And you thought Emmy ballots were hard to decipher before.
Now, not only do you have to consider new competitors, you have to deal with all of them playing an old game: Category shopping. Why is Netflix's Orange Is the New Black entering as a comedy, when it so obviously isn't one? Because Netflix doesn't want Orange to steal drama votes away from House of Cards. Why is HBO's eight-episode True Detective a series when FX's longer (and better) 10-episode Fargo is a miniseries? Because HBO desperately wants a best-drama-series win and figures that the star-powered Detective is its best shot.
So if you're looking at the ballots (sent to TV academy voters Monday) or dreaming up your own, should you go along with such blatant attempts to stack the Emmy decks? Unfortunately, yes, because while it's a shame to reward Detective and Orange for gaming the system, it would be a bigger shame to see them shut out of the nominations.
The next question, then, is who should join them? On the drama side, start with the two shows that should be the favorites when the awards are handed out: AMC's Breaking Bad and CBS' The Good Wife — one a near-perfect eight-part finale, the other a sterling example of extended, full-season bliss. Add in Showtime's Masters of Sex and FX's The Americans, and finish with HBO's Game of Thrones, a masterfully done series whose excess violence may keep it from an Emmy win but should not bar it from a nomination.
No matter what you do, of course, some worthy shows are bound to be excluded. In drama, that means shutting out AMC's crowd-pleasing The Walking Dead — along with Showtime's Homeland, PBS' Downton Abbey and FX's Justified, which all had down seasons this year.
As for Mad Men, after four episodes that were as enthralling as watching mud harden, the show did rally for its final three — but that's a terrible batting average and a pitiful overall output. We should expect better than that from a would-be Emmy contender.
On the comedy front, you start with three shows that no list can make sense without: ABC's Modern Family, CBS' The Big Bang Theory and FX's Louie. Counting Orange, that leaves two spots — one of which should go to Fox's Brooklyn Nine-Nine, just nudging out Showtime's Episodes and ABC's lost cause, The Middle.
For the last opening, HBO is pushing Veep and Girls for a spot, and one or both are likely to get one. But the nomination instead should go to Silicon Valley, the network's freshest and funniest show in years.
Come July 10, when nominations are announced, we'll see if voters agree. Meanwhile, here are my picks for which actors and shows should be recognized.
Actor in a drama
Matthew McConaughey, True Detective
Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad
Jon Hamm, Mad Men
Michael Sheen, Masters of Sex
Matthew Rhys, The Americans
James Spader, The Blacklist
When it comes to making the first-cut choices, probably front-runners McConaughey and Cranston are as obvious as they are deserving; Hamm continued to shine even in a Mad Men season that didn't; and Spader (a longtime Emmy favorite) claims a spot for almost single-handedly turning Blacklist into a hit.
It would be nice to see the last two openings go to Sheen and Rhys, who gave terrific, subtle performances — but neither one got close to the media attention that went to Detective's Woody Harrelson or House of Cards star Kevin Spacey. Luckily, they're Emmy-worthy as well, so complaints should be muted.
Actress in a drama
Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife
Claire Danes, Homeland
Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men
Lizzy Caplan, Masters of Sex
Keri Russell, The Americans
Tatiana Maslany, Orphan Black
There are years when the race among the women is less intense than that for the men — but this isn't one of them. In a great season for female leads, the shining stars were Margulies, who practically glowed on screen this year; Russell, who found new depth in her increasingly reluctant spy; Caplan, who was a revelation in Masters; and Maslany, who showed astounding range as Black's multiple clones.
The last spot? Go with two-time winner Danes, though with a bit less enthusiasm than before, over Vera Farmiga of Bates Motel and Robin Wright of House of Cards. There also is a very good chance votes will go to Scandal's Kerry Washington, but they'll have to go there without me.
Supporting actor, drama
Peter Dinklage, Game of Thrones
Aaron Paul, Breaking Bad
Mandy Patinkin, Homeland
Josh Charles, The Good Wife
Jon Voight, Ray Donovan
Dean Norris, Breaking Bad
As you might guess, there are a lot of great actors left off this list, including Jim Carter of Downton Abbey, Matt Czuchry of The Good Wife, Noah Emmerich of The Americans and Walton Goggins of Justified. And that's not to mention The Good Wife's Alan Cumming, who I would have included, except that his name is not on the official online ballot in either the supporting or guest category. Eli would never have let that happen.
