It's a showdown between Jack Bauer and Meredith Grey.
This year, blue-ribbon panels played an instrumental role in determining nominees in the categories of drama and comedy series — previously decided by a general membership vote — and lead actors and actresses in series.
The panelists screened episodes that were submitted by prospective nominees themselves as the best example of their work.
But many viewers blame this change of procedure for seemingly nonsensical omissions. Hugh Laurie failed to get a nod for FOX's "House." There were surprising snubs for "Sopranos" stars and previous Emmy-winners Edie Falco and James Gandolfini.
They both failed to get best-series nominations, an award that "Lost" won in 2005. The sole acting nomination for "Lost" was a guest-actor bid for Henry Ian Cusick, who plays ill-fated hatch-tender Desmond.
Alfre Woodard, a "Desperate Housewives" newcomer, was the only nominated cast member (Shirley Knight received a guest-actress bid).
Aside from the absence of the "Wives," the category of best lead actress in a comedy had other surprises. Former "Friends" star Lisa Kudrow got a bid for the tepidly received "The Comeback," while Stockard Channing was honored for the buzz-less "Out of Practice."
And how the heck did Ellen Burstyn earn a nod for a microwave-fast performance totaling 14 seconds — and could she win at Sunday's ceremony?
Emmy glory was heaped on a number of shows that have ended production, either wrapping up long runs or canceled because they couldn't find an audience from the start.
"Will & Grace," which ended an eight-year run, saw its ratings dwindle but retained the affection of TV academy voters and nabbed bids for cast members Debra Messing, Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes.
On the drama side, Frances Conroy and Peter Krause of "Six Feet Under," Geena Davis of "Commander in Chief" and Martin Sheen, Allison Janney and Alan Alda of "The West Wing" all were recognized for their vanished shows.
Over the years, the academy has tinkered with the nominations and award process and even categories themselves.
Academy Chairman Dick Askin acknowledged the latest criticism at a news conference in July and said it was "always our plan that this would be a one-year test."
On the flip side, the academy and TV industry could consider the fuss a welcome sign — proof that someone still cares about the awards, which lack the cachet of big brother Oscar. The Emmys, marking their 58th year, attract far fewer viewers than the Academy Awards.
The 2005 awards show, with a big ratings bounce from fans of "Lost" and Desperate Housewives" eager to see if their favorites claimed Emmy gold, drew 18.5 million viewers. The latest Oscar telecast had its second-worst showing in two decades and still drew close to 39 million viewers.
Conan O'Brien, returning for a second stint as Emmy host, knows he faces an uphill ratings battle. Moved away from its traditional September home because of NBC's addition of Sunday-night football to its schedule, the ceremony is airing during TV's least-watched month.
"There's a part of me that wants to be part of a very hot, sweaty, low-rated telecast, filled with controversy that makes all critics angry because they think the wrong people were nominated," O'Brien joked, and then turned serious.
"Regardless of how many people watch the Emmys, I feel like I'm part of something I believe in. ... I think television's never been better, the quality of the writing and the stuff is so well-produced, and you have actors like Hugh Laurie, who I'm sort of in awe of, and shows like 'House' and '24.'"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.