Viola Davis made history at this Sunday's Emmys as the first African American to win Best Drama Actress. Our exclusive Gold Derby odds had her out front at 8/13 to prevail for the first season of the ABC legal thriller "How to Get Away with Murder."
We know how much the TV academy loves to reward movie stars. In recent years, this category has gone to two-time Oscar champ Sally Field ("Brothers and Sisters," 2007) and six-time nominee Glenn Close ("Damages," 2008-2009). Davis, a two-time Oscar nominee, had that cachet voters embrace.
Davis, who won the SAG Award for this role back in January, submitted the episode "Freakin' Whack-a-Mole" in which her character, defense attorney Annalise Keating, works on the appeal of a former client, an innocent man sentenced to death row years ago. The search for evidence leads them to a slippery Senator, whom Annalise theatrically attacks on the stand. It works and her client is allowed to go free.
But Davis wasn't the only Oscar-nominee in the running. Ranked a close second in our predictions was Taraji P. Henson for "Empire." She reaped an Oscar bid for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" (2008), and had 6/1 odds to win her first Emmy for playing Cookie Lyon, the matriarch of a powerful music family. Henson contended for Best Movie/Mini Actress for "Taken from Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story" (2011); she lost to Kate Winslet ("Mildred Pierce"). She submitted the pilot episode of "Empire" in which Cookie, just released from prison after a 17-year sentence, demands her rightful place in the company.
Third in our predictions with 13/2 odds was Robin Wright ("House of Cards"), nominated for the third straight year as Claire Underwood, the ruthless wife of an unscrupulous politico (Kevin Spacey) who schemed his way into the presidency. She has yet to win, but "House of Cards" had 11 nominations in all this year, indicating strong overall support. She submitted the episode "Chapter 32," in which Claire condemns Russia and clashes with her husband after the suicide of a jailed LGBT activist.
Ranked fourth with 16/1 odds was perennial also-ran Elisabeth Moss for "Mad Men." This was her sixth nomination for playing Peggy Olson in the AMC period drama, and she earned one other bid for Best Movie/Mini Actress in the miniseries "Top of the Lake," but she never won an Emmy for her "Mad Men" role. She hoped to change that with her episode submission, the series finale "Person to Person," in which she has an emotional heart-to-heart with Don Draper (Jon Hamm) over the phone and then gets a romantic happy ending with colleague Stan (Jay R. Ferguson).
Tatiana Maslany contended for the first time at the Emmys for playing multiple roles in BBC America's sci-fi series "Orphan Black." Hers was the only nomination for the series, and she got 20/1 odds to prevail. The TV academy loves to reward actors playing multiple roles (for instance, Toni Collette won Comedy Actress in 2009 as a woman with multiple personalities in "United States of Tara"), and Maslany submitted the episode "Certain Agony of the Battlefield," in which she gets to play six of her roles and adopts English, North American and Eastern European accents in storylines including an escape from a prison camp, a lighthearted money laundering operation and a tentative new romance.
Claire Danes ("Homeland") ranked last in our predictions with 50/1 odds, which is ironic as she was this category's only previous winner. She won this award in both 2012 and 2013 as CIA analyst Carrie Mathison in the Showtime spy drama, and she also won Best Movie/Mini Actress in 2011 as the title character in HBO's biopic "Temple Grandin." This year she submitted the episode "From A to B and Back Again," which is also up for Best Drama Directing. In it, Carrie manipulates an asset into leading the CIA to a terrorist, but is shocked to discover that the terrorist has taken her mentor Saul (Mandy Patinkin) hostage. Enraged, she orders a deadly drone strike but is talked down by colleague Quinn (Rupert Friend).
Photo: Viola Davis in "How to Get Away with Murder." Credit: ABC