Emmys 2011: Is this the most wide-open Emmy race ever?

steve-buscemi-boardwalk-empire-320.jpgOver the last three months, we've analyzed the Emmys backwards, forwards and sideways, telling you who are the favorites, who are the dark horses, and who should win but doesn't stand a chance. After months of tearing the field apart and putting it back together, we stand here, just over a week before the ceremony, to tell you that your guess is as good as ours.

Don't worry, though: We'll be making our predictions, which you'll see over the next week. And we'll also reveal who came out ahead in the reader polls we put out each Monday for the last couple of months ( Hugh Laurie fans, you might have some good news!). But, for the first time in what seems like forever, the field in most of the major Emmy categories is wide open, even where there seems to be a clear favorite.

Give it some thought and you'll likely start nodding your head in agreement. For instance, while it seems like Jon Hamm has a lead actor award locked up, he actually doesn't, given the strong challenge from Steve Buscemi and Timothy Olyphant. "Modern Family" sure seems like the favorite for outstanding comedy, but "Glee" may sneak away with it. And, even Emmy host Jane Lynch is vulnerable, given that the "Family" contingent -- or even Betty White -- could grab the hardware from her.

While it may seem like we're suffering from a case of paralysis by analysis, and the winners are more obvious than we're making them out to be, we don't think so, for a few reasons:

More quality shows to choose from:
This is a topic we talked about when the nominations were announced in July. In short, the sheer number of shows has increased across the television landscape, and the number of quality, Emmy-ready shows has also gone up quite a bit. Better shows mean better nominees; better nominees mean there's no clear-cut choice to make.

Lots of previous winners have been nominated: All the major categories have at least one former winner (either in that category or another category) on the nominee list. The lead comedy categories each have two who've won the category before: Jim Parsons and Alec Baldwin for the guys, Tina Fey and Edie Falco for the women. And the categories are littered with former nominees who have never gotten their due ( Matt LeBlanc, Laurie, Steve Carell). There are very few out-of-left-field nominees, which may lead to vote-splitting among the academy's blue-ribbon voting panel.

The academy is loosening up:
Last year's semi-surprising wins by Aaron Paul, Archie Panjabi and Eric Stonestreet show that the academy is willing to give first-time and lesser-known nominees a shot. The Panjabi win was the big surprise; even though she got a lot of attention from the critics for her performance on "The Good Wife," most people thought that either Elisabeth Moss, Christina Hendricks or her "Good Wife" co-star and Emmy perennial Christine Baranski was going to get the award. This willingness to actually give the award to the most deserving nominee throws a monkey wrench into the handicapping process, making for a less predictable -- and more fun -- Emmycast.

Do you feel the Emmy field is wide open this year?

Photo/Video credit: HBO