BEST DRAMA SERIES
Better Call Saul
Game of Thrones
House of Cards
Orange is the New Black
House of Cards
Overview: This is almost an exact Xerox of last year's category. In fact, even though there are three nominees that didn't make the cut last year, you could argue that there's really only one-and-a-half. Orange is the New Black was a nominee last year in the Comedy Series category, and Breaking Bad spinoff Better Call Saul is essentially taking the place of its predecessor. Homeland subs in for True Detective (which didn't air its second season until after the eligibility deadline, and even then would have competed in the new Limited Series category), but the show is on its third nomination in this category and won it in 2012. Given the range of dramas that were hailed last year, it's surprising that the Emmys stuck mostly with more of the same.
Biggest surprise: Downton Abbey is perhaps the best example of the Academy's laziness. The show has waned in both quality and viewership over the years, but instead of letting it slip in favor of a buzzier show, it steadfastly held on and presented the show with its improbable fourth consecutive nomination in this category (remember, it started as a miniseries).
Most notable exclusion: There are two: Empire and The Affair. Critically-speaking, Empire wasn't exactly beloved; it earned some raves, but was mostly considered uneven. However, the show was the biggest cultural phenomenon that network television had seen in years, with a very passionate fan base within the television industry, and was therefore considered a strong contender for a nomination. The Affair won plenty of critical praise (though that did admittedly dip in the season's final episodes) and won the Golden Globe for Best Drama Series. Needless to say both were the most-talked-about new shows of the season. And both ended up missing out here (Empire picked up a total of three nominations; The Affair had a grand total of zero).
Who's likely to win? Game of Thrones is the frontrunner in this race. The show has never been more popular, and a poorly-judged rape scene aside, the show has never been more acclaimed either. Surprisingly, it could very well become only the second HBO program to win this prize (despite the praise and bevy of nominations the network receives every year, only The Sopranos has been victorious here).
But watch out for... Mad Men. On only two occasions has a show won this award for it's final season: The Sopranos in 2007 and Breaking Bad last year. And with four wins in this category already, voters may feel like they've awarded it enough. Even with those marks against it, the final seven episodes of this landmark show received rapturous praise. Don't be surprised if the Academy wants to share a Coke with it one last time.
Direction and writing after the jump.
BEST DIRECTION OF A DRAMA SERIES
Boardwalk Empire, "Eldorado;" directed by Tim Van Patten
Game of Thrones, "Mother's Mercy;" directed by David Nutter
Game of Thrones, "Unbowed, Unbent, Unbroken;" directed by Jeremy Podeswa
Homeland, "From A to B and Back Again;" directed by Lesli Linka Glatter
The Knick, "Method and Madness;" directed by Steven Soderbergh
Biggest surprise: Interestingly, Van Patten's nomination perhaps qualifies as the biggest surprise in this group. Yes, he's on his fifth consecutive nomination in this category - four of which were for Boardwalk Empire. But the show quietly went off the air months ago, and having never truly lived up to the expectations that came with its pedigree, it was doubtful that it would pick up any nominations for its final season. So props to the Academy for remembering the show's - and HBO's - true architect.
Most notable exclusion: By name-recognition alone, the absence of Lee Daniels (Empire) and Jodie Foster (Orange is the New Black; I wrote about her direction for "Hit Me With Your Best Shot" last year) are certainly high-profile absences, as are the directors for Better Caul Saul and Mad Men (two very handsomely-directed shows). But I'm most shocked that, of the Game of Thrones episodes that were submitted, Miguel Sapochnik's work on "Hardhome" was ignored. That episode's back half was devoted to the single-greatest action sequence the show has ever mounted: an attack by the undead on the Wildling camp of Hardhome. It deserved to be nominated.
Who's likely to win? This is a tough one, since there are several strong contenders here. However, having an established film career typically helps in this category, which should give Soderbergh the edge (it's also the only place they have to honor The Knick in a high-profile category, which should also work in his favor).
But watch out for... Glatter directed one of the most intense episodes of Homeland this season, and Nutter's work in the Game of Thrones season finale was surprisingly intimate for a show that's known for its epic sprawl. Either one of them could sneak up to the podium.
BEST WRITING OF A DRAMA SERIES
The Americans, "Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?;" written by Joshua Brand
Better Call Saul, "Five-O;" written by Gordon Smith
Game of Thrones, "Mother's Mercy;" written by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss
Mad Men, "Lost Horizons;" written by Semi Chellas and Matthew Weiner
Mad Men, "Person to Person;" written by Matthew Weiner
Biggest surprise: Really, that The Americans pulled off a nomination. I don't think anyone had it pegged for actually receiving any attention this year, so that they picked the wonderfully-titled "Do Mail Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?" is fantastic (I understand that the episode itself is one of the show's best, but that title is amazing in its own right).
Most notable exclusion: It's not a show that's earned enough praise - in fact, it received zero total nominations (more on that later) - but The Leftovers had some of the loveliest writing on television this year. Particularly, the submitted episode "Guest" was perhaps the most astounding hour of television, a beautiful short story about a woman who's entire family vanished into thin air. It would have made an excellent addition to the category.
Who's likely to win? Expect Weiner and Mad Men to go out with one last victory here for the finale, "Person to Person."
But watch out for... Smith and Better Call Saul. "Five-O" was a much-celebrated episode, and if they want to recognize the show in a major category, this seems like one of their best chances to do it.