Though the TV Academy is often criticized for giving Emmy nominations to the same shows and performers year after year, 2015 is all about change. With "Breaking Bad" and its multiple Emmy winner Bryan Cranston out of the competition — plus seven comedy and drama acting slots instead of six — the lead actor categories could end up looking a lot different this time around.
There's certainly plenty to choose from among new series, but several critical favorites ended their runs this season, giving Emmy voters one last chance to award their deserving performances. Steve Buscemi ("Boardwalk Empire"), Jon Hamm ("Mad Men"), Charlie Hunnam ("Sons of Anarchy"), Timothy Olyphant ("Justified") and Ricky Gervais ("Derek") all ended on a high note that could earn some attention.
Among last year's six drama nominees, only three — Jeff Daniels ("The Newsroom"), Kevin Spacey ("House of Cards") and Hamm — are eligible this year, which opens four slots for nominating long-overdue actors. Spacey has the only returning series and has never won. Daniels won once in 2013, but the final season of "The Newsroom" didn't exactly earn raves. And Hamm, who has seven Emmy nominations for his role as ad exec Don Draper, has never won the trophy for a show that relies heavily on its brooding leading man.
"Sons of Anarchy" creator Kurt Sutter naturally hopes to see Hunnam get recognized for his pivotal, ultimately tragic role as biker Jax. Hunnam dug deep as Jax set out on his final course, a performance Sutter says was helped because his fate was unambiguous.
"Towards the back half of the season, he was able to bleed that into his performance, so that it wasn't so much about rage and retribution," Sutter says. "He was really struggling with this almost spiritual journey, and yet it means doing things that are incredibly painful and devastating. (That) was some of his really potent stuff this season."
While Hunnam has never been nominated, Sutter says he's glad for the attention from critics and fans, regardless of what happens with the Emmys.
"You really have to figure out how to make your show noisier just so it gets through, and some of that is about money and marketing," Sutter says. "But my belief is that shows get good buzz because they're good shows."
Buzz buoyed Gervais' "Derek" for its two-season run, which, like the British "The Office" and "Extras," ended with a special this year and vies for attention in the TV Movie categories. The funnyman has an acting trophy for "Extras," but has yet to win for his warm-hearted role as Derek.
"Derek's slightly different," Gervais says. "With the characters I usually create, we're laughing at them. We're laughing at their blind spot, whereas Derek doesn't have a blind spot. So 'Derek' was instantly more of a drama. The reason I made the characters flawed superficially was so kindness could come along and trample that. They were losers but they were caring for other people and deep down they were winners because they were kind."
Gervais made a joke of not winning at last year's ceremony by delivering his acceptance speech for "Derek" while presenting the variety-writing Emmy. Nevertheless, he says it's nice to be nominated for a project that he's done on his own terms.
"When you start changing something thinking this might win an award or this might get a bigger audience, you're finished," he says. "You've gone to the dark side, and I don't want to know you. If you do it your way and more people see it and it wins awards, then so be it."