With Jean Smart MIA, who will win the Best Comedy Actress Emmy?

There won’t be a repeat winner in one comedy category at the Emmys this year. Two-time reigning Best Comedy Actress champ Jean Smart will sit out this cycle as Season 3 of “Hacks” won’t premiere in time. So who will inherit her crown?

In Smart’s absence, Quinta Brunson has slid into first place in the odds. The “Abbott Elementary” creator and star was a popular spoiler pick last year, but she “only” took home the Emmy for Best Comedy Writing. She notched a win over Smart at the Golden Globes, where “Abbott” nabbed three awards, including Best Comedy/Musical Series. But Smart bested her at the Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Awards, where “Abbott” picked up the top prizes as well. Sure, you can say those losses are irrelevant since Smart is out of the Emmy picture, but Brunson still didn’t sweep the winter awards like, say, Jeremy Allen White did for “The Bear,” setting himself up as formidable Emmy contender.

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But Brunson could benefit from her show being an Emmy success. “Abbott” won three Emmys last year as a freshman series and many shows explode in support in the second year. She could also follow the path of fellow creator-stars Tina Fey (“30 Rock”) and Phoebe Waller-Bridge (“Fleabag”), who won the Best Comedy Actress Emmy for their shows’ second seasons. Both their shows also took home the series award and “Abbott” is currently in second place in that race, behind two-time defending champ “Ted Lasso.”

The only other contender with No. 1 placements by our Experts or editors is Christina Applegate, who’s in second place. The “Dead to Me” star, who won Best Comedy Guest Actress for “Friends” in 2003, is seeking her third and final bid for the show, which she has said will likely be her final live-action acting role after getting diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2021. Applegate certainly has a compelling narrative and has always been the consistent nominee across awards shows for “Dead to Me.” She earned the dramedy’s sole Emmy nomination for its first season in 2019. The second season was up for Best Comedy Series the following year, so Applegate was also nominated as an executive producer. Her co-star Linda Cardellini scored a comedy actress bid that year as well but now ranks eighth in the odds, while the show is in 14th place.

SEE ‘Abbott Elementary’ scores early Season 3 renewal

Rounding out the top six are a mix of old and new Emmy faces: Jenna Ortega (“Wednesday”), Rachel Brosnahan (“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”), Selena Gomez (“Only Murders in the Building”) and Elle Fanning (“The Great”). Fanning broke through last year after missing for the first season of “The Great,” which returns with Season 3 on May 12. Ortega and Gomez are gunning for their first career noms, the former for a first-year show and Netflix hit, and the latter after being snubbed last year for the Hulu series’ debut season. With two other 2022 nominees gone this year, Kaley Cuoco (“The Flight Attendant”) and Issa Rae (“Insecure”), there is room for both to make the cut, but the nomination may be the reward here.

Brosnahan is the only former champ in the running and is contending for the fifth and final season of “Maisel,” which launches April 14. Will voters give her a bookend Emmy? “Maisel” is obviously not as strong as it once was — it’s in eighth place in the comedy series odds — but Brosnahan herself has reaped Emmy and SAG nominations every season so far. Since her victory for the first season in 2018, her three losses have been to stars competing for the final season of a juggernaut — Waller-Bridge in 2019 and “Schitt’s Creek’s” Catherine O’Hara in 2020 — and Smart, who was going for her second consecutive win. A show could break out in the coming weeks (“Fleabag” dropped in May 2019), but at the moment, Brosnahan doesn’t have any of these obstacles in her way. So if voters aren’t particularly passionate about anyone else, perhaps they’ll go back to someone they did love for the final time.

Or maybe our future winner is not in the top six… yet. On the cusp in seventh place, “Poker Face’s” Natasha Lyonne is looking to score the first acting nomination for a Peacock series. The murder mystery has been a hit and boasts a ton of guest stars, thanks to its “case of the week” format (reminder the acting branch votes for the nominees and winners), and Lyonne is a four-time nominee for “Orange Is the New Black” and “Russian Doll” across acting, writing and producing. She may just have the right combo of “unrewarded popular veteran” and “successful new show” to solve this case.

PREDICTthe 2023 Emmy nominees by July 12

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