Thomas O'Neil is the author of "The Emmys: Star Wars, Showdowns and the Supreme Test of TV's Best."

It’s no secret among media pundits: Woe to anyone who tries to predict the Emmy Awards.

They’re not like all those other showbiz prizes, frankly. For one thing, if the Emmys were the Oscars, 12-time bridesmaid Angela Lansbury, the biggest also-ran in prime-time history (and, interestingly, the choice to host the awards ceremony Sunday) would surely have won something by now, even if it were just a touching career salute, like Paul Newman’s best-acting Oscar for “The Color of Money.”

The Oscars--like the Grammys and Tonys, too--are vulnerable to sentimental choices because the winners are chosen by the broad popular vote of industry professionals, which also means, of course, that they can be somewhat predictable. While TV insiders en masse pick the Emmy contenders, the victors are selected by panels of peers who evaluate episodes chosen by the nominees as samples of their best work that season.

That’s why the Emmys are tricky. If you were busy wrapping presents the night of “Northern Exposure’s” Christmas show or out playing bridge when “Picket Fences” aired its “Fetal Attraction” episode, you’re in big trouble this year if you want to spout off on which show you think will prevail for best drama series. If you haven’t seen all the segments submitted by the contenders for best comedy actress and so forth, it’s no laughing matter.


So here begins a woeful task and perhaps a foolhardy one, trying to peer into the thought processes of panelists judging the 45th annual Emmys:

Drama Series

Last year’s champ “Northern Exposure” leads with the most nominations among series this year (16, the same as last) and might be thought the favorite, but this once-yummy slice of real Eskimo pie is thawing fast. The canceled “I’ll Fly Away” could end up soaring off with the honors instead.

But I’m betting on “Picket Fences.” TV doesn’t get any better than this.


Actor, Drama Series

“I’ll Fly Away’s” Sam Waterson. His victory will be kind of like Gregory Peck winning that Oscar for “To Kill a Mockingbird.” Get it? Two kindly Southern lawyers . . .

If Waterson suffers an upset, however, as he did last year, it’ll probably be Tom Skerritt sneaking over the picket fence.

Actress, Drama Series

Emmycast host Angela Lansbury is nominated again, for an unlucky 13th time, poor thing: (it’s her ninth nod for “Murder, She Wrote”) and would probably be beaten this time by “Sister’s” Swoozie Kurtz if it weren’t for Regina Taylor of “I’ll Fly Away,” who the Emmys owe one to. Like co-star Waterson, Taylor was robbed last year.

Comedy Series

“Seinfeld’s” won all the other awards this year (Television Critics Assn., the Peabody) and is clearly considered the front-runner, but it’s up against the dearly departed “Cheers.” (Yes, sentiment can affect Emmy voting sometimes, if the nominee is a proven past winner.)

“Cheers” has taken so many statuettes (26) to date that it needs only four more wins from among its eight nominations to top the all-time record held by “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” (My prediction: a tie.) If “Cheers” wins the best comedy prize, it’ll emerge as the show chosen as best comedy or drama series the most times (five).


There’s a sneaky dark horse to watch out for in this category: HBO’s “The Larry Sanders Show.” TV insiders swoon over it, and its nod marks the first time that a cable program has been up for a best series prize.

Conspicuously missing from the nominees: “The Simpsons” and “Roseanne.”

My Pick: I admit it. I miss those barroom bards so much I’m, yes, practically swooning as I write this--"Cheers.”

Actor, Comedy Series

Jerry Seinfeld and Garry Shandling are darned funny, but too deadpan. Last year everyone thought “Roseanne’s” John Goodman would get it, so he could bounce back this year. This category is probably going to end up being another one of those “Cheers” victories, though. Remember that episode where Teddy Danson turns himself in to that support group for sexual addicts? He was smart to submit that racy, bravura sample to the judging panel.

Actress, Comedy Series

A squeaker. Nearly all of the nominees have a strong chance: Marion Ross (“Brooklyn Bridge”), Kirstie Alley (“Cheers”), Helen Hunt (“Mad About You”) and Candice Bergen (“Murphy Brown”).

Eeenie meenie minie ... Kirstie.


Memo to the also-nominated Roseanne Arnold: If you really want to win, you might consider dropping the carving knife and try using another approach on those “stupid,” snobbish” academy voters.

Made-for-TV Movie

No horse race here. HBO’s “Barbarians at the Gate.”

And note: No Amy Fisher here either. For the first time ever, not a single film made by one of the Big Three networks got nominated.


It’s “Family Pictures” vs. “Prime Suspect 2.” The latter has been certified prime TV by critics and will probably get the stamp of Emmy approval to make it official. However, beware: That scrappy “Sinatra,” as usual, is making everybody paranoid.

Actor, Made-for-TV Movie/Special

Robert Morse can start singing “I Believe in You” in front of that mirror again.

Portraying Truman Capote in “Tru,” Morse proved that you can raise the dead--and to brilliant acting heights. His victory here might seem anticlimactic after his dramatic win at the Tonys for the same role a few years ago, but it shouldn’t. At the Tonys, Broadway was warmly welcoming back a star who three decades earlier blazed brightly for a short time in “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying” before fading. But Morse started out in TV. At the Emmys, they’ll not only be embracing a seasoned survivor but an old friend.

Actress, Made-for-TV Movie/Special

Positively Holly Hunter for “The Positively True Adventures of the Alleged Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom.” Face it, it’s Holly Hunter’s year. Let’s compare her acceptance speech with the one she’ll be making at the Oscars next year for “The Piano.”

Supporting Actress, Made-for-TV/Special

This supporting category takes on a leading role at the Emmys this year since Mary Tyler Moore is nominated here. She’ll win it, too, for her role in “Stolen Babies” on Lifetime. Having six Emmys to her credit, the victory will be a historic one. Even if her show loses the all-time record to “Cheers,” Moore will continue to reign at the Emmys, although this time in a tie with old “MTM” co-star Ed Asner, as the actor with the most awards.

“The 45th Annual Emmy Awards” airs at 8 p.m. on ABC.