Part 9 of our journey through the Emmy ballot brings us to the first of the two big series categories: Outstanding Drama Series. As always, Fienberg will attempt to rank the contenders from most likely to least likely to be nominated, throwing in a bunch of preferential wild cards along the way. And, as always, I will pretend that I am an actual Academy member who has a ballot and therefore has to narrow his choices down to six people.

Same rules apply: we are working off of the actual Emmy ballot, so we can't nominate shows that weren't submitted (like "Bunheads"), nor can we reassign a show to what seems a more appropriate category (say, nudging "Enlightened" from comedy to drama).

Dan's exhaustive analysis is here
, and embedded below (click Launch Gallery to see it), and my picks are coming right up.

As we've discussed often in these Emmy picks, this is a ridiculously deep era for quality drama, and this is yet another category where I would be perfectly happy with a ballot that doesn't feature a single one of my actual picks. I could celebrate, for instance, the knockout debut seasons of "Rectify" and "The Americans," or the devastating final season of "Southland," or the usual impeccable craftsmanship of "Boardwalk Empire," or a "Shameless" season that was the best showcase yet for stars Emmy Rossum and William H. Macy, or a "Justified" season that was both strong overall and gave us one of the year's best episodes in "Decoy." And even that ballot would be leaving out a bunch of other shows with good arguments, including the reigning winner in this category, for crying out loud.

That's how stacked things are these days in TV drama. That said, I didn't have many qualms about picking a top 6 that includes three guaranteed nominees, two veteran shows the Academy hasn't shown much love for, and a freshman that has long odds at best at any real awards recognition.

Let's start with the locks. "Mad Men" did not set a record by winning a fifth straight award in this category last year, and it's possible the Academy is over the series and looking for new and shiny things. But it remains among the deepest, most beautifully-crafted, absorbing dramas in TV history, and season 6 had too many highlights (particularly in the last few episodes) to ignore. It'll be nominated, and absolutely should be.

Fellow AMC drama "Breaking Bad," meanwhile, seems to have more support among the acting branch than elsewhere, and I fear the show is too sleazy and non-coastal to ever be chosen as a representative of the best the medium feels it has to offer. But the first half of season 5, while bumpy in a few spots, continued to demonstrate why this is a series we'll be talking about long after it's gone off the air. Between the train heist, Mike's words to Walt by the river, Skyler's walk into the pool and virtually every minute of the finale, "Breaking Bad" reminded us of how hard it'll be to say goodbye this summer and fall.

On the heels of one of the year's most talked-about scenes (the Red Wedding) and a strong creative season overall, "Game of Thrones" might even have an outside chance at beating "Homeland" or "Mad Men" or "Downton Abbey." I would tend to doubt it, simply because I think the Academy will go only so far in celebrating a violent fantasy epic. But "Thrones" is one of several shows on this list that made small tweaks — in this case, tightening the narrative and editing choices just enough to make stories taking place hundreds or thousands of miles away from each other feel more connected — to lead to its best season so far.

Now let's move to the extreme longshots, starting with "Tremé." The David Simon/Eric Overmyer drama about post-Katrina New Orleans had its most satisfying season yet, in which the stories and characters that had been rich enough on their own felt even moreso as they began to converge more frequently than in previous years. Other than his miniseries, though, Simon is practically a non-entity for the Academy — and has made clear in many interviews, and the entire Baltimore Sun arc of "The Wire" season 5, that he's perfectly fine with that. I, however, would like to see greatness recognized, and "Tremé" season 3 was very great indeed.

Once upon a time, "Parenthood" would have been the kind of show to get bushels of nominations each season. It's a great showcase for a large cast mixed with veterans and fresh faces, and it's a guaranteed tear generator. Instead, the show has a grand total of one lifetime nomination, for Jason Ritter's guest work a year ago, as cable dominates the drama categories these days. (Even "Good Wife" couldn't get nominated here a year ago, leaving "Downton Abbey" as the only nominee available over the free airwaves.) But if ever there was a year "Parenthood" deserved to crash the cable party, it was this one, thanks to some of the show's most powerful storylines ever, like Kristina's breast cancer struggle and Amber's complicated relationship with Afghanistan vet. Emmys — and tissues — for all!

"Hannibal" would definitely have an easier time of things if it were on cable. Put this show on AMC or FX, and suddenly much more attention would be paid to the imaginative, haunting work being done by writer Bryan Fuller, director David Slade, and stars Hugh Dancy and Mads Mikkelsen. We are so awash in serial killer dramas today that I had almost no interest in watching a Hannibal Lecter origin story in 2013, but "Hannibal" quickly became one of the best dramas on television, and certainly the most unsettling.

Also considered: "The Americans," "Boardwalk Empire," "Dexter," "The Good Wife," "Homeland," "House of Cards," "Justified," "Orphan Black," "Rectify," "Scandal," "Shameless," "Southland," "Strike Back," "The Walking Dead"

What does everybody else think? Who would your top 6 be in this category?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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