john doyle

The Emmy Awards have one big problem – there’s too much great TV

The Globe and Mail

Neil Patrick Harris will host the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday. (LUCAS JACKSON/REUTERS)

There’s a problem with the Emmy Awards. Scratch that – there are multiple problems with the 65th Primetime Emmy Awards (Sunday, CBS, CTV, 8 p.m. ET). Depending on your point of view.

For a start, there are two competing must-watch series airing Sunday night. There’s the penultimate episode of Breaking Bad (Sunday, AMC, 9 p.m.) and the series finale of Dexter (Sunday, TMN, 9 p.m.). Who wants to watch acceptance speeches by actors who are carefully thanking their agents, lawyers, spouses and moms when they can watch Walter White spiral into madness or Dexter Morgan engineer an escape from hell?

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But such problems to have, really. Too much good TV. That’s what the Emmy Awards are about now – the abundance of TV to be honoured and acknowledged. The only real complainers are some network bosses. NBC entertainment chairman Bob Greenblatt said this past summer that the Emmy system regards broadcast television as “the bastard child of the industry” and cable shows get heavy Emmy attention. True, but network excellence is honoured too. It’s just that Parenthood isn’t Breaking Bad in the excellence stakes.

Here are some things to know about this year’s Emmy Awards.

The host – for the second-time – is Neil Patrick Harris, who promises to keep it “classy and smart,” which is something the actor/singer/dancer is capable of doing. There will be an extended In Memoriam segment, with special tributes – Edie Falco will remember Sopranos co-star James Gandolfini; Michael J. Fox will pay tribute to Family Ties producer Gary David Goldberg; Jane Lynch will remember her Glee co-star Cory Monteith; Rob Reiner will pay tribute to All in the Family cast member Jean Stapleton; and Robin Williams will remember Jonathan Winters, a man who was his mentor.

The top award is Outstanding Drama Series and the nominees are Downton Abbey (PBS), Game of Thrones (HBO), Homeland (Showtime), House of Cards (Netflix) and Mad Men (AMC). As popular as it is with a certain set, Downton isn’t going to win this. And it’s unlikely Netflix will pull off a major coup and win with House of Cards; the series is more likely to take some acting awards. Game of Thrones looks like an outside bet in this company, Homeland’s second season was disappointing and that means Mad Men is the likely winner.

It’s in Outstanding Comedy Series that the networks might, just might, pick up an Emmy. The nominees are The Big Bang Theory (CBS), Girls (HBO), Louie (FX), Modern Family (ABC), 30 Rock (NBC) and Veep (HBO). There’s a lot of affection for both Modern Family and Big Bang and either could be favoured ahead of Girl.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama has this list: Bryan Cranston (Breaking Bad), Hugh Bonneville (Downton Abbey), Damian Lewis (Homeland), Kevin Spacey (House of Cards), Jon Hamm (Mad Men) and Jeff Daniels (The Newsroom). The voters might embrace the arrival of Netflix by awarding Spacey.

For Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama, it’s: Vera Farmiga (Bates Motel), Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Claire Danes (Homeland), Robin Wright (House of Cards), Elisabeth Moss (Mad Men), Connie Britton (Nashville) and Kerry Washington (Scandal). This is a hard category to read. Washington’s people landed her on the cover of Vanity Fair and, maybe, have courted the voters into a win. Who knows.

It’s important to know, too, that there are odd omissions and strange favouritism. FX’s American Horror Story: Asylum has the most nominations, with 17. Meanwhile, Justified, Sons of Anarchy and The Americans are almost ignored. And the omission of Canadian Tatiana Maslany for Orphan Black is beyond belief: Another instance where, some might say, there is too much good TV for the Emmy Awards to do it all justice. Or, perhaps, BBC America, which aired Orphan Black in the United States, isn’t skilled at promoting its shows to the Emmy voters.

Red-carpet coverage starts early, on E! Canada, at 6 p.m. ET, with hosts Ryan Seacrest, Giuliana Rancic, Ross Mathews and Kelly Osbourne interviewing arriving TV stars and passing judgment on their outfits. This ain’t the Oscars. This is television and, unlike the movies these days, television is a serious business – the storytelling and the acting matter far more than the frocks.

Also airing this weekend

Battle of the Blades (Sunday, CBC, 8 p.m.) comes back. Yes, CBC banks on the familiar: “A dynamic show that combines athletes from two of Canada’s favourite sports: figure skating and hockey! Eight accomplished figure skaters pair up with eight rugged hockey players in the ultimate skating competition for charity.” Ron MacLean and Kurt Browning return to host it. Prediction: Scottish lass Sinead Kerr is the breakout star.

All times ET. Check local listings.