Emmy Spotlight 2007: Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Jun 4, 2007  •  Post A Comment

Regardless of its one-episode-and-done voting process, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences tends to pay attention to an actor’s cumulative performance in a memorable role. This summer no actor is bringing a more estimable body of work to the table than “The Sopranos'” James Gandolfini, whose show will have bowed out by the time nominations are announced July 19.
This being the last chance for Academy voters to honor the groundbreaking series, industry analysts and critics agree that Mr. Gandolfini is, if not assured a win, at least a shoo-in for a nomination.
While the second half of “The Sopranos'” sixth season is in the same vein as the first half—with half the critics wondering where its trademark edge went and the other half applauding the psychological minutiae—all agree the acting has remained top-notch.
That includes Mr. Gandolfini as the increasingly embattled mob boss and patriarch Tony Soprano, who, in the season’s last seven episodes, has been exhibiting more of the sociopathic qualities that make him a likely candidate for on-camera execution.
But the fact that viewers are still so invested in the fate of the portly star is largely due to Mr. Gandolfini’s incredibly nuanced performance, for which he has already won three Emmys (2000, ’01 and ’03).
“Even if the season has been uneven, I would think that [Mr. Gandolfini’s and co-star Edie Falco’s] work has been pretty consistent,” said Bill Carroll, director of programming for Katz Television. “I don’t think anybody can not acknowledge what they’ve done and how they’ve changed the landscape.”
Likely to join Mr. Gandolfini on the ballot this year is “House’s” Hugh Laurie, the only unanimous choice for a lead acting nomination from a panel of eight TV writers compiled by TheEnvelope.com. (Mr. Gandolfini made seven of their top-five lists.)
Mr. Laurie has won the Golden Globe two years in a row for his portrayal of the acerbic and brilliant misanthrope Dr. Greg House on the Fox series, but he was missing from the final Emmy ballot last year, leaving critics wondering how a show that’s all about its lead character could be nominated for best drama without its main man being recognized.
Kiefer Sutherland, who won the Emmy last year for “24” and was nominated for a Golden Globe in January, is another favorite, although the multipronged plot of the Fox action drama’s sixth season traveled a lot of already well-trodden ground, disappointing critics and viewers.
Still, “24” gave Mr. Sutherland’s Jack Bauer his usual meaty itinerary of heroic yet morally gray tasks to perform, and the actor was planning to submit the season’s pilot, which features Bauer, just released from a torturous 20-month stay in a Chinese prison, being asked to sacrifice his life to placate yet another pack of foreign hostiles.
Although eligible, Mr. Gandolfini was not nominated for a Golden Globe this year. Neither was 2006 Emmy nominee Christopher Meloni of “Law & Order: SVU,” making way for nominees Bill Paxton as a polygamist on HBO’s “Big Love,” and Patrick Dempsey, whose “Grey’s Anatomy” won the Globe for drama series.
Neither performer is getting much Emmy buzz: Paxton, perhaps, because the newbie sheen has worn off “Big Love,” whose second season begins June 11, and Mr. Dempsey because “Grey’s Anatomy” is said to have jumped the shark midseason into soapier melodrama territory. (“Grey’s Anatomy” still finished the 2006-07 season as the second-most watched scripted show on TV.)
Also not to be overlooked are two-time Emmy winner James Spader from “Boston Legal,” two-time nominee Denis Leary of “Rescue Me,” 2002 winner Michael Chiklis of “The Shield” and 2005 nominee Ian McShane of “Deadwood,” the latter two having created iconic characters who have signed off or are doing so.
If voters decided to not pack the ballot with 21st-century warhorses, however, the Academy may make like the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and recognize “Dexter’s” Michael C. Hall, whose twisted turn as a Miami forensics expert who moonlights as a serial killer of criminals defines the term “conflicted anti-hero.”
Showtime has tended to exist in HBO’s shadow come award season, so “Dexter,” which has been renewed for a second go-round, could be the heir apparent to the short-lived “Huff,” at least in the eyes of Emmy voters. Also a possibility is Jonathan Rhys Meyers as the lascivious Henry VIII in “The Tudors.”
James Woods as Sebastian Stark, a powerhouse defense lawyer who has a change of heart and takes his win-at-all-costs M.O. to the district attorney’s office, on CBS’ “Shark” is not a performance to be ignored, either. Comparing the big-screen star’s scene-devouring performance to Mr. Laurie’s on “House,” Washington Post critic and TelevisionWeek columnist Tom Shales said the show “has Woods barking and biting at his best.”
Deserving of consideration, as well, is “Friday Night Lights'” Kyle Chandler for his understated performance as small-town high school football coach Eric Taylor. Luckily for him, Emmy voters and audiences rarely toe the same line, meaning the Academy could reward the critically adored yet little-watched freshman drama.
At a Glance
Leading Contender
James Gandolfini, “The Sopranos” (HBO)
Other Likely Nominees
Hugh Laurie, “House” (Fox)
Kiefer Sutherland, “24” (Fox)
Michael C. Hall, “Dexter” (Showtime)
James Woods, “Shark” (CBS)
Dark Horse
Kyle Chandler, “Friday Night Lights” (NBC)

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