LOS ANGELES, California — A meth-making mastermind facing his last judgment. A downbeat detective musing on the emptiness of life. A scheming politician not above a little murder.
The leading nominees for the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards are not a likable bunch.
But the shows — respectively, “Breaking Bad,” “True Detective” and “House of Cards” — also exemplify the resurgence of television, a part of what’s come to be thought of as the medium’s new golden age.
Along with “Game of Thrones,” “Mad Men,” “Louie,” “Orange Is the New Black,” “Veep” and “Parks and Recreation,” among many standouts, “must-see TV” isn’t just an old NBC slogan, it’s a reality across the dial. Indeed, NBC — and the rest of the broadcast networks — have found themselves marginalized by the ever-increasing stock of the cable networks and their programs.
In fact, one problem with having so many worthy nominees is that the competition is stiffer than ever. (If you’re the Emmys, it’s a good problem to have.) Shows have always wanted to win prizes, but these days, the awards are more valuable than ever, points out Deadline.com’s Pete Hammond.
“The Emmys have always been a big help to newcomers, but in terms of what they’re worth to the industry now, it seems like they’ve become a much, much bigger deal,” he said.
With all that in mind, here are some key races to watch: (You can make your vote for who you think will win in the polls below.)
Outstanding drama series
For most prognosticators, this has turned into a two-show race between AMC’s “Breaking Bad,” which wrapped up its final season last year amid almost universal praise, and HBO’s “True Detective,” which earned raves in its early-2014 run and will be back for its second season soon, though with a different cast.
“Bad” could benefit from goodwill, but if “Detective” wins in other categories, watch out.
Outstanding lead actor in a drama
Like this category, for example. Just because “Bad’s” Bryan Cranston has been a consistent winner over the years — he has three Emmys for his role as Walter White — doesn’t mean he can overcome the “McConaissance,” as the rise of “Detective’s” Matthew McConaughey has been termed. After all, the guy won the Golden Globe, the Screen Actors Guild Award and the Oscar earlier this year.
The other nominees include “Mad Men’s” Jon Hamm (seven nominations, no wins), “The Newsroom’s” Jeff Daniels (who won last year), “House of Cards’ ” Kevin Spacey and McConaughey’s “Detective” co-star, Woody Harrelson.
Outstanding lead actress in a drama
“Homeland’s” Claire Danes has won before. “The Good Wife’s” Julianna Margulies has won before. Both could win again — but that means beating “Scandal’s” Kerry Washington, “Downton Abbey’s” Michelle Dockery, “Masters of Sex’s” Lizzy Caplan and “House of Cards’ ” Robin Wright.
The nimble Washington, who handles “Scandal’s” ever-interesting plot lines with aplomb, could be this year’s golden girl.
Outstanding comedy series
“Modern Family” has won this award four years in a row and is up again this year. But all the buzz belongs to “Orange Is the New Black,” Netflix’s comedy set in a women’s prison.
“Louie” has a strong following, “Veep” is strong and “The Big Bang Theory” is one of the most popular comedies on television. As with drama, other categories might provide clues as to which way Emmy is leaning.
Outstanding lead actor in a comedy
“Big Bang Theory’s” Jim Parsons has taken home the Emmy three times, but this could be Louis C.K.’s year.
The other nominees — Don Cheadle (“House of Lies”), Ricky Gervais (“Derek”), Matt LeBlanc (“Episodes”) and William H. Macy (“Shameless”) — don’t have series up for the big prize.
Outstanding lead actress in a comedy
Julia Louis-Dreyfus (“Veep”) won this award last year, but there’s that “Orange” buzz again — this time for star Taylor Schilling.
And what of Amy Poehler (“Parks and Recreation”), the Jon Hamm of comedic lead actresses in that she’s been nominated five times with zero wins? Observers have said she’s overdue for years — but they’ve said the same thing about her show, which was overlooked again in the series category.
Outstanding reality-competition program
“The Voice” won last year. “Top Chef” won in 2010. Other than that, this category has been all about “The Amazing Race.” Another win for “The Voice” would indicate a change of the guard.
Tonight’s Emmys aren’t just about trophies and speeches, of course. Billy Crystal will preside over a tribute to the late Robin Williams. Seth Meyers will preside over the whole shebang — and he plans to be a low-key host, he’s told reporters. (Also, he claims he won’t sing.)
And there almost certainly be a few moments that will be all the chatter tomorrow, even if they’re not of the level of Nicki Minaj cavorting with a snake. Though you never know.
The 66th Primetime Emmy Awards will air from Los Angeles’ Nokia Theatre on NBC.