Three television upstarts could shake up the annual Primetime Emmy Awards on Monday in a validation of the television industry's move toward sophisticated, long-form storytelling.
In what is widely seen as the start of the Hollywood awards season, some of Tinseltown's biggest talent walked the red carpet, a reflection of film stars' growing presence on the small screen.
Led by Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson from HBO's murder mystery "True Detective," a new breed of TV backed by film stars and cinematic storytelling will square off against Emmy stalwarts "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men."
"We have a lot of sexy newcomers," said Tom O'Neil, the editor of awards handicapper Goldderby.com. "It's not just the same old slapstick comedy show with a new face."
FX's snowy psychological miniseries "Fargo" - starring Billy Bob Thornton and Martin Freeman and based on the Coen brothers' 1996 Oscar-winning film - and Netflix's online-delivered dark jailhouse comedy "Orange Is the New Black" join "True Detective" as potential party crashers.
"We are in a time when television is the best that it's ever been, so just look around and realize that everyone who's here deserves an award," said Beau Willimon, the creator of Netflix's Emmy-nominated political thriller "House of Cards."
The Emmys are handed out by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in a televised ceremony from Los Angeles and will be hosted by comedian Seth Meyers.
With big broadcast networks again shut out from the best drama series race, the night's top honor, AMC's drug tale "Breaking Bad" will defend its title against "House of Cards," AMC ad world portrait "Mad Men," PBS British period series "Downton Abbey," HBO's fantasy epic "Game of Thrones" and "True Detective."
EMMYS' "NEW CURRENCY"
"What you see now is 'True Detective' and 'Fargo' as the vanguard for where a lot of television storytelling is going," said Andy Greenwald, a staff writer at Grantland.com, who added that the miniseries format allows Hollywood talent to test the TV waters without complicating their big-screen career.
Netflix shrewdly submitted "Orange Is the New Black," about a middle-class woman in jail on drug charges, as a comedy, avoiding a showdown against "House of Cards."
"Television is changing, it's the Golden Age crossed with the Wild West," said 'Orange' acting nominee Kate Mulgrew.
It will attempt to unseat four-time winner "Modern Family," ABC's dysfunctional family sitcom. The shows face stiff competition from HBO's political satire "Veep," whose star Julia Louis-Dreyfus and supporting actor Tony Hale each won Emmys last year.
"'Veep' has all the tea leaves to win, and we know they (Emmy voters) love Julia Louis-Dreyfus," O'Neil said, adding that "Veep" and "Orange" also picked up crucial comedy writing nods.
The gamesmanship among networks - HBO has "True Detective" in the drama running while "Fargo" is expected to sweep the miniseries competition - also reflects the value of an Emmy victory as delayed and online viewing has rendered audience ratings more opaque to networks, Greenwald said.
"Prestige and perception are really the new currency in the TV marketplace," he said.
(Additional reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; Editing by Mary Milliken and Andrew Hay)