LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - With their livelihoods threatened by downsizing and layoffs and bloggers equipped to impersonate them, it's easy to understand why television critics might not feel they receive all the respect they deserve these days.
Even so, their views remain key to building buzz that can result in TV series gaining viewers and the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences taking notice at Emmy time.
We asked a group of critics, in advance of Thursday's Emmy Awards nominations announcement and with all due respect, to reveal their nominee choices in a half-dozen high-profile categories.
Drama Series: "When people say there's nothing good on television, you really have to wonder what they're watching. Because when it comes to dramas this year, the problem isn't expanding the list from five; it's cutting the candidates down to six. What to include? Start with network TV's two best hours, (ABC's) 'Lost' and (Fox's) '24.' Then throw in (FX's) 'Rescue Me,' absolutely brilliant this season with Michael J. Fox adding great support, and 'Mad Men,' which proved its first-year triumph was no fluke. That still leaves room for HBO's 'No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency' and 'True Blood.' "
Comedy Series: "In its second season, (CBS') 'The Big Bang Theory' has grown into TV's best sitcom by adhering to old sitcom virtues: A great cast playing characters you like and believe, who can be hilarious without being heartless and consistent without being formulaic. From there, the list should also include the witty if tortuously inconsistent '30 Rock' (NBC), the perfectly cast 'The New Adventures of Old Christine' (CBS), and the very-near perfect 'Pushing Daisies' (ABC) -- a show that flopped in the ratings but soared as art."
Lead Actor, Drama: "It's a testament to how tough this category is that Hugh Laurie ("House"), Michael C. Hall ("Dexter") and Denis Leary ("Rescue Me") don't already have Emmy victories to their credit, despite turning in the kind of work each and every season that cries out to be rewarded. But this is a TV series award, and there's something to be said for recognizing the kind of performance that turns a new series into that genuine TV rarity, a smash hit. And that's the case to be made for Simon Baker and his CBS drama 'The Mentalist.'"
Lead Actress, Drama: "Glenn Close (FX's "Damages") made her outsized lawyer seem more human and real (while) Kyra Sedgwick (TNT's "The Closer") turns her show into a weekly lesson in entertaining acting. January Jones (AMC's "Mad Men") and Evangeline Lilly (ABC's "Lost") both had showcase stories and used them to their best advantage. It's a very tough race to call because there's so much talent here."
Lead Actor, Comedy: "Every year, there's at least one actor whose omission would make the nominations meaningless. This year, it's Jim Parsons (CBS' "The Big Bang Theory"). How can you help but appreciate the skill and talent it takes to turn a character who could have been a one-note nerd into a fully formed comic creation, at once likable, annoying and touching? That's Parsons. Also, when Alec Baldwin (NBC's "30 Rock") is onscreen, you can't look away, and you don't want to."
Lead Actress, Comedy: "Slowly but surely, this category is getting more crowded. I have to start with the fact that Toni Collette (Showtime's "United States of Tara") is remarkable. Her show feels like a stunt; her multilayered performance never does. She could be a contender in the drama field as well if she so chose. Tina Fey ("30 Rock'" had a star-rocketing year. Julia Louis-Dreyfus ("Christine") and Mary-Louise Parker (Showtime's "Weeds") continue to shine on two of the few sitcoms actually built around a woman."
Supporting Actor/Actress: "John Scurti ("Rescue Me") is one of the year's true breakout performers, which should make him one of the year's safest bets. And while Katherine Heigl (ABC's "Grey's Anatomy") and the Emmys always seem to cause trouble, and as silly as her story sometimes was this year, she made it work because she is so adept at playing off the rhythms of her castmates."
Drama Series: "I'm hoping to see 'Lost' make it this time. It continues to capture the public's imagination on so many levels. I find myself surfing online to find out more every week and heard people consistently buzzing about it between episodes. Also, I love (HBO's) 'In Treatment.' It's a fantastic show that really digs below the surface to examine that world of therapy in a way few TV shows ever have."
Comedy Series: " '30 Rock' is just so consistently great -- inside, and yet accessible, and blessed with some of the most clever writing for a comedy ever."
