From The Hollywood Reporter- Drama Front-runners: CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (CBS), Law & Order (NBC), The Shield (FX), Six Feet Under (HBO), The Sopranos (HBO), 24 (Fox), The West Wing (NBC) Decent shots: Alias (ABC), Boomtown (NBC), CSI: Miami (CBS), ER (NBC), Judging Amy (CBS), The Wire (HBO) Long shots: American Dreams (NBC), Buffy the Vampire Slayer (UPN), Everwood (the WB), NYPD Blue (ABC), The Practice (ABC), Smallville (the WB), Without a Trace (CBS) With "The Sopranos" back in the Primetime Emmy race following a one-year hiatus, it is a safe bet that HBO stablemate "Six Feet" will not again land a chart-topping 23 nominations, from which the series earned six statuettes in 2002. Nor will "The West Wing" claim 21 noms, from which it earned four trophies last year. In fact, with Emmy darlings "ER," "Law & Order" and "NYPD Blue" long in the tooth and faced with plenty of high-quality competition, a few new faces could well emerge in the drama categories. That said, the outstanding drama series nominees are nearly certain to include the top-rated "CSI," "Sopranos," "Six Feet," "West Wing" and the hot 'n' trendy "24" (a 10-time nominee last year following its first season, for which the series took home a writing statuette). Those are your five nominees, right there. If that scenario comes to pass, it would mark the first time in 12 years that "Law" has not appeared on the list. Its 11 consecutive top-drama mentions are an Emmy record and have tied "Law" with comedies "Cheers" and "M*A*S*H" for most consecutive nominations for best series. A mention this year, in other words, would allow "Law" to stand alone among all shows. But that distinction probably does not mean much to "Law" creator/executive producer Dick Wolf, right? "Like hell, it doesn't," he says. "I hate to be so nakedly needy, but it means everything to all of us associated with this show. We want this nomination desperately. The Emmys are consistently the high point of the year for all of us on 'Law & Order.' I think anyone who's blase about the Emmys shouldn't be nominated." That said, with the likely return of "Sopranos" to the race for the top drama prize, "Law" would need to knock out one of last year's other nominees to claim the record -- and that might not happen. In addition, "The Shield" (this year's surprise Globe winner for drama series), critically lauded rookie "Boomtown" and "Alias" (an 11-time nominee last year following its maiden season) also are nipping at the big boys' heels. To be sure, though, "Boomtown" creator Graham Yost is not too proud to beg -- or bribe. "I'm spending as much money as I can to buy votes," he quips. "You'd be surprised what a couple of fives pressed into the right palms can do for you. "Seriously, it's incredibly flattering in our first season just to even hear our name associated with things like Emmys" Yost adds. "I wish I could tell you I have unbridled confidence in it." Then there is "CSI" executive producer Anthony Zuiker, who wants an Emmy so badly that he ... well, he goes around touching trophies that belong to other people, "just to see what it looks like and feels like." "I'm the biggest awards ***** there is," Zuiker admits. "I want to win every award there is -- Genesis, People's Choice, Golden Globe, Emmy, whatever. I've had my Emmy speech prepared for two years; when I finally get to give it, it's going to be the greatest speech of all time. I've got it down to 60 seconds on the dot. But we'll probably be like 'Friends': In Year 9, we'll finally win. I guess I can live with that." So competitive has the drama series category become that "The Practice" -- which won the statuette consecutively in 1998 and '99 -- now is given little chance even to land a nomination. Potentially deserving shows such as "Alias," "The Wire," "Judging Amy" and the perennially snubbed "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (which used to suffer from "the WB syndrome" and now is saddled with "UPN syndrome") also stand to be passed over again. With previous "Sopranos" winners James Gandolfini and Edie Falco figuring to return to the lead drama actor and actress categories, respectively, those races are poised to be far less wide-open. Aside from Gandolfini, the lead actor roundup nearly assuredly will include "Shield's" Michael Chiklis, the 2002 Emmy winner (in a major upset) and '03 Globe winner; Kiefer Sutherland for "24"; Martin Sheen for "West Wing"; and Michael C. Hall and Peter Krause, both nominated last year for "Six Feet." "CSI's" William Petersen and "CSI: Miami's" David Caruso also must be considered, as must four-time winner Dennis Franz for "Blue." The supporting drama actor field stands to include the "West Wing" triumvirate of John Spencer, Bradley Whitford and Richard Schiff (all previous Emmy winners, including Spencer last year), Victor Garber for "Alias" and the "Sopranos" trio of Michael Imperioli, Dominic Chianese and Joe Pantoliano. Last year's well-deserved first-time nominees -- "West Wing's" Dule Hill and "Six Feet's" Freddy Rodriguez -- could have a tough time returning for seconds in this crowded category. Among lead drama actresses, it all begins with Falco, who already has the 2003 Globe in her pocket for her performance as the long-suffering Carmela Soprano. Falco's competition is likely to include "West Wing's" three-time Emmy winner Allison Janney, who took home last year's statuette following her first lead actress nom; "Alias" queen Jennifer Garner; "Amy's" five-time nominee Amy Brenneman, who is 0-for-3 in the lead actress category; "Six Feet's" Frances Conroy; and "CSI's" Marg Helgenberger. For the supporting actress lineup, top possibilities include last year's winner, "West Wing's" Stockard Channing; Channing's castmates Mary-Louise Parker and Janel Moloney, also 2002 nominees; "Six Feet's" Lauren Ambrose and Lili Taylor; Tyne Daly, a five-time Emmy winner who is 0-for-3 in this category as part of the cast of "Amy"; "Shield's" CCH Pounder; and Drea de Matteo for "Sopranos."