Our TV contributor Jason Hughes handicaps the 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards.
If you don't know, now you know: justice is rarely served at Hollywood award shows, as the nominees depend on pricey campaigning from the studios on their behalf to make sure the vote sways in their favor. (Winning an Emmy isn't so different than being elected into public office, actually.)
But hey, sometimes we're pleasantly surprised by those actors, writers, directors, producers and TV shows that emerge victorious on the big night. Here's to hoping the majority of Television Academy voters agree with our picks, but we're predicting the majority won't.
Nominees: "The Amazing Race," "American Ninja Warrior," "Project Runway," "RuPaul's Drag Race," "Top Chef," "The Voice"
Should Win: After settling in and finding its groove, "American Ninja Warrior" is absolutely killing it week in and week out as sterling entertainment. Matt Iseman and Akbar Gbaja-Biamila have developed a great rapport in co-hosting the event, keeping things light and moving briskly along, which is a rare treat in a competition show.
Will Win: RuPaul won back-to-back Emmys as host, securing another this year at the Creative Arts ceremony, but we don't think "The Voice" is going to repeat. With "RuPaul's Drag Race" in the running, we think it's going to be a one-two for the show.
Variety Sketch Series
Nominees: "Billy on the Street," "Documentary Now!," "Drunk History," "Portlandia," "Saturday Night Live," "Tracey Ullman’s Show"
Should Win: The election of Donald Trump to the presidency injected so much energy and life into “Saturday Night Live” even beyond Alec Baldwin’s impression of him. The show had one of its strongest seasons creatively and managed to put out 22 live episodes with nary a dud among them.
Will Win: Tracey Ullman is an Emmy favorite, and she is in fine form with her return, but nothing can stop the red-hot train that was "SNL's" amazing season.
Variety Talk Series
Nominees: "Full Frontal with Samantha Bee," "Jimmy Kimmel Live!," "Last Week Tonight with John Oliver," "The Last Show with Stephen Colbert," "The Late Late Show with James Corden," "Real Time with Bill Maher"
Should Win: Stephen Colbert is having his best year since taking over for David Letterman, and James Corden is riding "Carpool Karaoke" into finding his groove, but this remains the era of John Oliver. His "Last Week Tonight" has emerged as the sharpest and most influential show of its kind on television right now in the absence of Jon Stewart on "The Daily Show," not even nominated.
Will Win: While we could see Stephen Colbert getting a win for finally getting his groove back, we think the nomination is going to have to be enough this year. John Oliver is going to go back-to-back for "Last Week Tonight."
Supporting Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Nominees: Bill Camp for "The Night Of," Alfred Molina for "Feud: Bette and Joan," Alexander Skarsgard for "Big Little Lies," David Thewlis for "Fargo," Stanely Tucci for "Feud: Bette and Joan," Michael K. Williams for "The Night Of"
Should Win: While "Feud: Bette and Joan" is the story of its titular leading ladies, Alfred Molina's take on director Robert Aldrich may be the most nuanced and devastating performance in the entire series. It's one of the most challenging roles of his career and Molina just devours it, frustrating us and breaking our hearts at the same time as Aldrich tries so desperately to rise above his struggles and achieve greatness.
Will Win: This is Hollywood, and Stanley Tucci is a Hollywood favorite playing a Hollywood legend as studio head honcho Jack Warner in "Feud: Bette and Joan." Tucci's take was unflattering, aggressive and downright nasty at times, which might just see him emerge victorious.
Supporting Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Nominees: Judy Davis for "Feud: Bette and Joan," Laura Dern for "Big Little Lies," Jackie Hoffman for "Feud: Bette and Joan," Regina King for "American Crime," Michelle Pfeiffer for "The Wizard of Lies," Shailene Woodley for "Big Little Lies"
Should Win: After two consecutive wins for "American Crime," Regina King has proven her mettle in this category, but it's Shailene Woodley who really impressed this year with her turn as a poor young mother wrapped up in the petty feuds of her fellow moms in "Big Little Lies."
Will Win: While Shailene Woodley continues to build an impressive resume of quality performances at such a young age, it is Laura Dern, her co-star in "Big Little Lies," who will likely walk away with Emmy gold. With her seventh Emmy nomination, this could finally be the one that clinches it for the Oscar-nominee and Golden Globe winner.
Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie
Nominees: Riz Ahmed for "The Night Of," Benedict Cumberbatch for "Sherlock, 'The Lying Detective,'" Robert De Niro for "The Wizard of Lies," Ewan McGregor for "Fargo," Geoffrey Rush for "Genius," John Turturro for "The Night Of"
Should Win: Riz Ahmed was a revelation in "The Night Of," pouring everything he had into the story of a young man on the wrong end of a murder accusation. His performance was heartbreaking, powerful and riveting. Even throughout the weaker installments of this eight-parter, Ahmed was the shining light, making you care and wonder and worry in every scene.
Will Win: Geoffrey Rush was a lot of fun as Albert Eistein, and John Turturro always gives a good performance, but neither are Robert De Niro. He was excellent as Bernie Madoff in "The Wizard of Lies," but another factor is that Emmy still plays that insecure little sister to the Oscars and loves to give statues to movie stars in hopes that more of them will come play on the small screen. Considering that status isn't really the case anymore, they can stop this at any time now, but De Niro is still probably going to win.
Lead Actress in a Limited Series or Movie
Nominees: Carrie Coon for "Fargo," Felicity Huffman for "American Crime," Nicole Kidman for "Big Little Lies," Jessica Lange for "Feud: Bette and Joan," Susan Sarandon for "Feud: Bette and Joan," Reese Witherspoon for "Big Little Lies"
Should win: There are so many good performances in this category, but the one that stands out and demands to be remembered is Felicity Huffman, who took us on an emotional journey this season with her breakout performance in "American Crime." This time around, she got to portray a successful woman who goes on a journey of morality and decency as things fall apart and escalate around her.
Will Win: This is one of the most stacked and difficult categories, with a case to be made for every nominee. Lange brought it a little harder than Sarandon, while Huffman gave her best "American Crime" performance yet. Carrie Coon was a good surprise, but we think it's going to come down to "Big Little Lies" again. While Kidman and Witherspoon could cancel one another out, don’t be surprised to see Nicole Kidman emerge with her first Emmy here for her dressed-down performance as an abused (maybe?) wife.
Nominees: "Black Mirror" episode of "San Junipero," "Dolly Parton's Christmas of Many Colors: Circle of Love," "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks," "The Lying Detective" episode of "Sherlock," "The Wizard of Lies"
Should Win: It's odd that an episode of an anthology series could qualify, but as long as it's here, "San Junipero" is one of the most heart-wrenching and powerful episodes of any television show, and that's among a brilliant bevy of "Black Mirror" episodes. As the only uplifting episode of the series, this one stood out in the latest season for beautiful performances by Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Mackenzie Davis, and it stellar concept and execution.
Will Win: "The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks" didn't come together as powerfully as it could have, and episodes of television series seem life long-shots, though don't count "Sherlock" out. Dolly Parton getting a nom is cute, but this category belongs to HBO's Bernie Madoff biopic "The Wizard of Lies," riding the coattails of stellar performances by Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer.
Nominees: "Big Little Lies," "Fargo," "Feud: Bette and Joan," "Genius," "The Night Of"
Should Win: Another tough category with a lot of good choices, but the series that stayed the strongest from beginning to end was "Big Little Lies," anchored by strong performances by its female leads, all of them nominated for their work.
Will Win: "The Night Of" tapered off as it continued, and "Feud: Bette and Joan" may be too sensational for Emmy. "Genius" was largely ignored, and we're not sure Emmy is ready to reward a season of an ongoing show in this category. Plus, all that star power is going to have "Big Little Lies' seeing gold.
Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series
Nominees: Louie Anderson for "Baskets," Alec Baldwin for "Saturday Night Live," Titus Burgess for "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Ty Burell for "Modern Family," Tony Hale for "Veep," Matt Walsh for "Veep"
Should Win: While Baldwin was fun to watch as Trump, just about everyone else here has already seen Emmy gold for these characters. It's time to throw caution to the wind and reward Titus Burgess for the most fearless and funniest performance on a show filled with them, "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt."
Will Win: It's hard to imagine anyone not giving an Emmy to Alec Baldwin in liberal Hollywood for his brutal and continuous takedown of President Trump during so many appearances on "Saturday Night Live" this season. Hale and Anderson are the only ones who have a shot at doing that, and that's just because they've won recently, but this is Baldwin's year.
Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominees: Vanessa Bayer for "Saturday Night Live," Anna Chlumsky for "Veep," Kathryn Hahn for "Transparent," Leslie Jones for "Saturday Night Live," Judith Light for "Transparent," Kate McKinnon for "Saturday Night Live"
Should Win: While Judith Light is powerful on "Transparent," our heart has to go with Leslie Jones, who can make me laugh every moment she is on the screen. Jones demands your attention, and she does it without doing impressions or characters. For the most part, she is just fabulous Leslie Jones and while I'm thrilled she’s nominated, she deserves the win, too.
Will Win: It's looking like a repeat for Kate Mckinnon, who got to say farewell to her Hillary Clinton impression early in the season, but managed to keep bringing it with some of the most committed performances we've ever seen from a repertory player on "SNL."
Lead Actor in a Comedy Series
Nominees: Anthony Anderson for "Black-ish," Aziz Ansari for "Master of None," Zach Galifianakis for "Baskets," Donald Glover for "Atlanta," William H. Macy for "Shameless," Jeffrey Tambor for "Transparent"
Should Win: While we'd love to award the work that Zach Galifianakis is doing on "Baskets" -- especially since Alec Baldwin is going to take Louie Anderson's supporting Emmy away -- we can't deny the powerful performance of Donald Glover in "Atlanta." This show proved what an acting powerhouse this versatile performer is, bringing just as much pathos and drama to the role as there are laughs.
Will Win: This category makes me nervous because of the continued powerful performance of Jeffrey Tambor on "Transparent" coming up against the transcendent portrayal Donald Glover gives in "Atlanta." But with "Transparent" missing from the Comedy Series category, it's time for another contender to strike, and we're going to give it to new blood this year and call it for Glover.
Lead Actress in a Comedy Series
Nominees: Pamela Adlon for "Better Things," Jane Fonda for "Grace and Frankie," Allison Janney for "Mom," Ellie Kemper for "The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," Julia Louis-Dreyfus for "Veep," Tracee Ellis Ross for "Black-ish," Lily Tomlin for "Grace and Frankie"
Should Win: Ellie Kemper is a breath of fresh air in this category each year, but it is Pamela Adlon who came roaring in. This is the only nomination for the under-appreciated "Better Things," but who better to award than Adlon who is the singular creative vision behind the show, working with Louis C.K. It's no wonder "Better Things" feels so grounded and real, and her portrayal as an actress juggling life with three kids is so raw and unfiltered. It's sheer brilliance and it deserves to be not only noticed, but recognized for its brilliance.
Will Win: Since no one probably saw Adlon, and they don't seem to want to award Kemper for her performance in "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," it looks like a sixth consecutive win for Dreyfus, who is admittedly brilliant in "Veep." We’d be happy to be wrong this time.
Nominees: "Atlanta," "Black-ish," "Master of None," "Modern Family," "Silicon Valley," "Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt," "Veep"
Should Win: This category is ripe for an upset, and with "Transparent" now out of the running, only "Veep" really stands in the way of Donald Glover's "Atlanta" getting all of that Emmy love. With a drama edge, it's the kind of show Emmy should love, and because it's just flawlessly executed, it's our pick for what should win on the night.
Will Win: "Modern Family" still being here is a travesty, but Emmy is nothing if not willing to nominate the same shows and performers year after year. Could it be a three-peat for "Veep," or will "Atlanta" sneak in there and get a win? We think Glover winning for Best Actor will be enough to make Emmy feel hip and current, and it will indeed go to "Veep" again.
Supporting Actress in a Drama Series
Nominees: Uzo Aduba for "Orange Is the New Black," Millie Bobby Brown for "Stranger Things," Ann Dowd for "The Handmaid's Tale," Chrissy Metz for "This Is Us," Thandie Newton for "Westworld," Samira Wiley for "The Handmaid's Tale"
Should Win: "Stranger Things" is the oddball of the drama categories this year, and while it was critically acclaimed and had all the cultural zeitgeist you could want, it's still going to be a hard sell for the more traditional Emmy voters. That said, no one did more with less than Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven in a heartbreaking performance done as much through pantomime as any actual lines of dialogue.
