The Emmys are tonight, and the ballots were returned earlier this month. Heck, the Academy has already given out around two-thirds of its awards at the Creative Arts Emmys that were held a week ago Saturday. The big winners at that ceremony included Saturday Night Live, Sherlock, True Detective, Game of Thrones, and Cosmos, but the Creative Arts awards often bear no relation to the awards given out at the main ceremony, because different people vote for these different awards.
The Emmys are also notoriously hard to predict, because it's never completely obvious when the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences is just going to lose interest in something out of nowhere. But we've surveyed the episode submissions and campaigns, and we think these picks have a better-than-average chance at winning. And, hey, maybe we'll be right about some of them!
Best Drama Series
Will win: This category is a down-to-the-wire thriller between the final eight episodes of Breaking Bad and the first eight episodes of True Detective. The question may prove to be which group within the Academy is larger: the group that didn't realize Breaking Bad actually aired during the last television season or the group that was disappointed by the True Detective finale. True Detective won a number of Creative Arts awards (including casting and cinematography) that could foreshadow a win. But Breaking Bad won another important award in the prize for editing. It seems likeliest Breaking Bad will win, but True Detective is closing quickly.
Dark horse: If the winner is somehow not one of those two shows, there's an argument to be made for Game of Thrones, which had its most successful season ever.
Should win: This is a surprisingly weak category, given how good TV drama is right now. My personal preference is Mad Men, but Breaking Bad was so great for so long that I do hope it wins one last prize.
Best Comedy Series
Will win: This category is a mess, with legitimate arguments to be made for every series not named Silicon Valley winning the award. But Orange Is the New Black has the sorts of qualities that help first-season shows (only the first season aired before the eligibility deadline) break through: buzz, critical acclaim, and the sense of being ground-breaking. It's very easy to see an evening where Orange wins a bunch of prizes, too, and even if it doesn't win all of them, that helps create a sense of momentum.
Dark horse: Again, this is a crowded category, but there's a very good case to be made for Veep sneaking in and taking the prize.
Should win: The first season of Orange is fantastic, empathetic television, and a win for it would be highly welcome.
Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Will win: Bryan Cranston submitted "Ozymandias," the episode of Breaking Bad where Walter White's crimes are revealed to the fullest extent possible. Normally, he'd be unbeatable. But he's won three times, and Emmy voters rarely like voting for villains. That wouldn't be a problem, except there's a huge alternative to Cranston in True Detective's Matthew McConaughey. Since each season of True Detective is a self-contained story with its own cast, this will be the Academy's only chance to award his work. And he'll get bonus points for also appearing in fellow nominee Woody Harrelson's submission tape.
Dark horse: It's hard to imagine someone else winning. But maybe this will be Kevin Spacey's year? (Not that it should!)
Should win: Not to pick the Academy's likely choice again, but McConaughey was thrillingly good and kept some of the sillier parts of True Detective afloat almost singlehandedly.
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Will win: This one is almost impossible to predict. Julianna Margulies has a great shot but submitted one of her weaker episodes for consideration. Claire Danes has won two years in a row but is on a show whose star is fading. Robin Wright won the Golden Globe but also submitted poorly. So let's bet on Kerry Washington, because Scandal is a huge, huge hit, she submitted fairly well, and a win for her would be historic, as she'd be the first black woman to win in this category. But it's a complete guess.
Dark horse: Lizzy Caplan submitted the pilot of Masters of Sex. It's not her finest work, but Emmy voters love pilots. It could happen.
Should win: Margulies picked one of her worst episodes from this season, but she deserves this prize for keeping the wonderful fifth season of The Good Wife spinning.
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Will win: Taylor Schilling has an outside chance if Orange sweeps, but there will probably be no stopping Julia Louis-Dreyfus for her best season of Veep yet. She's won two times in a row and will make it a third.
Dark horse: Amy Poehler has never won for playing Parks & Recreation's Leslie Knope. She almost certainly won't win this year, but if there's ever been a year it might happen, it's this one, thanks to her increased prominence, well, everywhere and a solid submission episode.
Should win: Louis-Dreyfus is fantastic on Veep, but she already has four Emmys. Meanwhile, Taylor Schilling navigated all the tricky contradictions and likability issues of her Orange Is the New Black character without breaking a sweat.
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Will win: This is a horrible, horrible, weak category. And what's more, it's not like there are all sorts of people missing here who might make it a better one. There just aren't a lot of great lead roles for men in live-action comedies right now. (This is pretty much the only time in the history of television when this was true, incidentally.) It seems likely Jim Parsons wins yet again for The Big Bang Theory again, just because no one will be able to agree on anyone else.
