Inside track: Emmy race for Comedy Guest Actor — who’s ahead to win?

Saturday Night Live” hosts are eligible to compete for comedy guest acting prizes for the fifth year, and the NBC sketch comedy has already won Best Comedy Guest Actor three times out of four. The only exception was Neil Patrick Harris‘s 2010 win for “Glee,” but no “SNL” hosts were nominated that year, which means the series has not lost this category with a contender in the running.

Two of those wins (2009, 2011) were for Grammy-winning singer-actor Justin Timberlake, who is back in the running this year for his fifth hosting gig on the series, which has earned him an additional two Emmys for songwriting.

Louis C.K. is also nominated for hosting “SNL.” The comedian has been an Emmy darling in recent years, winning twice in 2012 and setting an individual record this year with nine bids. However, all three of his career victories have been for writing; he has not yet been awarded as a performer.

But the biggest challenge for either of them may be Bob Newhart. The legendary TV star currently leads our predictions for his guest performance as children’s TV star Professor Proton on CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” and while it may seem difficult for an appearance on a half-hour comedy to prevail in this race against a pair of actors playing multiples roles during a 90-minute “SNL” episode, a similar outcome occurred last year when an overdue veteran (Kathy Bates) won Comedy Guest Actress for a Chuck Lorre sitcom (“Two and a Half Men“) against two “SNL” nominees (Melissa McCarthy and Maya Rudolph).

Nathan Lane picks up his second bid for his recurring role as Pepper on “Modern Family“; it’s his fourth nomination in the category overall, and the second time he has faced Timberlake, who bested him in 2011. But even if Lane loses this race as well, he’s also a contender for Best Drama Guest Actor for “The Good Wife.” He contends for the episode “A Slight at the Opera,” in which Pepper becomes involved in a Pritchett family golf game, but he may be an underdog; “Modern” has yet to win an Emmy for guest acting.

Will Forte has recurred on “30 Rock” has Jane Krakowski‘s cross-dressing beau Paul since 2010, but this is his first nomination for the role, for the episode “My Whole Life is Thunder,” which features his surprise wedding. Gender-bending characters are popular at Hollywood awards; Bates’s win last year was for playing the spirit of Charlie Sheen. But “30 Rock” has only won this category once in 13 previous nominations (Tim Conway, 2008).

Bobby Cannavale currently ranks last in our predictions  despite earning his second consecutive nomination for his role as an arrogant doctor on “Nurse Jackie,” who in his submitted episode, “Walk of Shame,” returns for an exit interview at All-Saints Hospital following the death of his son. The actor has proven popular with the TV Academy, winning this category in 2005 for “Will & Grace” and earning a second nomination this year for Drama Supporting Actor for “Boardwalk Empire.” But “Nurse Jackie” has only won one award for acting: Comedy Actress for Edie Falco for the first season in 2010.

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