Emmy Predictions 2014: Outstanding comedy/drama lead actor

Because it’s NBC’s turn to air the Primetime Emmy Awards this year, and because the Peacock would understandably rather air its lucrative Sunday night NFL package in September, the ceremony will take place in late August again. And as an added wrinkle, this year’s ceremony will actually happen on a Monday, August 25 at 8 p.m., with Seth Meyers hosting.

Between now and then, Dan and I will be making our picks for both who should and will win many of the major categories – if you’re wagering, keep in mind that Dan tends to be much better at predicting the winners than I am, but also that he was just as flummoxed as I by last year’s winners like Jeff Daniels, Merritt Wever and Bobby Cannavale – continuing with our look at the comedy and drama lead actor categories.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Louis C.K., “Louie”

Don Cheadle, “House of Lies”

Ricky Gervais, “Derek”

Matt LeBlanc, “Episodes”

William H. Macy, “Shameless”

Jim Parsons, “The Big Bang Theory”

Should win

Alan’s pick: For the last few years, this category has been the exact opposite of its dramatic counterpart. When you couple the lack of genuine male leads in current comedies with the voters’ love of performances in Showtime series that only kinda-sorta-vaguely qualify here (including Macy getting his first “Shameless” nomination due to a category switch from drama), it’s a field full of familiar names but one where few of them are screaming out for recognition (or more recognition, in the case of Parsons). But this was perhaps Louis C.K.’s best acting year yet on “Louie,” as the big character arc of the season forced him to demonstrate more dramatic range, while the season’s more surreal installments (like “Model,” which was his submission episode) allowed him to get more laughs than several of his competitors put together.

Dan’s pick: I’ve got no opinion on Matt LeBlanc or Don Cheadle,” as I don’t watch their shows. I respect what Ricky Gervais is doing on “Derek,” but it wouldn’t be my preference. William H. Macy should have been in the supporting category here, but his final scene shouting at God is superb. So it comes down to Jim Parsons and Louis C.K. for me. Criticize “The Big Bang Theory” all you like but Parsons had a good assortment of possible submission episodes and he picked “The Relationship Diremption,” in which he doubt’s his life’s purpose, goes through a wave of depression AND gets drunk. That’s powerful stuff. But I really like “Model” as the “Louie” episode representing Louis C.K. It’s a lighter, funnier “Louie” episode than most, but it also has good dramatic beats. It’s also got great supporting work from Jerry Seinfeld and Yvonne Strahovski, not that either of them were nominated. It’s not that Louis C.K. needs any more award recognition, but he’s never won for acting, so he gets my vote here.

Will win

Alan’s pick: If “Louie” gets any Emmy love this year, I expect it to be for writing and/or directing. Macy’s a longtime Emmy favorite, but he submitted the “Shameless” finale, which isn’t really a comic showcase for Frank but does feature him delivering a blistering monologue to God while standing along the banks of Lake Michigan. (Though he might want to ask Martin Sheen about how far a good screed at the Almighty will get you with Emmy voters.) Parsons, like Allison Janney, has a chance to win two acting Emmys in the same year, thanks to his supporting work in “The Normal Heart.” That’ll be the tougher of the two wins for him, since he’s probably an underdog to his own co-star Matthew Bomer. Here, there doesn’t seem to be an overwhelming alternative; nobody has an especially great submission episode, he’s giving the most overtly comic performance in the field, and he’s won twice before. When in doubt, remember that the easiest way to win an Emmy is to have already won an Emmy.

Dan’s pick: A Ricky Gervais upset seems like a VERY strong dark horse possibility here and he’d be my back-up prediction. But I have to pick Jim Parsons, who has a very strong track record of Emmy wins when Sheldon gets to be drunk. Emmy voters LOVE that. It doesn’t hurt Parsons’ cause that voters have his “Normal Heart” performance as contrast.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”

Jeff Daniels, “The Newsroom”

Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”

Woody Harrelson, “True Detective”

Matthew McConaughey, “True Detective”

Kevin Spacey, “House of Cards”

Should win

Alan’s pick: Because I am an awards show socialist, and only because I am an awards show socialist, I am fine with the probability that Cranston will not win this award. He did some of his best work ever in the iconic role of Walter White in the final eight episodes, and if he wins for the epic emotional sweep of “Ozymandias,” more power to him. But because he already has three Emmys for this role, I’m pulling for McConaughey in his one and only shot to win a trophy for playing Rust Cohle. There were times during that first “True Detective” season where the show was being so wildly over-praised that almost nothing could live up to that hype. But McConaughey could, as he shifted between three eras of Rust’s troubled life, as he made every monologue about Rust’s nihilistic philosophy sound like the most profound damn thing ever uttered, and as he held your attention every second he was on screen, even though Harrelson was giving his own career-best performance right alongside his longtime buddy. Regardless of how history comes to look on “True Detective” as a whole, McConaughey’s work in it is all-time stuff.

Dan’s pick: I would have zero objections to Cranston, Hamm, Harrelson or McConaughey winning. “The Strategy” gave Hamm his “My Way” moment, perhaps a “Mad Men” peak. “Ozymandias” let Cranston do a flashback and gave him a painfully heart-wrenching second half in which it turned out that his best scene partner was a baby. McConaughey stripped away all of his McConaughey mannerisms and, in the finale, saw Rust Cohle’s world come crashing down. And Harrelson was consistently underrated, but was every bit McConaughey’s equal. But I’ve gotta go with “Ozymandias,” which was just non-stop Moments for Cranston (while acknowledging he may actually have been better in “Granite State” the following week).

Will win

Alan’s pick: Even if “Breaking Bad” otherwise tramples “True Detective,” McConaughey is still one of the night’s heaviest favorites. Too much is working in his favor: the interlocking narratives of the McConaissance and his chance to win an Oscar and an Emmy in the same year, the idea of a movie star at the peak of his powers dropping in on television for eight episodes, and the mesmerizing nature of the performance itself.

Dan’s pick: The Jeff Daniels juggernaut continues! Oh, I kid. Cranston has three Emmys and he’ll get another one when his LBJ thing comes to HBO. As spectacular as he is and was on “Breaking Bad,” nobody’s going to think he lacks for recognition. McConaughey, on the other hand, may not be back on TV for a while. He’s got his new Oscar. He’s got burgeoning excitement for “Interstellar.” And he’s Matthew McConaughey and EVERYBODY wants to hear his speech. McConaughey wins comfortably and there’s no shame in that.

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Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com