Supporting actress, drama
Anna Gunn, Breaking Bad
Maggie Smith, Downton Abbey
Christine Baranski, The Good Wife
Christina Hendricks, Mad Men
Michelle Monaghan, True Detective
Betsy Brandt, Breaking Bad
This is a tough category —and imagine how much tougher it might have been had Allison Janney entered here (instead of as a guest star) for Masters of Sex instead of as a guest star. The essentials are Gunn, Smith, Baranski and Hendricks. After that, if you want to substitute Downton Abbey's Joanne Froggatt, Grey's Anatomy's Sandra Oh or The Americans' Annet Mahendru for Monaghan or Brandt, you may.
Actor in a comedy
Andy Samberg, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Louis CK, Louie
Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory
Robin Williams, The Crazy Ones
Matt LeBlanc, Episodes
Thomas Middleditch, Silicon Valley
First off, here's hoping Williams is recognized for giving one of the loveliest, most restrained performances of his career: His show didn't make it, but the work should not be ignored. Odds are it won't be, just as no one is likely to ignore Samberg, Louis CK (or the personal vision that is Louie), or Parsons, a great actor who also is one of the funniest people on TV.
LeBlanc continues to slyly subvert expectations playing a version of himself in Episodes, and Middleditch made his character's combination of genius, fear and passive-aggressive anxiety as sympathetic as it was humorous. That does shut out The Middle's Neil Flynn, Big Bang's Johnny Galecki and House of Lies' Don Cheadle, but that's what happens when lines get drawn.
Actress in a comedy
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Veep
Amy Poehler, Parks and Recreation
Edie Falco, Nurse Jackie
Taylor Schilling, Orange Is the New Black
Wendi McLendon-Covey, The Goldbergs
Patricia Heaton, The Middle
By this point in the show's run, there's pretty much no chance Patricia Heaton is getting a nomination for The Middle, no matter that she really should. So already, you can consider that slot open to either Girls' Lena Dunham, Mike & Molly's Melissa McCarthy, Mom's Anna Faris or, if you're looking for a place to back a dark horse, Broad City's Abbi Jacobson or Ilana Glazer. You should also feel free to substitute one of those if the inclusion of Nurse Jackie or Orange in the comedy category just seems untenable to you, despite how good Falco and Schilling are.
Supporting actor, comedy
Andre Braugher, Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Ty Burrell, Modern Family
Ed O'Neill, Modern Family
Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Modern Family
Tony Hale, Veep
Christopher Evan Welch, Silicon Valley
I wouldn't mind seeing Eric Stonestreet garner another nomination, even though the performance does seem to be getting overly broad. I just would rather that slot went to a newcomer like Braugher or Welch (whose death left such a hole in the final episodes of Silicon Valley), or to Welch's co-star, T.J. Miller.
Supporting actress, comedy
Allison Janney, Mom
Julie Bowen, Modern Family
Sofia Vergara, Modern Family
Mayim Bialik, The Big Bang Theory
Margo Martindale, The Millers
Kate Mulgrew, Orange Is the New Black
What a fabulous group of actors, and that's not even counting Merrit Wever of Nurse Jackie, Melissa Rauch of Big Bang, or poor, constantly overlooked Eden Sher of The Middle.
American Horror Story: Coven (FX)
Dancing on the Edge (Starz)
Luther (BBC America)
You know how in the series categories there are more worthy nominees than there are slots? In the movie and miniseries categories, you face the opposite problem. Fargo is the can't-miss choice here, both to be nominated and to win, along with Luther and Treme. Feel free to improvise with the rest.
The Normal Heart (HBO)
Return to Zero (Lifetime)
The Trip to Bountiful (Lifetime)
Killing Kennedy (National Geographic)
Sherlock: His Last Vow (PBS)
This is an even weaker category than the miniseries one. The odds-on favorite is the noble but deeply flawed Normal Heart — for the rest, the nomination will probably be the only reward. So on that front, be sure to reward Return to Zero and The Trip to Bountiful.
Chiwetel Ejiofor, Dancing on the Edge
Mark Ruffalo, The Normal Heart
Benedict Cumberbatch, Sherlock: His Last Vow
Martin Freeman, Fargo
Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo
Idris Elba, Luther
Thornton, Freeman, Elba and Cumberbatch must be nominated. Ruffalo will be.
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful
Minnie Driver, Return to Zero
Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Whoopi Goldberg, A Day Late and a Dollar Short
Helena Bonham Carter, Burton and Taylor
Sarah Paulson, American Horror Story: Coven
If you're wondering why Fargo's terrific Allison Tolman isn't listed here, it's because she's entered as a supporting actress. And no, that doesn't make any sense — if she's not the lead actress in Fargo, who would be? But that's the Emmys for you.