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It's that time of the year again folks: The 2014 Emmy nominations ballots are out, and while we here at are busy working through our dream nominations for television's biggest awards show, the members of the Academy will be poring over** these hundreds of pages of PDFs and deciding the fates of all our favorite performers and shows. 

** "Poring over" is probably too strong a phrase. It's unclear whether most Emmy voters actually read the full ballots. Maybe they choose their friends, maybe they throw darts at the printed pages, who really knows. It's a mysterious process. 

The actual nominees won't be announced until July 10, when all our wish lists and hopes for a roster full of cool, different nominees will come crashing down. But for now, there's still room to be optimistic—and there's certainly still room to dig into the ballots to look at all the weird, random things that could influence the process, just like we've done for the past two years

A couple of things to remember: 1.) Nominees (or their agents, managers, or mothers) have to submit themselves to get onto the ballot in the first place, 2.) There's sometimes a lot of strategy involved in deciding which category to submit to, and the results don't always make sense.

1. Damian Lewis still fancies himself a lead (and plenty of other folks are stretching the definition of the term, too)

It never fails. Every year, there are actors who submit to the various lead categories even though they're clearly not the lead (and in some cases, not even a co-lead) of their show. Rob Lowe is famous for doing this on just about every show he's appeared on, including Parks and Recreation. The most egregious attendee of this year's Not at All a Lead party this year is Homeland's Damian Lewis, who appeared in roughly half of the show's 12 Season 3 episodes. To be fair, Lewis won for Lead Actor in a Drama Series award just 20-some months ago (remember when the world just couldn't get enough of Homeland?), so it makes a bit of sense that he'd try to run it back one more time, especially after turning in a couple of showy performances. But come on. Dude wasn't a lead. 

Also on this list: Michelle Dockery (Downton Abbey), Kevin McKidd (Grey's Anatomy), and William H. Macy (Shameless).

2. If you're canceled, you're a miniseries

I have some good news and some bad news. Starting with the bad news, your show has been canceled. But the good news is that you can now submit to the Emmys as a miniseries (where the voters will still almost certainly ignore you, but still)! HostagesMob City, and Treme have all taken advantage of this loophole in hopes of getting a couple of extra looks in less-competitive races for themselves and their casts and crews. It's not likely to work for Hostages and Mob City because those shows weren't very good, and while I actually think it's a smart move for Treme, the HBO drama has never received any Emmy love, so why start now? Nevertheless, we know that the miniseries category is often screwy; this is just further confirmation of that fact. 

3. Some coworkers have no problem competing with one another

I'm always eager to see which actors from ensemble-driven shows will compete against one another same lead categories. It's not always clear whether the actors are deciding how to submit or letting their agent's/network's/etc. make the clal, but there has to be some strategy involved in who jumps in where. By now, we expect multiple big names from shows like The Big Bang Theory (Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons), Two and a Half Men (Ashton Kutcher and Jon Cryer), and Suits (Patrick J. Adams and Gabriel Macht) to try this tactic, but there are a few notable examples this year that might have real implications on the nominations. 

Only two of the four Pretty Little Liars (Lucy Hale and Troian Bellisario) entered the Lead Actress category (or at all), and Dean Norris and Mike Vogel are going head-to-head for Under the Dome supremacy. True, none of those people will actually be nominated (at least in Norris's case, for this particular work), but there are similar situations where competition among between two leads could really matter.

Much has been made about True Detective entering the drama categories instead of chasing the miniseries trophy, but there's another competition looming involving the show: the one between Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson in the Lead Actor race. The former is a lock for a nomination, but what does that mean for Woody? Will there be a vote split? Will both of them earn a nod? 

The other curious intra-show competition is fresh from the Hannibal kitchen, where both Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen are on the menu. You could argue that the show's profile rose quite a bit over the last calendar year, improving both actors' chances of earning some recognition. But with Dancy and Mikkelsen competing in the same category, I'd bet those chances almost immediately decrease. 

Important note: While Galecki and Parsons were both nominated in Lead Actor in a Comedy category a few years back, no two actors from the same show have been nominated in the Lead Actor in a Drama race since Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause for Six Feet Under in 2003. It's been a while. 

4. Unsurprisingly, the gender inequality continues 

The disparity between male and female nominees/winners is near and dear to my heart, and it's probably not much of a surprise that the ballot underscore the typical issues. If you combine all the acting categories (across lead, supporting, and guest and drama, comedy, miniseries, and TV movie) there are 1,620 performers in the running for a nod. The gender breakdown is 943 men (58 percent) and 677 women (42 percent). The difference isn't as substantial as I might have expected before looking at the ballots, but it still presents some notable difference between men and women. 

On the directing side of things, the picture is much uglier. There are 438 total nominees across all the major directing categories; roughly (I counted twice, but it's a lot of data to go through) 60 of them are women (and a few of those women submitted more than once). That's a paltry 13.6 percent.

