This week, members of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences began the mystifying process of voting for the actors and shows that will be feted at the Aug. 27 Emmy ceremony. And since most of those folks are so busy working on their own projects that they probably haven't had time to watch anybody else's, we decided to help them out (yet again) by honoring the programs and performers who deserve a shot at the gold. Now, before you start screaming ''But what about that Henry Gale dude on Lost?!?'' know this: We've purposely left out most of the usual suspects (those castaways, The West Wing, and, of course, William Shatner) in favor of these lesser-heralded favorites.
WILLIAM FICHTNER (Invasion)
With his hangdog expression and shark-dead eyes, Fichtner was perfectly enigmatic as a sheriff who is part alien and we think, we'll never know part hero.
GREGORY SMITH (Everwood)
Over four years, Smith has gracefully grown his piano prodigy Ephram from sensitive outcast to dutiful boyfriend to embittered son to all-around decent guy. With the drama's cancellation, he'll be much missed.
FOREST WHITAKER (The Shield)
As an unstable IAD detective determined to nail dirty Vic Mackey, Whitaker was twitchy, coiled, and oddly sympathetic, not to mention the most riveting character in a station house packed with 'em.
JASON LEE (My Name Is Earl)
Lee finally found a role that cleansed him of the smarm that encased so many of his big-screen performances. As Earl (who's just a less absurd version of Nicolas Cage's Raising Arizona ex-con), he radiates good humor, and has become comedy's most endearing leading man.
MARY McDONNELL (Battlestar Galactica)
The moral conflict that came to a head in the season ender she tried to steal the election! gave steely, understated McDonnell the chance to flaw her saintly President Roslin. For fans, the horrifying moment of reckoning only made them love her more.
JEANNE TRIPPLEHORN (Big Love)
The alpha dog of the show's wifely trio, Barb Henrickson is both put-upon and liberated, cautious and rebellious. Tripplehorn's wide-eyed, empathic turn reinvigorated her career and brought a welcome gravitas to the loony world of Love.
KRISTEN BELL (Veronica Mars)
Bell makes a smart-ass, daddy's-girl teen detective seem completely genuine, while delivering comebacks with the efficiency and glee of a good towel snap.
MARCIA CROSS (Desperate Housewives)
Yes, Eva Longoria deserves a nod for spinning comedic gold from Gabrielle's dreadfully unfunny baby-snatching antics. But it was Cross' year to shine, and she captivated us with her rich turn as the Housewife on the verge and in the throes of a nervous breakdown.
LAUREN GRAHAM (Gilmore Girls)
After a season that saw Lorelai win and almost immediately lose the love of her life, Graham again emerged as the eccentric show's beating heart. And she's gonna be on this list every year until someone listens to us.