The Emmys are more exciting -- and competitive -- than ever thanks to an increase in the number of nominees in the series races from the usual five to six, wait, make that seven, in the battles over top comedy and drama series. Why seven? Scores were too close to call between the sixth- and seventh-place contenders when the nomination votes were tallied. Hmmm, could the Emmys push these lists to 10 next year, following the Oscars' lead in the best picture race?
"Big Love," HBO
"Breaking Bad," AMC
"House M.D.," Fox
"Mad Men," AMC
Spotlight: Last year everybody was crazy about "Mad Men," and it won, as expected, becoming the first basic cable program ever to claim this Emmy. Some TV critics say it's even better in Season 2, but its mega-buzz has quieted a bit. With seven nominees in this race (five from cable, take note!), a contender could theoretically win with only 15% of the vote, and all of these shows have passionate core followings. However, two series are probably out of it. "Big Love" may have little hope since it has no other nominations and "House M.D." is a three-time loser featuring a grouchy lead character who, let's face it, resists a hug.
"Family Guy," Fox
"How I Met Your Mother," CBS
"Flight of the Conchords," HBO
"The Office," NBC
"30 Rock," NBC
Spotlight: "30 Rock" has rocked this category for the last two years and may be irresistible again to voters in the television industry because it's all about the loopiness of the TV biz. But watch out for that havoc-wreaking "Family Guy," which is a tempting underdog (featuring a snide talking dog). "Weeds" grows wild, a tempting treat in rehab-happy Hollywood? "How I Met Your Mother" might be the new "Everybody Loves Raymond," a comedy that took years to get nominated, then won twice.
"The Amazing Race," CBS
"American Idol," Fox
"Dancing With the Stars," ABC
"Project Runway," Bravo
"Top Chef," Bravo
Spotlight: What's truly amazing about this Emmy race is that "The Amazing Race" has never lost over the six years of this category's existence, zooming past TV's top-rated show, reality or otherwise, "American Idol." What's its appeal? Probably its zippy adrenaline pace when viewed by Emmy judges who already know the outcome of "Idol" when weighing sample episodes. These same five nominees are repeating for a third year in a row. Is there any suspense in the outcome?
"Generation Kill," HBO
"Little Dorrit," PBS
Spotlight: An impossible category to predict because these two nominees reflect the subject matter that usually wins: stuffy British stuff ("The Lost Prince," "Elizabeth I" -- even a previous adaptation of a Charles Dickens classic, "Nicholas Nickleby") and war flicks ("War and Remembrance," "Band of Brothers"). Iraq war-themed "Generation Kill" and Dickens tale "Little Dorrit" have the same number of nominations (11), but "Dorrit" has a slightly higher score at Metacritic.com -- 82, compared with 81 for "Generation Kill."
"Prayers for Bobby," Lifetime
"Coco Chanel," Lifetime
"Grey Gardens," HBO
"Into the Storm," HBO
"Taking Chance," HBO
Spotlight: "Grey Gardens" will probably claim this Emmy gold, having tied the record for most nominations (17) set by two previous champs, "Eleanor and Franklin" (1976) and "Eleanor and Franklin: The White House Years" (1977). But its producers might still say a few "Hail Marys" that it can get around "Prayers for Bobby," Lifetime's film about a real-life teen who committed suicide after his mother couldn't accept his homosexuality. "Bobby" might have resonance among Hollywooders feeling upset, or even guilty, over California's adoption of Proposition 8.
VARIETY, MUSIC OR COMEDY SERIES
"The Colbert Report," Comedy Central
"The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," Comedy Central
"Late Show With David Letterman," CBS
"Real Time With Bill Maher," HBO
"Saturday Night Live," NBC
Spotlight: Jon Stewart better wipe that smirk off his face. His "Daily Show" has won this category for the last six years but now competes against the rebooted, even-snarkier "Saturday Night Live." The latter not only made a hilarious impact on the U.S. presidential race with its takes on Sarah Palin by Tina Fey and Hillary Clinton by Amy Poehler, but "Saturday Night Live" just set a new record for most nominations by a variety show in a single year (13). Oh, yeah, "Daily Show" must also watch out for spinoff program "The Colbert Report," which beat "Daily Show" for the writing Emmy last year.
ANIMATED PROGRAM (LESS THAN ONE HOUR)
"American Dad," Fox
"Robot Chicken," Cartoon Network
"The Simpsons," Fox
"South Park," Comedy Central
Spotlight: "The Simpsons" and "South Park" have alternated as winners here in recent years and now don't have to worry about that pesky "Family Guy," which just snuck off to the comedy series race, pulling off a nomination that eluded "The Simpsons" at Emmys past. Past score in this category: "The Simpsons" 10, "South Park" 2. This year "The Simpsons" competes with its "Gone Maggie Gone" episode, "South Park" with "Margaritaville."