As Tony Soprano prepares to depart TV, Emmy voters should remember that he's a guy who likes to go out with guns blazing.
HBO's three-time winner James Gandolfini wasn't nominated last year but did make the top-10 run-off in the popular vote of television academy actors.
So chances are he'll get a new shot at impressing judges with the episode he's submitting — "The Second Coming" — and that this time he'll hit the mark.
Last year's winner, Kiefer Sutherland ("24," Fox), should return. Ditto for nominee Denis Leary ("Rescue Me," FX), whose new episode submission ("Retards") is even stronger than his 2006 entry.
Like Gandolfini, Hugh Laurie holds an Emmy IOU. He was nominated for the first season of "House" (Fox) but was snubbed last year, even though his show was up for best drama series.
TV police detective Christopher Meloni ("Law & Order: SVU," NBC) made the final five last year, but that may have been due to an exceptionally strong submission. Can he do it again? Even if yes, Meloni must survive a new tweak of voting as accountants dilute the weight of judges' views by combining their scores on a 50/50 basis with results of the original popular vote.
That change in voting procedure might help two past winners who've already proven their clout with voters. Michael Chiklis' complex role as a cop-killing cop reclaimed the spotlight this season on "The Shield" (FX).
TV lawyer James Spader ("Boston Legal," ABC) usually argues his case well before Emmy jurors — he's won twice, usually for fiery courtroom speeches. In this year's entry, he defends a nurse who expedited the deaths of five unwitting patients in New Orleans who probably would've died soon after Hurricane Katrina.
In this tough category, several newcomers jockey to get into the race.
Michael C. Hall made the cut in 2002 as a mortician befuddled by life on "Six Feet Under"; now he's doing the killing on "Dexter" (Showtime) and may slay voters with his episode "Born Free."
Showtime is trumpeting Jonathan Rhys Meyers as a studly young King Henry VIII in "The Tudors." Voters bowed to Rhys Meyers in 2005 with a nomination for "Elvis," and they tend to be loyal subjects of TV dramas steeped in British history.
James Woods has nabbed two Emmys in the TV movie actor race ("Promise," "My Name Is Bill W."), so now he could be noticed for his first regular series role as a ferocious prosecutor hungry for justice in "Shark" (CBS).
Eddie Izzard ruthlessly flouts the law while pretending to be a lawyer in "The Riches" (FX). He won Emmys for writing and performing in his variety special "Dress to Kill" in 2000.
The cliffhanger in this race: Can any of the actors who've received raves from TV critics for roles on low-rated series summon enough votes to land in the runoff?
On NBC give Kyle Chandler the edge because NBC has renewed "Friday Night Lights" but canceled "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" starring Matthew Perry (nominated for "Friends" and "The West Wing") and Bradley Whitford (won for "The West Wing").
NBC's new, midseason replacement "Raines" is still finding its audience but has been discovered and applauded by TV critics for Jeff Goldblum's quirky police detective haunted by the voices of murder victims.
TV critics have cheered "Battlestar Galactica" (Sci Fi) for four years. Will voters finally hail Edward James Olmos, an Emmy winner 22 years ago for "Miami Vice"?
Patrick Dempsey was nominated for a guest role on "Once and Again" in 2001 but hasn't been recognized yet as Dr. McDreamy on "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC).
Past nominees who could return: Ian McShane ("Deadwood," HBO) and Anthony LaPaglia ("Without a Trace," CBS).
Other contenders: Dennis Haysbert ("The Unit," CBS), David Boreanaz ("Bones," Fox), Matthew Fox ("Lost," ABC), Robert Vaughn ("Hu$tle," AMC) and Jason Clarke and Jason Isaacs ("Brotherhood," Showtime).
Three of last year's nominees are no longer on the air, so this race is wide open.
The two holdover actresses likely will return considering their continued strong work: Kyra Sedgwick ("The Closer," TNT) and winner Mariska Hargitay ("Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," NBC).
But will TV's fave Mafia mama Edie Falco get a farewell hug? Last year voters turned on her as if she'd burnt their baked ziti, but she shouldn't take it personally. They also refused to nominate her "Sopranos" costar, Gandolfini.
Strangely, Patricia Arquette ("Medium," NBC) failed to receive a bid last year after winning in 2005. The TV psychic probably saw it coming: Nielsens dipped soon after her victory, but now they're at least strong enough to nab her a spot in the top 10 runoff. After that, Arquette has an excellent chance to be nominated again thanks to a powerful episode submission to judges, "Be Kind, Rewind."
Nabbing Emmy notice has been difficult for Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel of "The Gilmore Girls" (CW). Despite getting lavish attention from reviewers, the sassy TV mom and daughter have never been nominated. But now they're pulling a ploy in the show's last season: They've switched from the comedy categories to drama. Graham could end up getting the last laugh by wowing Emmy judges with "Farewell, My Pet."
Lucky for Graham and others that there's room in this race for low-rated critics' favorites to make the finalist list. That includes Mary McDonnell, who finally might get nominated for "Battlestar Galactica" thanks to growing industry support.
This year's new critics' darling is Connie Britton reprising her film role as the spirited wife of a Texas high-school football coach in "Friday Night Lights" (NBC). She may need a boost from the team's cheerleaders to make the top 10, though, considering her new show is still building an audience.
"The Riches" (FX) is another new show finding its way, but Emmy watchers surely know Minnie Driver from her notable film roles. She gets to grandstand in her series debut as a bossy, drug-addicted gypsy who takes an upper crust family's identity to give her own brood a better life.
Sally Field and Calista Flockhart do battle as a well-to-do mother and daughter on "Brothers & Sisters" (ABC) and might have the best shot among newcomers to demonstrate their Emmy clout. Both already have multiple nominations, and two-time Oscar champ Field has a pair of Emmy bookends.
Marg Helgenberger hasn't been nommed for "C.S.I." (CBS) in four years. Overdue for a first bid are Kristen Bell ("Veronica Mars," CW), Lindsay Duncan and Polly Walker ("Rome," HBO), Evangeline Lilly ("Lost," ABC), Ellen Pompeo ("Grey's Anatomy," ABC), and Molly Parker ("Deadwood," HBO).Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times