The Primetime Emmys are being handed out early this year to avoid a scheduling clash with NBC's NFL coverage. As usual, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences will honor outstanding members with those distinctive statuettes, because nothing says "television" like a miniature angel lifting an oversized atom. To further confuse matters of scale, the impossibly tall Conan O'Brien (whose "Late Night" is nominated) will serve as host.
Here's a quick guide to which shows are nominated for the biggest awards, what deserves to win and why.
Outstanding Comedy Series: "Arrested Development," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Office," "Scrubs," "Two and A Half Men"
Four of these are excellent, innovative comedies. The other one stars Charlie Sheen. It's not that "Two And A Half Men" is bad, it's just out of place in such illustrious company. If there's any justice in the world of television (and there isn't) then "Arrested Development" will win another Emmy, just to make Fox executives feel that extra bit of guilt for signing the show's death warrant and canceling the season.
Outstanding Drama Series: "Grey's Anatomy," "House," "The Sopranos," "24," "The West Wing"
No Charlie Sheen here, but father Martin Sheen's "West Wing" makes its final Emmy appearance after being canceled. That may attract sympathy votes, but with 24 Emmys in its trophy case, "The West Wing" doesn't need any more recognition. "The Soprano's" should edge it out for some brave plots that would be cliché on any other show. Vito's homosexuality was handled with humor, pity, empathy, a spot of antiquing and then finally, (because it's "The Sopranos"), a brutal death.
Outstanding Reality Competition Program: "The Amazing Race," "American Idol," "Dancing With The Stars," "Project Runway," "Survivor"
The gargantuan ratings suggest "American Idol" is making America idle, but that shouldn't translate into awards. Elliott Yamin's run gave this season some local interest, but after a few years the shows are blurring into an endless karaoke contest. "Project Runway" contestants were blessed with far more personality than their "Idol" counterparts, possibly because the fashion industry celebrates anything but blandness. The show deserves the statuette for consistently challenging its contestants' creativity. Either that or for Heidi Klum's catch phrase, "Auf Wiedersehen."
Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series: "The Colbert Report," "The Daily Show," "Late Night With Conan O'Brien," "Late Show With David Letterman," "Real Time With Bill Maher"
Letterman and Conan are institutions, but could also do with a little freshening up. There's only so much that can be done with the hastily assembled sketches that fill air time between celebrity guests. "The Daily Show" is approaching institution-hood, but it's often out-satired by its spinoff, "The Colbert Report." Host Stephen Colbert does an impressive job maintaining his Bill O'Reilly-plus persona and may taste Emmy victory via his nomination in another category, Outstanding Individual Performance in a Variety or Music Program. Maher stands out in this crowd for sheer variety, effortlessly combining stand-up, chat show, political debate, biting satire and sketch comedy. Plus he never has an animal expert as a guest. S
The 58th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast live Sunday, Aug. 27, at 8 p.m. on NBC. For complete nominations visit www.emmys.org.