Los Angeles - If it was a good year for American television, Sunday's Primetime Emmy awards could make it a great year for the grittier side of the TV grid, led by a drama about a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who cooks crystal meth.
Breaking Bad is the show to beat for the night's top honour, best drama series, and Bryan Cranston as the unlikely meth mastermind-turned-ruthless drug kingpin Walter White is favoured to win best actor in a drama. That would make him a four-time winner for that role.
If it wins, Breaking Bad will take the drama prize for the first time, and timing might have something to do with its good fortune. Although its nominations are for the programme's fifth season, the eight episodes of the AMC show's sixth and final season began airing in August, before Emmy voting concluded, to widespread acclaim from fans.
The defending Emmy champ in that category, Showtime's domestic terrorism thriller Homeland, also has a chance, although critics say its second season did not hit the surprising high notes of its first year, while HBO's slick medieval fantasy Game of Thrones has its share of buzz and 16 nominations overall.
Then there is the big novelty in this year's race, the political drama House of Cards from the TV streaming company Netflix Inc, whose nine nominations were hailed as a validation of production made specifically for online delivery.
But handicappers say it has better chances to win in the best actor category, where Kevin Spacey could challenge Cranston with his portrayal of conniving congressional leader Frank Underwood.
For best comedy series, another gritty show appears to be gaining steam: Louie featuring the New York comedian Louis CK, challenging the winner of the past three years, Modern Family, the smart ABC comedy about unconventional families. Louis CK could also win best actor for comedy.
It could be a year of what Hollywood awards show handicapper Tom O'Neil of Goldderby.com calls "atypical winners".
"Emmy voters are notorious elitists. They vote for the most stylised, upscale programming," said O'Neil, pointing to their support in the past for shows like Frasier and Homeland.
"However, you could say that Breaking Bad and Louie are chic in another way," he added. "They have elitist appeal because they are cool shows right now. And that is what makes the Emmy contest this year so exciting."
The Emmys are handed out by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in a televised ceremony from Los Angeles, which will be hosted by actor Neil Patrick Harris.
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