After winning this category three of the last four years, Tony Shalhoub ("Monk," USA) may prevail again thanks to an episode of special interest to his peers serving as Emmy judges. In "Mr. Monk and the Actor," Shalhoub teams with Stanley Tucci, who plans to portray Monk in a movie, and the cross-character interplay is a real winner.
But Golden Globe champ Alec Baldwin ("30 Rock," NBC) is the TV comedy actor reaping the most media attention lately (ahem). He counters his public huffy image by appearing humble and vulnerable in a hospital bed in his Emmy episode, "Hiatus."
Third likely nominee — and possible winner — is Steve Carell ("The Office," NBC), who made the final five last year with a truly lame episode about his broken foot. This year, he kicks it up a notch in "Business School." Two of last year's nominees may return — Charlie Sheen ("Two and a Half Men," CBS) and Kevin James ("The King of Queens," CBS) — but Emmy voters can sometimes be snobbish and penalize such shows they see as slapstick sitcoms. James counters by giving judges Part 1 of the series finale in which he seriously ponders the possible bust-up of his marriage.
Four other actors who could make the top 10 runoff also have strong episodes for the judges to view. Ricky Gervais inadvertently gets cast as a gay love interest in a play directed by Ian McKellen on "Extras" (HBO).
In "My Musical," Zach Braff (a 2005 nominee) shows off more than his acting chops on "Scrubs" (NBC).
Jason Lee was snubbed last year even though "My Name Is Earl" (NBC) won for writing and directing. This year, his acting talent soars as he plays the fall guy for his ex-wife in "The Trial."
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Adrian Grenier dodges disasters to emerge as Hollywood's biggest film star in "One Day in the Valley" on "Entourage" (HBO).
Having won three Emmys for supporting work on "Everybody Loves Raymond" (CBS), Brad Garrett might be recognized for his new lead role as a henpecked husband on " 'Til Death," which was just renewed by Fox.
Other contenders: Kevin Connolly ("Entourage," HBO), Louis C.K. ("Lucky Louie," HBO), George Lopez ("George Lopez," ABC), Tracy Morgan ("30 Rock," NBC), Josh Radnor ("How I Met Your Mother," CBS), James Roday ("Psych," USA), James Tupper, ("Men in Trees," ABC), and Tyler James Williams ("Everybody Hates Chris," CW).
"Ugly Betty" (ABC) is sitting pretty at the Emmys. After TV's hottest new comedy and its superstar America Ferrera swept the Golden Globes in January, they seem destined to nab new nominations — and perhaps wins — for best actress and series.
But a few rivals could turn things truly ugly.
Of last year's five nominees, only one is on a continuing TV show: the winner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("The New Adventures of Old Christine," CBS). In 1996, she won in the supporting slot for "Seinfeld." Having survived the latter's "curse," is she now an Emmy juggernaut?
There's a good chance that the 2005 winner in this category — Felicity Huffman ("Desperate Housewives," ABC) — could return, and win, despite not being nominated last year. This time she's packing heat. Huffman gives an explosive performance in "Bang," when she's held captive during a supermarket shootout.
Huffman has the best Emmy chances of all the "Housewives," but a fluke of the voting process could benefit her costars Teri Hatcher, Marcia Cross and/or Eva Longoria. If any of them also makes it into the top 10 runoff and submits a different episode, judges will also see the actress on her costars' entries.
When costars were nominated against each other in the same category at Emmys past, one frequently won, convincing some Emmy pundits that the champ got a boost from the added performance judges saw on the rival's episode. Indeed, many Emmy watchers believe Huffman won in 2005 more for her work on Marcia Cross' episode than her own.
Some Emmy gurus were surprised Mary-Louise Parker wasn't nominated last year, especially after she won the Golden Globe for the first season of "Weeds" (Showtime). She should get in this time thanks to the emotional range she displays as a feisty pot merchant and a doting mom of a troubled teen in "Mrs. Botwin's Neighborhood."
Tina Fey's role isn't as psychologically complex, but she may still be nominated for her deft comic timing on "30 Rock" (NBC), a show she created. Fey won an Emmy in 2002 as head writer of "Saturday Night Live."
On her new, self-titled Comedy Central program, Sarah Silverman plays an exaggerated version of herself.
Even if voters haven't seen "Men in Trees" yet, the notoriety of Anne Heche should help the star of the quirky new series land in the top 10, where judges can appreciate her complex role as a sophisticated relationship guru who settles down and looks for love in a small Alaskan town.
TV critics have been urging academy members to tune in to "Everybody Hates Chris" (CW) for Tichina Arnold's polished turn as a mama who truly loves and nurtures the neurotic Chris. Can she finally reap some Emmy love in return?
Other contenders: Leah Remini ("The King of Queens," CBS), Joely Fisher (" 'Til Death," Fox), Laura Kightlinger ("The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman," IFC), Jordana Spiro ("My Boys," TBS).