Forget popularity, cool factor, buzz and past award trends when predicting Emmy winners. Upsets happen all the time because victors are chosen by a select number of judges who view the work of nominees. Series actors in the lead and supporting categories submit one sample episode, which I've noted here, in case you want to track them down.
Simon Baker, "The Mentalist" (Pilot)
Gabriel Byrne, "In Treatment"
("Gina, Week 4")
Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
("The Mountain King")
Michael C. Hall, "Dexter"
("The Lion Sleeps Tonight")
Hugh Laurie, "House M.D."
("Under My Skin")
Spotlight: With past champs James Spader ("Boston Legal") and Kiefer Sutherland ("24") not nominated, last year's underdog victor, Cranston, is the one to beat. All others, except newcomer Baker, are past nominees who look like they're stuck in a logjam of deserving champs waiting to break through and get up to the Emmy stage.
Glenn Close, "Damages" ("Trust Me")
Sally Field, "Brothers & Sisters"
("A Father Dreams")
"Law & Order: SVU" ("PTSD")
Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace"
("Have a Seat, Earl")
Elisabeth Moss, "Mad Men"
("Meditations in an Emergency")
Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer" ("Cherry Bomb")
Spotlight: This race is the flip-flop opposite of drama actor -- it's bursting with past champs (Close, Field, Hargitay) squaring off against a rookie (Moss) who portrays a scheming ingenue in last year's winner for drama series. That makes Moss a devious Emmy contender, but she should be leery of overdue Sedgwick and Hunter.
Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock"
Steve Carell, "The Office" ("Broke")
Jemaine Clement, "Flight of the Conchords" ("Unnatural Love")
Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory" ("The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis")
Tony Shalhoub, "Monk" ("Mr. Monk and the Miracle")
Charlie Sheen, "Two and a Half Men"
("Is It the 'Ocu' or the 'Pado'?")
Spotlight: Striving for his overdue win, Carell goes for "Broke" by giving Emmy judges a touching episode he directed that depicts his character going from typical doofus to suddenly shrewd cookie. Wacky scientist Parsons finally finds clarity, and his heart, at Christmastime. But Emmy voters may salute last year's champ, Baldwin, again, this time for two roles -- as a military officer in a Spanish TV soap plus his usual part as a ruthless network soldier.
Christina Applegate, "Samantha Who?" ("The Pill")
Toni Collette, "United States of Tara" (Pilot)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "New Adventures of Old Christine," ("Everyone Says I Love You Except Richie")
Tina Fey, "30 Rock" ("Reunion")
Mary-Louise Parker, "Weeds" ("Lady's a Charm")
Sarah Silverman, "The Sarah Silverman Program" ("There's No Place Like Homeless")
Spotlight: Emmy voters are suckers for stars who portray multiple roles. That's great news for Collette, who portrays four in "Tara." But last year's winner, Fey, may triumph again for rediscovering an old side to herself (selfish, mean) when she attends her high school reunion. Applegate must confront ugly memories of her character's former self too, when she gobbles pills.
SUPPORTING DRAMA ACTOR
Christian Clemenson, "Boston Legal" ("Roe")
Michael Emerson, "Lost" ("Dead Is Dead")
William Hurt, "Damages" ("Hey, Mr. Pibb")
Aaron Paul, "Breaking Bad" ("Peekaboo")
William Shatner, "Boston Legal" ("Made in China"/"Last Call")
John Slattery, "Mad Men" ("Six Month Leave")
Spotlight: Beware, there are lots of dark, creepy performances here (Emerson, Hurt, Paul, Slattery). Most Emmy fans are rooting for Emerson (is he really the sinister puller of strings on "Lost"?) or Paul (hot new actor who makes his drug pusher sympathetic), but watch out for a "Boston Legal" upset. Clemenson wows the Emmy jury while defending himself in court, and two-time champ Shatner shocks everybody by marrying three-time champ James Spader in the series finale of "Boston Legal."
