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Does Don dominate? And four more Emmy cliffhangers

A scene from Mad Men.

Michael Yarish/AMC

1) Will Mad Men win best drama for the fifth straight year?

If the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards were scripted by a hack TV writer, Mad Men would receive its fifth consecutive award for outstanding drama – the first drama series in history to do so – and the broadcast would fade out with the cast joyously hoisting creator Matthew Weiner on their shoulders.

But it is by no means a sure thing. The Emmys are determined by 15,000 voting members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, and competition within the TV drama category has never been tougher.

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Challenging Mad Men is the also-much-lauded AMC sibling Breaking Bad, which wrapped its fifth season a few weeks ago and remains fresh in the minds of Emmy voters. And the intense Showtime drama Homeland, which generated huge buzz this time last year, is getting lots of attention at the moment, since it returns for its sophomore campaign next week. It's also reasonable to expect a good percentage of voters to opt for one of the two mega-budget HBO series, Game of Thrones and Boardwalk Empire.

Of course, it's always possible all those hot cable shows could cancel each other out and pave the way for the lofty PBS period piece Downton Abbey – this year's sole non-cable nominee – to swoop in and take top honours. Never underestimate the willingness of Americans to defer to the British.

2) Will Dunham get her due?

Lena Dunham certainly deserves recognition. She created, wrote and produced the dark HBO comedy Girls, which collected four Emmy nods. She also took the lead role on the series and directed half of the first-season episodes. Not bad for someone who turned 26 a few months ago.

But will Emmy voters reward Dunham's youthful iconoclasm? The Academy has already bestowed one trophy on Girls, for casting, at last week's Creative Arts Emmys. On Sunday night, Girls is a nominee in the category of outstanding series, and Dunham herself is up for outstanding actress in a comedy series.

Isn't it highly unlikely that Girls will take best-show honours against programs such as Modern Family or Curb Your Enthusiasm, or – an even longer long shot – that Dunham can beat out 30 Rock's Tina Fey or Mike & Molly's Melissa McCarthy (last year's winner) for best comedy actress?

More likely is Dunham winning in the category of outstanding directing in a comedy series. She deserves something for making us all forget all about Sex and the City.

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3) Will Ryan Murphy's controversial gamble pay off?

As creator of Glee and American Horror Story, Murphy collected a remarkable 20 nominations for this year's trophy-fest, but he's clearly not in the TV business to make friends.

Several of Murphy's fellow nominees have griped about his submitting American Horror Story to the category of outstanding miniseries or TV movie (because each season is a complete story, according to Murphy), which means that instead of competing against heavyweight cable programs such as Mad Men and Homeland, AHS will compete against lower-profile TV movies such as HBO's Hemingway & Gellhorn and BBC America's Luther.

But if American Horror Story wins, his competition will complain the show didn't belong in the category. And if it loses (and many experts are predicting a sweep for History Channel's Hatfields & McCoys miniseries), the show will be doubly mocked for losing even among the lower-profiled.

4) With vet Jeff Probst out of the running, who's left to don the reality-TV crown?

So here's a weird thing: Survivor mainstay Jeff Probst won the inaugural Emmy for outstanding reality-TV host in 2008 and took the award for the next three years running. In truth, he's the only person to ever receive the award, but for reasons unknown, he wasn't even nominated for this particular competition. The Emmys tribe has spoken.

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All of which increases the focus on the mixed bag of reality-host nominees that includes Ryan Seacrest (American Idol), Phil Keoghan (The Amazing Race), Cat Deeley (So You Think You Can Dance) and Tom Bergeron (Dancing with the Stars).

The obvious sentimental favourite: Betty White, turning 91 soon, for Betty White's Off Their Rockers, even if the hidden-camera prank show is pretty awful.

5) Will Jimmy Kimmel truly shock?

First-time-host Jimmy Kimmel will don the requisite tuxedo for this Sunday's show, but that's pretty much it for Emmy formalities. As on his late-night talk show Jimmy Kimmel Live (which moves to compete directly opposite Leno and Letterman in January), he's a wild card expected to make the most of the largest TV audience of his career. Expect a oh-no-he-didn't! moment in his opening monologue, and it probably won't be a Kardashian joke.

"I'm going to do something on the show that I think is going to be a very big deal virally after the show, and during the show," teased Kimmel in an interview with an L.A. TV station earlier this week. "I can't tell you what it is because it would ruin it. But I promise, if you're watching the show, you will be in on the prank. If you are not watching, you will be a prankee."

The 64th Primetime Emmy Awards air Sunday at 8 p.m. on ABC and CTV.

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