Dark horse: It's not going to happen, but, hey, Louis C.K. could win for Louie. He submitted pretty well, and his acting has never been better.
Should win: C.K. deserves to win, too, but mostly because... have you seen these nominees? They're so bad!
Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Will win: One discounts Modern Family in any category at one's own peril, but the show's star has significantly faded with the Academy, which leaves room for either Tony Hale to repeat for Veep or, slightly more likely, Andre Braugher to win for his excellent work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine. The Emmys love Braugher, and his work on Nine-Nine is different enough from what he's best known for that he should get points for variety.
Dark horse: A massive part of me wants to predict Adam Driver for Girls, even as I know it will never happen. But his star is rising at the right time. It's just that the show's star is fading.
Should win: Hale is very often my favorite part of Veep. I'll pick him narrowly over Braugher and Driver.
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Will win: Allison Janney is another Emmy favorite, and her work on Mom was pretty much the only thing holding that show together for a while (or, at least, until it got to be a really good TV show in the latter half of its first season). There are other possibilities here, but Janney seems most likely. Her accomplishment will be even more impressive in the face of winning last Saturday for guest actress in a drama series for her work on Masters of Sex.
Dark horse: If Orange has a huge night, which is entirely possible, then Kate Mulgrew might get swept along.
Should win: I love Janney and Mulgrew, and Mayim Bialik is severely underappreciated for how much she did to make The Big Bang Theory what it is. But my pick is Anna Chlumsky, for her brilliantly uptight work on Veep.
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Will win: It seems hard to believe anyone will beat Breaking Bad's Anna Gunn here. She submitted "Ozymandias," too, but she's easily the most sympathetic character in it. She'll repeat her win from last year with no problem.
Dark horse: Any other year, Christine Baranski would win for a season of The Good Wife that made the best possible uses of her prodigious talent.
Should win: I was more skeptical of those final Breaking Bads than most, but even I'm not going to pick against Gunn.
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Will win: This is routinely one of the harder categories to predict, and there's a good argument to be made for Aaron Paul. The final season of Breaking Bad may have been Jesse-lite, but he submitted the one episode where the character got a lot to do (and where he was predictably excellent). You can also make a great case for Josh Charles, who was at the center of most of Good Wife's great fifth season storylines. But Peter Dinklage got to make a showy speech in the episode of Game of Thrones he submitted. And Emmy voters love showy speeches.
Dark horse: Of the others listed above, keep an eye out for Charles. There's a lot of sentimental appreciation for how he handled one fifth season plotline in particular.
Should win: Charles hasn't always been great on The Good Wife, but he was frequently riveting in the fifth season, especially as he was able to do stories outside of his relationship with Alicia.
Winner predictions in other categories
Variety Series: The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon
Television Movie: The Normal Heart
Reality-Competition Series: The Voice
Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie: Billy Bob Thornton, Fargo
Lead Actress in a Miniseries or Movie: Jessica Lange, American Horror Story: Coven
Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie: Matthew Bomer, The Normal Heart
Supporting Actress in a Miniseries or Movie: Allison Tolman, Fargo
Directing for a Comedy Series: Jodie Foster, "Lesbian Request Denied," Orange Is the New Black
Directing for a Drama Series: Cary Joji Fukunaga, "Who Goes There," True Detective
Directing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special: Nick Hurran, Sherlock: "His Last Vow"
Directing for a Variety Special: James Lapine, Six by Sondheim
Writing for a Comedy Series: Liz Friedman and Jenji Kohan, "I Wasn't Ready," Orange Is the New Black
Writing for a Drama Series: Vince Gilligan, "Felina," Breaking Bad
Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special: Noah Hawley, "The Crocodile's Dilemma," Fargo
Writing for a Variety Special: Billy Crystal and Alan Zweibel, 700 Sundays
Update: I had a tremendously bad year, predicting just nine out of 26 categories correctly, for a rate of just under 35 percent. I clearly overestimated how willing the Emmys would be to move on from some old favorites, particularly Modern Family. The pinnacle of this might have been missing all four writing categories. (I predicted correctly that Breaking Bad would win writing; I just predicted the wrong episode and didn't award myself a half-point or anything.)
Still, I was sort of on the right track, if I want to give myself partial credit. I grasped that the Emmys would want to give Sherlock something. I just picked the one category Sherlock didn't win to predict that happening. And I got three out of the four comedy acting categories accurate, which isn't too bad. But mostly, this was a disastrous year for my predictions.
Still, if predicting that the Emmys are finally going to fall out of love with Modern Family is wrong, then, as the saying goes, I don't wanna be right.