Yes, it's hilariously early to guess this year's Emmy winners. Nominations ballots won't be posted until June 7, and nominations won't be announced until July 19. But we're offering our Emmy predictions now – nearly four months before the Emmy ceremony.
Why? Because with the broadcast networks' season drawing to a close, our memories are fresh. And because we love this stuff.
We're predicting a mix of safe choices and bold changes this year, with the top male acting awards going to the usual suspects and the female ones going to the anchors of celebrated new shows.
Also read: The Complete 2012 Fall Schedule
We think "Mad Men" will miss out on a fifth consecutive drama award – and will have to cede it to a fellow AMC show. And we expect the best comedy prize to go to "Modern Family," though voters would really impress us by recognizing "Louie."
Here's our very, very preliminary look at who would and should win the major awards this year.
Will Win: "Modern Family"
The ABC hit has won for the last two consecutive years, and Emmy voters will rightly remember that if it ain't broke…
Voters will probably re-nominate the inoffensive "The Big Bang Theory" and "Parks and Recreation," which is only getting better. "30 Rock" will probably return again, too, based on its strength in past seasons. But they may abandon "The Office" or "Glee," which no longer generate the heat they once did. Daring replacements would be HBO's "Girls" or FX's "Louie."
Should Win: "Louie" or "Modern Family"
"Louie" is one of the most brilliant shows on television. But it also defies genre and is sometimes boldly serious—and even disturbing. "Modern Family" is a more straightforward comedy but still takes funny and exciting risks. And it's an easier show to like. It would be hard to complain about a third consecutive win.
Will Win: "Breaking Bad"
The shift of "Downton Abbey" (last year's Emmy winner for Outstanding Miniseries or Movie) to this category certainly heightens the drama in drama. Voters could go for the British series, or make the safe and very defensible decision to award "Mad Men" for the fifth consecutive time.
But we think the voters will recognize that nothing on television was as flat-out dramatic – and insanely addictive — as "Breaking Bad." AMC's methamphetamine epic, which came roaring back after missing a year because it was off the air during the eligibility period, asked serious philosophical questions even as it spun as intense a crime story as you'll ever see. (Well, except for "The Wire," which was shamefully and absurdly denied a single Emmy.)
As for other nominees, "Boardwalk Empire" should score a return to the category, given a second season that ended with a bang after some slow moments. Showtime's "Homeland" could easily bump out "Dexter," and "Game of Thrones" will almost certainly gain another nod, since its buzz has only increased since last season.
Look for the ever-reliable "The Good Wife" to score another nomination as well.
Should Win: "Breaking Bad"
Voters may prefer to wait until the end of the show's next season—its last—to recognize its entire run. But they shouldn't. This is the rare case in which a win for any other show would make the voters look silly.
LEAD ACTRESS IN A DRAMA SERIES
Will Win: Claire Danes, "Homeland"
The "Homeland" star will join a formidable category that will likely include last year's winner, Julianna Margulies ("The Good Wife"), as well as previous nominees Mireille Enos ("The Killing"), Mariska Hargitay ("Law & Order: SVU") and Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men").
Look for "Smash" star Debra Messing, a six-time Emmy nominee and winner for "Will & Grace," to score a nomination as well.
But Danes will win for a big performance that anchored the splashiest new drama of the year.
Should Win: Danes
LEAD ACTOR IN A DRAMA SERIES
Will Win: Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad"
No one else came close to Cranston this year, and the only reason he didn't win a fourth consecutive Emmy last year was that "Breaking Bad" didn't air during the eligibility period.
Steve Buscemi ("Boardwalk Empire"), Jon Hamm ("Mad Men"), Hugh Laurie ("House") and Timothy Olyphant ("Justified") will all likely be back in the category. A strong case could be made that Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones") should join them after winning the supporting dramatic actor category last year – his role has only gotten more essential to the show -- but he opted to submit in the supporting category again.
Hamm deserves an Emmy and will surely get one by the seventh and final season of "Mad Men," when Cranston will be out of the picture. It would also be defensible for voters to recognize Laurie, who has been nominated six times before, given that "House" is in its last season. But it would be a little dishonest not to recognize Cranston for his best season, after recognizing him in three previous ones.
Should Win: Cranston
LEAD ACTRESS IN A COMEDY SERIES
Will Win: Julia Louis-Dreyfus, "Veep"
We're going out on a limb here, in an extremely tough category, but bear with us. Edie Falco has already won once in this category for "Nurse Jackie" and three times as lead dramatic actress for "The Sopranos." Melissa McCarthy, last year's winner, is hilarious — but she won as much for "Bridesmaids" as for her show. Past "30 Rock" winner Tina Fey has had stronger years than this one. Three-time Emmy winner Laura Linney is always a threat for blending comedy and drama in "The Big C." And past nominees Martha Plimpton and Amy Poehler are very strong on "Raising Hope" and "Parks and Recreation," respectively.
But we think a couple of these extremely deserving actresses will be bumped this year —we wouldn't dream of guessing which ones — in favor of Louis-Dreyfus and Lena Dunham, the auteur behind "Girls."
Brace yourself for a non-shock: People sometimes get nominations and awards because of things they've done outside the show or category in which they're nominated. (See: McCarthy, last year.) Dunham not only proves herself a very capable comic actress in "Girls" but also writes, directs and created the show. And she's a new, fresh face. The uncompromising, sometimes deliberately abrasive humor of the show will keep her from winning, but voters should recognize her with a nomination.
Zooey Deschanel could easily join this category as well, based on the popularity of "The New Girl," but we don't expect her to win in her first year.
Should Win: Louis-Dreyfus or Amy Poehler, "Parks and Recreation"
Louis-Dreyfus is a known quantity to voter, and has been a dynamo in the scant bit of "Veep" we've seen so far. This seems like a dream match of actress and role: She gets to be smart, self-deprecating, torn, vulnerable and darkly funny. The thing is, so does Poehler, and she's been at it for four seasons.
LEAD ACTOR IN A COMEDY SERIES
Will Win: Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory"
"The Big Bang Theory" has had a huge year, climbing in the ratings and shooting its 100th episode, which could mean a third consecutive win for Jim Parsons or a first one for Johnny Galecki, who was nominated last year. We also won't be surprised to see Louis C.K. back for "Louie," or perennial nominee (and two-time winner) Alec Baldwin return for "30 Rock," despite one of his less-remarkable years. Jon Cryer may also score a nod for "Two and a Half Men," and Ed Helms may take over Steve Carrell's old slot for "The Office."
Should Win: Louis C.K., "Louie"
Louis C.K. writes, directs and stars in the brilliant show he also created. Last year's "Duckling" was one of the best hours of television ever made. Recognizing him with an acting prize would be a good consolation prize for giving "Modern Family" the Outstanding Comedy Series award.
Will Win: "The Amazing Race"
Because it almost always wins.
Should Win: "The Amazing Race"
Because it almost always deserves to win.