5. Orange Is the New Black's Crazy Eyes and Pennsatucky, Mad Men's Harry Crane, and New Girl's Coach are just guest stars? There's a very fine line between "supporting" and "just visiting"

If you think the lead categories are a mess, take a gander at the seemingly never-ending ballots in the supporting and guest races. Because of the self-submission process, there's no hard-and-fast rule for what distinguishes a supporting performance from a guest role, so we'll often see people we consider fundamental members of the cast submit in guest categories. Folks who joined this year's guest fray but seemed, at least to me, more like supporting players include: Uzo Aduba (Orange Is the New Black), Jonathan Banks (Community), Kate Burton (Scandal), Robert Clendenin (Cougar Town), Gary Cole (Veep), Laverne Cox (Orange Is the New Black), Jon Glaser (Parks and Recreation), Harry Hamlin (Mad Men), Natasha Lyonne (Orange Is the New Black), Taryn Manning (Orange Is the New Black), John Oliver (Community), Pablo Schreiber (Orange Is the New Black), Damon Wayans Jr. (New Girl), Alicia Witt (Justified), and Heléne York (Masters of Sex). Obviously, there's some real strategy in positioning yourself as a guest performer; it's a little easier to stand out from the pack, and since the field generally turns over every year, the old standbys aren't really present to muck up the race. 

6. When it comes to writing and directing categories, some shows go for quantity, while others hope quality is enough

The writing and directing categories are always fascinating because each show makes different choices with regard to how many episodes/people to submit. It's pretty common for a single show to dominate the writing categories—think Mad Men30 Rock, or Modern Family, recently—and as a result, we see other shows submit large chunks of their season in hopes of making something happen. Justified has thrown 10 scripts into the ring, followed by Wilfred with nine and The AmericansBoardwalk EmpireModern Familyand The Walking Dead with eight. 

Meanwhile, notable frontrunners like Mad Men and Breaking Bad each submitted seven, while two other big players, The Good Wife and Game of Thrones, each submitted only one. New players The Blacklist, The Bridge, and The Goldbergs also submitted only one, and are clearly hoping that past years' fairly consistent adulation for pilots will come through.

7. Michael J. Fox and a few other big names didn't even bother to submit

Maybe it's the same every year, but it does feel like a number of notable actors chose not to submit at all. Some of the biggies are Alan Cumming, Michael J. Fox, and Stockard Channing of The Good Wife, all of whom had a legitimate shot to grab a nomination and maybe even a win. 

Others include Super Fun Night's Rebel Wilson and Sean Saves The World's Sean Hayes, two recognizable names who could have, in a really weird world, made the top six in their respective categories. Hayes's absence is especially conspicuous, given his solid track record at the Emmys. 

8. Online platforms like Amazon and Hulu are trying to follow in Netflix's footsteps and make some noise

One of the things that stands out the most about this year's ballots is the prevalence of actors from various online series. We all expected to see a lot of names associated with the big Netflix players (House of Cards and Orange Is the New Black), but folks from Hulu, Amazon, and elsewhere are also trying to drum up a little publicity for their projects. 

In particular, Amazon Studios has its fingers crossed that members of the Academy really liked Alpha House; everyone in the main cast is on the ballot, as is Bill Murray for his blink-and-you-miss-it guest stint. (Sadly, there's no love for Amazon's other original series, Betas.) Representing Hulu are The Wrong MansQuick Draw, and The Awesomes, while something called Tiny Commando (starring Ed Helms, apparently) is holding it down for Yahoo! These non-Netflix platforms aren't going to attract much attention this year, but it's a smart move to put the shows and performers out there now. When the Amazons and Hulus and Crackles of the world eventually create more programming worth celebrating, maybe it won't seem so weird to voters to give them a shot.

9. Special one-off episodes are the equivalent of sneaking a few extra raffle tickets into the hopper

The messy rules for what ends up where means that shows can wiggle their way into different categories with special one-time-only events. This year, Community entered its animated "G.I.: Jeff" installment in the Outstanding Animated Program race, while Psych is hoping that Psych The Musical will be worthy of a TV Movie nod. Both shows are also part of the more familiar Outstanding Comedy Series category. 

10. Reality/Reality Competition Show Host is the most entertaining race of them all

I could talk all day about the intricacies of the so-called "major" categories, but it's also important to stop and just bask in the glory that is the ballot for Reality/Reality Competition Show host. Though the eventual nominees will likely be mostly the same as they've been for the past few years, the ballot offers so many great names and host-show combinations. I would absolutely love to live in a world where Jon Taffer and Bar Rescue or my main man Nev from Catfish could say they were "Emmy-nominated." 

The reality list also features some also big names who aren't known for their work in the category. Remember The Rock's "hosting" of TNT's Hero? And isn't it fair to say that Jane Lynch has actually been better on Hollywood Game Night than she was on Glee this year? 

Finally, I guarantee that this particular ballot will inform you of at least two TV shows you didn't know existed. The ProfitCounting CarsCapture? Flea Market Flip? Apparently, they're all real.

Want to see what's fascinating, odd, or just plain funny? Check out all the ballots here, and let us know what stands out most to you!

Previously Aired Episode

AIRED ON 9/20/2015

Season 67 : Episode 1

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