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TV Golden Globes are tough to handicap

A guide to favorites and dark horses among the television contenders for Golden Globes. By Sarah D. Bunting
/ Source: msnbc.com contributor

In the TV department, the current crop of Golden Globe nominees is a promising one — primarily because of what's missing.  "The West Wing" isn't nominated for anything, nor should it be; "CSI" also fell out of the Best Drama running after a couple of sub-par seasons.  The reign of the "Friends" and the "Sex and the City" actresses over the comedy categories is, for the most part, over.

Some of what's missing is problematic, though. "Without a Trace" got ignored completely, despite the usual strong work from the cast, particularly Enrique Murciano and Poppy Montgomery; so did "Joan of Arcadia." "Everwood" is apparently considered too teenybopper for serious consideration … again. 

Still, most of the nominees that did make the cut deserved to, and it's a harder slate than usual to handicap this year.  Below, a guide to favorites and dark horses in the TV arena (John Hartl's made his , too):

Best Leading Actor: Drama
The dramatic leading actor might come down to buzz — or lack of.  Neither Michael Chiklis nor "The Shield" is talked about as much this year.  Denis Leary, on the other hand, got a ton of press for "Rescue Me," which he produces as well as stars in.  The scuttlebutt on "Nip/Tuck" is that it's gotten mighty soapy of late, which might hurt Julian McMahon (that, and his not-that-long-ago stint on "Charmed"), and Ian McShane tears into every line on "Deadwood" with relish…but it doesn't have the viewer base of the other HBO offerings.  James Spader, meanwhile, is considered a revelation in the Alan Shore role; he already took an Emmy for it, as well as the credit for reviving the franchise.  McShane is the more interesting actor, but look for James Spader to win.

Best Leading Actor: Musical or Comedy
With the lead dinosaurs from "Frasier" finally clearing the lane for fresh talent, the category might see a shake-up, but we've got a few easy rule-outs, starting with Larry David, who's on his third nomination for portraying a smart but unlikable character.  Matt LeBlanc never got proper credit on "Friends," and he won't get it now that he's on a weaker show.  Tony Shalhoub is probably a non-starter, as "Monk" isn't on the radar the way it has been, and while Charlie Sheen can turn hacky material into Emmy gold — and did on "Spin City" — "Two and a Half Men" is kind of bad.

That leaves Zach Braff and Jason Bateman.  Braff is good on "Scrubs," the second-best show nobody actually watches.  Problem is, Bateman is just as good, on the best show nobody watches, and "Arrested Development" gets a lot of mileage out of its status as the "in" show to love.  Jason Bateman takes this one.

Best Leading Actor: Mini-Series or TV Movie
Hard to say, with so many film stars cluttering things up, but Geoffrey Rush is the strongest choice — he starred in the most visible of the projects, "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers," about the best known subject.  "Something the Lord Made" was well-regarded, but Mos Def is overmatched here by the likes of William H. Macy and Jamie Foxx, who might consider installing a new mantel with all the noms he's got going in various categories this year.  Still, Foxx won't win — "Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story" sounded good, but few saw it — and neither will Macy, who turned in a strong performance but nearly drowned in cheese in the process.  Patrick "Picard" Stewart is ordinarily strong, but the role he played in "Lion in Winter" is overwrought and so was he, so look for a Rush win.

Best Leading Actress: Drama
Joely Richardson gets good press for "Nip/Tuck," but she's outgunned; Mariska Hargitay is functional as Olivia Benson on "Law & Order: SVU," but procedural dramas don't tend to win acting categories.  Christine Lahti?   Her character on "Jack & Bobby" is insufferable, and her scenery-chewing suggests she knows it.  It's down to Edie Falco and Jennifer Garner, and while Garner has won the category before for "Alias" and has great range for an action actress, Edie Falco's Carmela carried "The Sopranos" through an uneven fourth season and shone in the last one. 

Best Leading Actress: Musical or Comedy
What happens here depends on whether voters choose to reward a past master or to freshen up the category.  If it's the former, Sarah Jessica Parker picks up yet more statuary for "Sex & the City"'s Carrie Bradshaw; she snagged the "goodbye Emmy" for the role last time around.  But the show ended quite some time ago, and "Desperate Housewives" is going gangbusters in press and ratings.  Alas, three actresses from "Housewives" might split: Teri Hatcher, making a nice comeback from those irritating Radio Shack ads; Felicity Huffman, always quality; and Marcia "Crazy Kimberly" Cross, universally beloved for past wig-ripping and doing great work here.  Let's cross our fingers that Debra Messing doesn't win for her phoned-in role on a past-it "Will & Grace."

Best Actress: Miniseries or TV Movie
Another category packed with film talent, all of it in virtually invisible material, which probably rules out Glenn Close for "Lion in Winter" and Blythe Danner for "Back When We Were Grownups." Julianna Margulies has not made good choices since she left "ER," and "The Grid" is no exception; "The Lost Prince" aired ages ago, on PBS, and even Miranda Richardson herself may not recall having starred in it.  "Iron Jawed Angels" didn't get super reviews, but people did watch it, and Hilary Swank will benefit from a higher profile in connection with "Million Dollar Baby."  This one is Swank's.

Best Supporting Actor
Will the "Will & Grace" nominations never cease?  The show is no longer good!  Sean Hayes has never won here, shouldn't win now, and won't.  The rest of the category is bit of a grab bag, with Jeremy Piven topping even himself as nutty agent Ari on "Entourage," but not enough people have watched that show — or "Huff," which isn't a strong platform for Oliver Platt.  It's Michael Imperioli, who won the Emmy as Christopher Moltisanti, and William Shatner, who has really rehabilitated his image acting-wise.  Impossible to call; edge to Imperioli.

Drea deMatteo appears in this scene from HBO's \"The Sopranos,\" in this undated publicity photo. The hit drama, in its fifth season, airs on HBO Sundays at 9 p.m. EDT. (AP Photo/HBO, Abbot Genser)Abbot Genser / HBO

Best Series: Drama
"Deadwood" could come out of left field; it's well-written, it's well-acted, and nobody else is really trying to do a Western … but it's a Western.  "24" yawed all over the place last season and doesn't deserve a nomination, much less the statue; "Nip/Tuck," as mentioned previously, is getting sudsy; "Lost" is too new (and uneven) to win its first time out.  Can "The Sopranos" take it?  Probably.  The show recovered nicely from a weak fourth season and turned out a very strong fifth. 

Best Series: Musical or Comedy
"Will & Grace" is way overmatched, "Entourage" still untested, so it's down to three — the late great "Sex & the City," with several wins under its belt; "Arrested Development," the current Emmy winner in this category and undisputed critical champ; and "Desperate Housewives," the new kid with moxie.  "Housewives" is probably too new a kid, "Sex & the City" too nostalgic a choice — it's "Arrested Development"'s to lose.

Best Miniseries or TV Movie
"American Family" has been well spoken of on PBS for some time and could pull off an upset, although it's in the wrong category.  But "Lion in Winter" aired ages ago, and of the remaining three, "Something the Lord Made" didn't get as much word of mouth.  Who wins this category may depend on whether Hilary Swank and Geoffrey Rush win their categories, but "The Life and Death of Peter Sellers" will most likely edge "Iron Jawed Angels."

Sarah D. Bunting is the co-creator and co-editor-in-chief of . She lives in Brooklyn.