SUPPORTING DRAMA ACTRESS
Rose Byrne, "Damages" ("Trust Me")
Hope Davis, "In Treatment" ("Mia, Week 6")
Cherry Jones, "24" (Day 7: 7:00 a.m.-8:00 a.m.)
Sandra Oh, "Grey's Anatomy" ("Elevator Love Letter")
Dianne Wiest, "In Treatment" ("Gina, Week 6")
Chandra Wilson, "Grey's Anatomy" ("Stairway to Heaven")
Spotlight: Byrne towers over last year's best-actress champ, Glenn Close, in the fierce face-down episode submitted by them both, so she could claim these supporting laurels. But she'd have to snatch them from two-time Oscar champ Wiest, who could pull off another upset for her psychological showdown with a different Byrne -- Gabriel.
SUPPORTING COMEDY ACTOR
Jon Cryer, "Two and a Half Men" ("Sir Lancelot's Litterbox")
Kevin Dillon, "Entourage" ("Tree Trippers")
Neil Patrick Harris, "How I Met Your Mother" ("Benefits")
Jack McBrayer, "30 Rock" ("The Bubble")
Tracy Morgan, "30 Rock" ("The Funcooker")
Rainn Wilson, "The Office" ("Heavy Competition")
Spotlight: Harris has most Emmy buzz, being the host of this year's ceremony, but recent Indie Spirit Awards emcee Wilson gave judges a strong episode that could trigger an upset. Morgan could triumph thanks to giving strong performances on both "30 Rock" episodes in this category -- his own plus McBrayer's.
SUPPORTING COMEDY ACTRESS
Kristin Chenoweth, "Pushing Daisies" ("Bad Habits")
Jane Krakowski, "30 Rock" ("The Ones")
Elizabeth Perkins, "Weeds" ("No Man Is Pudding")
Kristen Wiig, "Saturday Night Live" ("Neil Patrick Harris")
Vanessa Williams, "Ugly Betty" ("The Fall Issue")
Spotlight: Can Poehler pull off a win for rapping with a moose and Sarah Palin in that "Weekend Update" segment? She competes against "SNL" costar Wiig, who took on seven roles, including Kathie Lee Gifford and Jamie Lee Curtis.
ACTOR, MINISERIES OR A MOVIE
Kevin Bacon, "Taking Chance"
Kenneth Branagh, "Wallander: One Step Behind"
Brendan Gleeson, "Into the Storm"
Kevin Kline, "Cyrano de Bergerac"
Ian McKellen, "King Lear"
Kiefer Sutherland, "24: Redemption"
Spotlight: What's Emmy winner Sutherland doing over here in the movie category being nominated for "24"? (Answer: "Redemption" was the two-hour special meant to redeem and revive the thriller after it got benched during the writers strike.) Appearing in literary classics could help Kline (Jose Ferrer won an Oscar for "Cyrano" in 1950) or McKellen (Laurence Olivier won one of his Emmys as Lear in 1984). Or Gleeson could conquer for the same role (Winston Churchill) that won Albert Finney an Emmy in 2002 for "The Gathering Storm."
ACTRESS, MINISERIES OR A MOVIE
Drew Barrymore, "Grey Gardens"
Jessica Lange, "Grey Gardens"
Shirley MacLaine, "Coco Chanel"
Sigourney Weaver, "Prayers for Bobby"
Chandra Wilson, "Accidental Friendship"
Spotlight: Colorful diva smackdown between "Grey Gardens" co-stars: Barrymore has the more emotionally flashy role, but Lange has two Oscars ("Blue Sky," "Tootsie"), and Emmy voters are snobs with a kudos inferiority complex. Weaver could be a spoiler as a real-life religious zealot who drove her homosexual son to suicide, then became a gay-rights crusader to redeem herself.
The 61st Primetime Emmy Awards will be held Sept. 20 at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles and will be broadcast on CBS at 8 p.m.
Gold Derby blogger Tom O'Neil predicts the Emmy season for The Envelope. For ongoing discussion of that race and other campaigns for gold -- Oscars, Golden Globes, Grammys and more -- visit The Envelope.com.