Fresh Faces Liven Up the Emmy Race

Tonight's 61st ceremony features new host Neil Patrick Harris and new nominees

Photo: Barry Talesnick/Globe

With Family Guy the first animated show to be nominated as best comedy series in nearly half a century, things are looking a little different for this year’s 61st annual Primetime Emmys.

TV’s biggest night – which CBS will broadcast live Sunday starting at 8 p.m. – is still expected to shower plenty of gold upon NBC’s comedy 30 Rock and AMC’s drama Mad Men, just like last year, but with How I Met Your Mother star Neil Patrick Harris as the ceremony’s first-time host after his stellar turn emceeing June’s Tony Awards, the evening should also benefit from some categories starring new contenders.

Classic example: with Jeremy Piven bypassed for a nomination in the supporting actor category for his hard-driving agent role on HBO’s Entourage, the field is open for such actors as Jack McBrayer, the slack-jawed page Kenneth on 30 Rock; his clueless-acting costar Tracy Morgan; and even the constantly stupefied Johnny Drama of Entourage, played by Kevin Dillon. (Also vying are Two and a Half Men‘s Jon Cryer, The Office‘s Rainn Wilson and Emmy host Harris, for his sitcom.)

Hamm and Moss

Other possible first-time winners who have TV critics rooting for them include Mad Men players Jon Hamm, as the earnest but secretive Don Draper, and Elisabeth Moss, as the ambitious and worthy Peggy Olson. Also attracting their fans are comedy contenders Jim Parsons, of CBS’s The Big Bang Theory, and Toni Collette, of Showtime’s surreal United States of Tara.

Not that there won’t be familiar faces lighting up the stage Sunday night. Patricia Arquette, David Boreanaz, LL Cool J, Jimmy Fallon, Michael J. Fox, Alyson Hannigan, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Blake Lively, Leighton Meester, Stephen Moyer, Chris O’Donnell, Rob Lowe, Hayden Panettiere and Kate Walsh, among others, have all been announced as presenters.

Already standing in the winners’ circle, thanks to last weekend’s Creative Emmy Awards presentation, are Tina Fey, for her Sarah Palin impersonation on Saturday Night Live, PBS’s mini-series adaptation of Charles Dickens’s Little Dorrit, and seven programs – including HBO’s Grey Gardens and Generation Kill, FOX’s American Idol and ABC’s canceled cult dramedy Pushing Daisies – having won three statuettes apiece.

Justin Timberlake also made history as the first SNL host ever to win an Emmy in the category of guest actor in a comedy series.

For a complete list of this Sunday’s nominees, visit the Emmys Web site.

As for his approach to the big job ahead of him, Harris has told “I sort of feel like the Emmys are so classy and glamorous and black tie [that] so long as I make you feel confident that you’re in good hands with me as the host, then it’s my real responsibility to introduce you to a lot of other people and elements – other presenters who are then going to talk to you or other introductions of next sections.”

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