The TV Academy is sharing the love with a slew of awards-season newbies (Timothy Olyphant, Margo Martindale, Cat Deeley, Melissa McCarthy), making this year's list of nominees shockingly spot-on

By Ken Tucker
Updated July 22, 2011 at 12:00 PM EDT

Friday Night Lights

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Timothy Olyphant. Louis C.K. Martha Plimpton. Peter Dinklage. When it comes to this year’s Emmy nominations, these surprising — and much-deserved — nominations alone should be enough to leave TV fans feeling a little bit gleeful. Even Gleeks can get in on the act, with noms for best comedy and Chris Colfer. ”There were rumors that I might get nominated again, but I was thinking I wouldn’t,” Glee‘s Colfer, a contender last year, told EW after the list was announced July 14. ”There is so much anxiety that comes with awards shows and nominations, and I was focusing on all the bad.”

Across the board, however, there was plenty of good to focus on this year. Even if you think Mike & Molly isn’t revolutionary comedy, you gotta feel happy for first-time nominee Melissa McCarthy, who’s blossomed from Gilmore Girls supporting player to star of Chuck Lorre‘s less troubled hit to a budding screen sensation (Bridesmaids). And if you were cheesed off about the way The Killing (non-)ended, you were probably still mightily impressed by Mireille Enos‘ subtly terse performance, as were the Emmy nominators.

Of course, there are partisans who’ll nurse well-justified grudges. But come on: A process that finally recognizes Friday Night Lights with four noms, that had the sense to pluck out Margo Martindale‘s scarifying stint opposite Olyphant on Justified, that (I’m not kidding here) takes note of the fact that Cat Deeley does a really witty job hosting a glitzy dance competition — this is an impressively accurate Emmy list. (After years of being overlooked, So You Think You Can Dance‘s Deeley was certainly surprised by the honor, telling EW, ”I know I should pretend to be a lot cooler than I am, but inside there’s a screaming teenage girl just dying to get out.”)

The variety and vigor of these nominations is heartening. Harry’s Law isn’t the most groundbreaking television, but why not nod to Kathy Bates‘ ebullient performance, which is an implicit acknowledgment of her other good work? (Exhibit A: Bates’ raucous turn on The Office.) And nominating Louis C.K. not merely for starring on Louie but also for writing and editing: That is groundbreaking. Work as buoyantly realistic and profane as Louie rarely gets Emmy endorsement — just ask The Wire.

Hey, every one of us can come up with our own list of alterna-Emmy nominations that might make us happier. (I love Hugh Laurie, but couldn’t the Academy have left him off the list for one season and added, say, Treme‘s Wendell Pierce?) But let’s give credit where it’s due. This year the Emmys got a lot of things right. Now comes the hard part: waiting until Sept. 18 for Emmy to make winners out of some of these worthy newcomers.

And the nominees are…

Chris Colfer

The Fox fave will square off against Jon Cryer (Two and a Half Men) and four Modern Family stars for best supporting actor in a comedy.

Peter Dinklage

Known more for his film work, Dinklage earned his first Emmy nomination for his standout role on HBO’s Game of Thrones, which was also nominated for best drama series.

Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton

The Friday Night Lights leads both scored acting nods, but we’re especially psyched for the show’s best-drama berth.

Louis C.K.

In a category with big names (Steve Carell and Alec Baldwin, for starters), the FX star is a refreshingly unexpected contender for best actor in a comedy.

Melissa McCarthy

The CBS star (and Bridesmaids scene-stealer) faces the likes of Tina Fey and Amy Poehler for best actress in a comedy.

Martha Plimpton

The star of Fox’s Raising Hope is up for best actress in a comedy. She was previously nominated for a 2002 guest stint on Law & Order: SVU.

Cat Deeley

The Emmy newcomer faces perennial nominees Jeff Probst (Survivor), Phil Keoghan (The Amazing Race), Tom Bergeron (Dancing With the Stars), and Ryan Seacrest (American Idol).

(Additional reporting by Mandi Bierly and Lynette Rice)

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