be so human, to go from being insensitive to vulnerable—and every possible flavor in between with touches that add so much to it.”