Will Win: "The Handmaid's Tale" has better performers to tout, and Thandie Newton will likely have to settle for a nomination for her unsettling performance in "Westworld." "This Is Us" had a breakout debut and no performer on that show broke out more than Chrissy Metz, who became an overnight sensation. This category loves to honor newcomers and we think Metz will be their newcomer this year.
Supporting Actor in a Drama Series
Nominees: Jonathan Banks for "Better Call Saul," David Harbour for "Stranger Things," Ron Cephas Jones for "This Is Us," Michael Kelly for "House of Cards," John Lithgow for "The Crown," Mandy Patinkin for "Homeland," Jeffrey Wright for "Westworld"
Should Win: The absence of "Game of Thrones" this season, is really opening up the drama categories, and bringing us some interesting nominees. But none is more deserving than Ron Cephas Jones who made us fall in love with his portrayal of William Hill on "This Is Us." It was the most gut-wrenching performance of the season and a masterclass in acting.
Will Win: There are a lot of great performances in this category, but Emmy loves a portrayal of a real person from history, and John Lithgow gave us a tremendous Winston Churchill on "The Crown." While Jones would be a pleasant surprise, we think Lithgow will be accepting his sixth Emmy come Sunday night.
Lead Actor in a Drama Series
Nominees: Sterling K. Brown for "This Is Us," Anthony Hopkins for "Westworld," Bob Odenkirk for "Better Call Saul," Matthew Rhys for "The Americans," Liev Schreiber for "Ray Donovan," Kevin Spacey for "House of Cards," Milo Ventimiglia for "This Is Us"
Should Win: Matthew Rhys has been criminally underappreciated for his work on "The Americans" -- as has Bob Odenkirk for "Better Call Saul" admittedly -- and it's high time someone stands up and notices. Rhys has had one of the most complicated journeys on television as a sympathetic Russian spy during the Cold War era and he's played the internal conflict beautifully over five seasons.
Will Win: While Milo Ventimiglia is the heart of "This Is Us," it is Sterling K. Brown who has proven to be the driving force. None of the other performances have his presence, with the exception of Anthony Hopkins who just doesn’t have that much to do on "Westworld." We think Randall Pearson will join his sister Kate with Emmy gold.
Lead Actress in a Drama Series
Nominees: Viola Davis for "How to Get Away With Murder," Claire Foy for "The Crown," Elisabeth Moss for "The Handmaid's Tale," Keri Russell for "The Americans," Evan Rachel Wood for "Westworld," Robin Wright for "House of Cards"
Should Win: Claire Foy carries the whole weight of "The Crown" on her shoulders as Queen Elizabeth II in the Netflix drama. The story is compelling as it progresses into the 1950s, but it primarily works because of the winning portrayal by Foy who makes us love this fictionalized version of the Queen almost as much as we love the real thing.
Will Win: With the final season of "Orphan Black" and Tatiana Maslany's performance coming too late for the Emmys deadline this year, Elisabeth Moss is looking like the likely winner for her challenging performance in "The Handmaid's Tale." She has never won an Emmy despite six nominations for her work on "Mad Men," and Emmy will surely want to award this timely and important series in some way, so this is a win-win for them.
Nominees: "Better Call Saul," "The Crown," "The Handmaid's Tale," "House of Cards," "Stranger Things," "This Is Us," "Westworld"
Should Win: "This Is Us" and "Stranger Things" are two of the strongest shows on television, but no show challenged viewers as much as "The Handmaid's Tale" this year. Feeling as timely as ever, this fable about women subjugated as less-than-second-class citizens was brutally written and directed, with intensely convicted performances by a who's who of great female actors. This is the show that leaves you thinking after you watch it, and this is the show that deserves to win.
Will Win: We don't think Emmy is ready to give the big award of the night to a dystopic fantasy series on Hulu, so instead it's network television's time to shine again. "This Is Us" captured a nation and is poised to emerge as the big winner on the night. It's a fan-favorite, a critical darling, and the one scripted show eligible (sorry "Game of Thrones") that gets people obsessively talking about it each day after it airs. This is as current and with it as Emmy can get.
The 69th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards air Sunday night at 8 p.m. ET on CBS.