Lead Actor, Drama: "I'm just so hoping that Laurie finally wins this thing. I've been saying this same thing for years. He's so good with his accent you'd never guess he wasn't really American."
Lead Actress, Drama: "I love Close. I have her down again to win this year. I can't think of anyone who did better. When you watch her on 'Damages,' your eyes are riveted to her. She's that compelling and real. Someone like Jones I have to believe benefited a lot from that show's period costumes. But in terms of talent, it's no contest. Close is it."
Lead Actor, Comedy: "Parsons totally broke out this year. I'd have to put him at the top of the list, with Baldwin not far behind. He's incredibly good, and he's put himself on the comedy map before even cultivating a name. And it would be great to see Zachary Levi recognized for ("NBC's" 'Chuck,' who makes that show something special. It's just unfortunate that the show fails to get its due."
Lead Actress, Comedy: "How can you not adore Collette? While 'Tara' isn't a great show, her performance was just magnificent. She was kind of like Tracey Ullman in the way she was able to move from character to character. America Ferrera (ABC's "Ugly Betty") is also deserving again because she's both funny and incredibly sympathetic, and Fey, of course, had a great year. Maybe there's no stopping her."
Supporting Actor/Actress: "The intensity of Rose Byrne's character on 'Damages' is just so compelling that I can't imagine her not being nominated. It's time for Neil Patrick Harris to win (CBS' "How I Met Your Mother") after several years of being beaten out by Jeremy Piven (HBO's "Entourage"). I also have to single out John Slattery of 'Mad Men,' who is consistently great. He's an amazing chemistry complement to Hamm."
Drama Series: "The underdog that most deserves a shot is FX's 'The Shield.' It had one of the most devastating final seasons ever and should take the place of 'Damages,' which fell off the buzz meter in its second year with a far less gripping narrative. I'm also hoping Hollywood finally moves on from the now-defunct 'Boston Legal.' Otherwise, I see most of last year's nominees repeating, including 'Mad Men,' 'Lost,' 'Dexter' and 'House,' with (Fox's) '24' -- which wasn't eligible last year -- also in the mix."
Comedy Series: "Expect NBC to dominate with its previous winners like '30 Rock' and 'The Office,' but hopefully, if the voters have sense, not the dismal 'Parks and Recreation.' If 'The Big Bang Theory' doesn't make the cut, it will be criminal. This could also open the door for 'How I Met Your Mother' at last, though a rejuvenated 'Desperate Housewives' (ABC) could finally be welcomed back to the party as well."
Lead Actor, Drama: "I'm looking for a virtual repeat of last year, aside from James Spader (ABC's "Boston Legal") being off and Kiefer Sutherland (Fox's "24") being in along with Chiklis. And Laurie is so overdue for a win it's not even funny after earning two Golden Globes but never the Emmy. Hamm and Hall are locks. Bryan Cranston (AMC's "Breaking Bad") is an underdog, but it's hard to imagine last year's winner being ignored, especially given how his show's second season was better than Season 1."
Lead Actress, Drama: "The strongest new contender is Anna Paquin for (HBO's) 'True Blood,' but don't count out someone from the 'Mad Men' ensemble breaking through -- either Elisabeth Moss or Jones, whose breakdown last season revealed new depths to this gorgeous leading lady's range."
Lead Actor, Comedy: It boils down to two words: Jim Parsons. This is the year he must be recognized, if not win. He's brilliant as geek extraordinaire Sheldon Cooper, one of the most fully realized comic characters since the heyday of Tony Randall's Felix Ungar. There's no excuse for him not to be noticed."
Lead Actress, Comedy: "While 'Parks and Recreation' is underwhelming, look for Amy Poehler to score a nomination out of general goodwill and the fact she's the best thing about her show."
Supporting Actor/Actress: "The women on (HBO's) 'Big Love' -- particularly Chloe Sevigny and Ginnifer Goodwin -- are astonishing. They're more than deserving of being honored. I'd also love to see Walton Goggins for 'The Shield' finally get his due in that show's final season."
