Can ‘SNL’ stars rally in the Emmy race for Best Guest Comedy Actress?

Will the Emmy matchup for Best Guest Comedy Actress be a repeat of the 2012 race?

The similarities between this year’s nominees and last year’s lineup are eerie. Like last year, a pair of “Saturday Night Live” guests hosts are in contention – one of them Melissa McCarthy and the other a returning alum – and they are also pitted against a bawdy performance by an Oscar winner. Last year it was the Oscar champ who prevailed (Kathy Bates, for playing the ghost of Charlie Sheen on “Two and a Half Men“). Is that bad news for the “SNL” women?

Despite last year’s loss, “SNL” has had a strong track record in Emmy’s guest categories since hosts began competing there in 2009. Five out of eight guest acting prizes have gone to “SNL,” including two out of four wins in this race (Tina Fey in 2009, Betty White in 2010).

McCarthy was nominated last year for her first hosting stint on “SNL” and maintains a perfect record with this year’s bid for her return. Like previous winning hosts – except Fey, who won for spoofing Sarah Palin – McCarthy has the advantage of playing multiple comic characters over the course of a 90-minute show built mostly around her. Emmy voters are suckers for actors playing multiple roles, who get to flaunt their range and versatility, allowing the TV Academy to honor several performances for the price of one.

McCarthy has proven she’s already well-liked by voters, who awarded her Best Comedy Actress in 2011 for “Mike & Molly,” though she was left out of that category this year after just two nominations in that race.

Kristen Wiig is also well liked by Emmy voters, having earned four previous Comedy Supporting Actress noms (2009-2012) as a regular cast member on “SNL,” and an additional Voice-Over Performance bid last year for “The Looney Tunes Show.” She left the show in May 2012, but returned as a guest host in May 2013 and earned her sixth career bid.

Wiig was never able to win the supporting category, possibly because screen time on “SNL” is typically divided among cast members more or less evenly, leaving her limited opportunities to shine in a single episode submission. As a host, however, Wiig gets to play a broader range of new and familiar roles, resulting in more screen time than anyone else in this category, and perhaps putting her in her best position yet to win Emmy.

But last year, McCarthy and another “SNL” alum (Maya Rudolph) were both defeated by Bates’ much briefer performance on “Two and a Half Men.” Bates, as Sheen’s ghost, smoked a cigar and told off-color, scatological jokes. That’s similar to the crassness of the character potrayed by  Melissa Leo. In the episode of “Louie” she submitted to Emmy judges, she’s chain-smoking bar hag who demands oral sex from Louis C.K. after she pleasures him in the front seat of her car. But unlike Bates, who was overdue after nine unsuccessful nominations, this is only the second Emmy bid for Leo, who previously earned a 2011 Movie/Mini Supporting Actress bid for the HBO miniseries “Mildred Pierce.”

Elaine Stritch is a beloved show-business veteran with three Emmy victories our of her seven previous nominations. This is her fifth bid for playing Alec Baldwin‘s overbearing mother on “30 Rock.” Even though she is the only nominee with a previous victory in this category (she won for this role in 2007), she may be at a disadvantage: she only appears in three minutes of her submitted episode, “My Whole Life is Thunder,” in which she spars with Baldwin before dying in a horse-drawn carriage. Nevertheless, the Emmys love to award veterans in guest acting races (Kathryn Joosten, Tim Conway, Cloris Leachman, in addition to Stritch and White), and Stritch currently leads our racetrack odds.

Dot-Marie Jones receives her third straight nomination as football coach Shannon Beiste on  “Glee,” which ties her with Jane Lynch as the most nominated actor from the show. To date, two guest performers from the series have won Emmys – Neil Patrick Harris in 2010, Gwyneth Paltrow in 2011 – but both had the benefit of delivering musical performances in their episodes, which Jones does not do in “Shooting Sta.” Instead, she reveals her true feelings to Will Schuester (Matthew Morrison) before protecting students during a possible school shooting. Also, this is a largely dramatic performance in a race that typically favors showy comic roles.

Molly Shannon, who like Wiig got her start as a cast member on “SNL,” is nominated for her role as executive assistant Eileen on HBO’s “Enlightened.” She submitted the first of her four episodes on the series, “The Ghost in Seen,” in which she begins a romance with a low-level employee (series co-creator Mike White, who also wrote the episode) who hopes to expose the company’s illegal activity. Like Jones, her performance is more dramatic than their four competitors, so the change of pace may impress Emmy judges if they are familiar with her past comedic work.

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