Drama Series: "There's no better written or acted drama on TV than 'Mad Men.' 'Battlestar Galactica' would be on my dream Emmy ballot for its excellent final season. But it would be a crime if 'The Shield' didn't get in. It's the most consistently excellent show ever made -- ever. It's been operating at an amazing level for a long time and should be rewarded with a nomination at the least."
Comedy Series: "'30 Rock' gets in for sure because it's pretty much always hilarious. I'm also looking for 'The Office' to make it again -- it's still good even if it's fallen off a bit. And 'Chuck' is my fantasy ballot selection. It's well made, extremely well-acted and very underrated, mostly due to Levi's performance."
Lead Actor, Drama: "The locks here are Gabriel Byrne ("In Treatment"), Laurie, Hall and Hamm because they bring such presence and skill to the table every week. But I'd also love to see Chiklis make it. He's won once before (in 2002), so I've got a feeling it could happen because he delivered such amazing work in that show's final season. The fact that Edward James Olmos is annually snubbed for his work on 'Battlestar Galactica' is just criminal. He's got a charisma and style that demands attention."
Lead Actress, Drama: "Close and Sedgwick look like the favorites again. Close really makes 'Damages' what it is with her ability to elevate everyone around her and really make you believe she's who she plays. Sedgwick is a dynamic performer who has created a memorable character. But Jones really stepped up her game in a big way in that show's second season."
Lead Actor, Comedy: "Parsons is really good. You only need to watch that show once to see how funny and compelling he is. But I don't see how you can not vote for Baldwin, even in an uneven season for '30 Rock.' He's just so damn great and commands the screen in every scene. I'd also like to see Johnny Galecki get nominated for 'Big Bang.' He's hugely underrated."
Lead Actress, Comedy: "For my money, it's still all about Tina Fey here. I don't see anyone here who's better. She's turned herself from being a comedian to a real comic actress, which is no small feat. Amy Poehler (is) so lovable, but (NBC's) 'Parks and Recreation' was just so bad. I think it was worse than (the short-lived "Friends" spinoff) 'Joey.' "
Supporting Actor/Actress: "Alison Pill and Hope Davis were both just amazing this year on 'In Treatment,' as was John Mahoney. They're all just superb artists. It's like watching great stage actors working together. They're all so skilled at turning on a dime from elation to depression to anger that it's just amazing to watch."
Drama Series: "'The Shield' had a positively kick-ass finale that just left you speechless, the acting and the writing were so superb. I'm also a fan of 'Dexter,' even though it's about a serial killer. It's also about identity, connection, justice, love and the difficulty of finding all these in our cuckoo modern culture."
Comedy Series: "I appreciate that '30 Rock' is always amusing and smart and witty. But I never laugh out loud at any sitcom. Lots of stuff is pleasant and amusing, but not all that clever. I wish there was something as great as 'All in the Family' used to be, but there sadly isn't."
Lead Actor, Drama: "Seeing Cranston win last year for 'Breaking Bad' gives me hope that Hall might be honored for 'Dexter' this time. And Chiklis on 'The Shield' did more in that silent minute before he confessed his multitude of sins in the show finale than most actors do in 'emoting' for a full season."
Lead Actor, Comedy: "Baldwin, because he's got (his) character so consistently up at a high level. He's quite terrific. But you know, every year the Emmys talk about wanting to find someone new, someone fresh, who really shakes up primetime. And right now that's Parsons. He's really nailing it with the level he's operating at. I just don't know if he can beat Baldwin because he doesn't yet have the name."
Lead Actress, Comedy: "I'm a big fan of Mary-Louise Parker's. She keeps getting nominated for her quirky multifaceted take on being a suburban single mom drug kingpin, because she plays it with such subtlety and richness. And now she needs to win. It's her turn."
Supporting Actor/Actress: "It's so long overdue for Goggins to win for 'The Shield,' and this is his last shot. There has been no better character in all of TV. I'm so hoping he at least gets nominated. And Jennifer Esposito is the best awful drunk friend in TV history on 'Samantha Who?' Also, Katee Sackhoff of 'Battlestar Galactica' was an action-romance-psychological powerhouse who added a real dynamic presence to that show."
Editing by DeanGoodman at Reuters