From Yahoo!- Early pickings for Emmys USA TODAY Emmy voters, whose ballots for this year's nominations are due back at the Television Academy this week, often linger behind the curve: too slow to recognize the rise of new shows or the decline of old ones. USA TODAY's Robert Bianco offers a cheat sheet for the voters -- a sample ballot of those who really deserve a shot. (Nominations will be announced July 17.) Drama Series 24 (Fox) Familiarity seems to have caused some people to forget what a remarkably audacious accomplishment this time-driven series really is. Alias (ABC) This hugely entertaining spy drama is as deft a mix of serious, silly and sexy as you're likely to find. Boomtown (NBC) The season's best series wasn't just interested in leading its cops to a solution. It tried to lead them -- and us -- to the truth. The Sopranos (news - Y! TV) (HBO) By Sopranos standards, this season was one of the show's weaker ones. By television standards, the Mob drama remains one of TV's strongest series. The Wire (HBO) If any show has a right to challenge Boomtown's claim on the Emmy, it's this realistic, chilling look at cops, dealers and inner-city drug wars. Actor David Boreanaz (news) (Angel) Emmy voters have little use for ''genre'' shows, and even less for WB. But no actor turned in a more diverse star turn. Anthony LaPaglia (news) (Without a Trace) No voter who saw him grill a child abuser in the season's standout episode is likely to forget it. Kiefer Sutherland (news) (24) Hour by hour, his quietly powerful performance forced you to suspend disbelief. He's the spring that keeps the clock ticking. Donnie Wahlberg (news) (Boomtown) Genuinely heroic as a good man with a guilty conscience, Wahlberg held Boomtown together. Dominic West (The Wire) Equally admirable in a more unconventionally heroic role than Wahlberg's, West also provided a steady and appealing central point for a complicated series. Actress Amy Brenneman (news) (Judging Amy (news - Y! TV)) This may not be the kind of role that wins actresses Emmys, but Brenneman has created a character, and carries a show, that millions of viewers love. Edie Falco (news) (The Sopranos) Here's a role that wins Emmys. It wasn't a great season for Falco, but all that counts is her powerhouse performance in the finale. Jennifer Garner(news) (Alias) Garner propels Alias with her talent, charm, athleticism and strangely changeable girl-next-door beauty. Sarah Michelle Gellar (news) (Buffy the Vampire Slayer (news - Y! TV)) With Buffy gone, will voters finally give the show and its talented star due recognition? No, but it's nice to dream. Sonja Sohn (The Wire) She created one of TV's most original cops: a smart, black lesbian who refused to let the old-boy network use any of that against her. Supporting actor Xander Berkeley (24) His carefully balanced portrayal of an unpleasant man forced by imminent death to deal with the emotional wreckage of his life anchored 24's most compelling subplot. Victor Garber (news) (Alias) If Alias is more than just an adventure romp, and it is, it's because terrific actors like Garber ground the plots in emotional truth. Larry Gilliard Jr. (The Wire) As a young drug dealer trying to make his profession less violent and more consumer-friendly, Gilliard adroitly embodied his show's moral ambiguity. Mark-Paul Gosselaar (news) (NYPD Blue (news - Y! TV)) He brought new energy and sex appeal to the series. And in his scenes after the death of his father, he held his own with the incomparable Dennis Franz (news). Neal McDonough (news) (Boomtown) One of the season's true breakout stars, McDonough was brilliant as a district attorney succumbing to all of his worst impulses. Supporting actress Tyne Daly (news) (Judging Amy) There is no braver, better actress working in TV today. Laura Harris (24) As a deceptively sweet, homicidal bride, Harris pulled off one of the season's most unexpected plot twists. Penny Johnson Jerald (24) But what would 24 be without Johnson Jerald's amusingly pitched version of Lady Macbeth? Lena Olin (news) (Alias) If you're looking for a single reason Alias was an even better series this year than last, look no further than Olin's addition as Sydney's impossible-to-read mother. CCH Pounder (The Shield) I don't share the Emmy voters' fondness for this show and its male star, but Pounder is wonderful as the station's smartest, most moral cop. Comedy Series Andy Richter (news) Controls the Universe (Fox) Every now and then, Emmy takes notice of a mishandled, canceled series as a way of slapping a network for bungling an artistic opportunity. Welcome to Andy's universe. Friends (NBC) TV's most popular sitcom didn't quite live up to last year's Emmy-winning season, but it remains a must-see pleasure. Gilmore Girls (news - Y! TV) (WB) When are Emmy voters going to get over their WB myopia and take note of this cleverly written, expertly acted comedy? This year? Monk (USA) This comic mystery is probably a more potent Emmy threat in the acting categories, but it can also claim a nomination here -- particularly in a year when traditional sitcoms were so weak. Sex and the City (news - Y! TV) (HBO) Fans were torn over last season's Sex run: Some enjoyed it, and some were bored by the more serious turn the stories took. I say the episodes were strong enough to edge out Will & Grace for the fifth slot, but I wouldn't be shocked or sorry if the voting went the other way. Actor Larry David (news) (Curb Your Enthusiasm) There's no sitcom like Curb and no star like David, who turns bad behavior into a TV virtue. Matt LeBlanc (news) (Friends) If you think it's easy to play dumb, look at all the people who try it on TV without getting a single laugh, let alone touching viewers' hearts as LeBlanc has. Eric McCormack (news) (Will & Grace) The sometimes undervalued McCormack had one of his strongest seasons -- once he and his show worked their way out of last year's massively ill-conceived baby plot. Andy Richter (Andy Richter) With skill and oversized charm, Richter made the transition from talk show support to sitcom star with surprising ease. Too bad so few people got to see the switch. Tony Shalhoub (news) (Monk) Shalhoub's understated performance as an obsessive-compulsive cop is hilarious and heartbreaking in near equal measure. Actress Lauren Graham (news) (Gilmore Girls) Graham may be the funniest fast-talking beauty since Rosalind Russellm, who never got her due come awards time, either. Debra Messing (news) (Will & Grace) Though the writing of late has made Grace too callously selfish, Messing's performance remains a sitcom highlight. Sarah Jessica Parker (news) (Sex and the City) Sex has its likable and hateful episodes, but Parker never varies. She's an enchanting class act in a show that often needs one. Sara Rue (news) (Less Than Perfect) She may be an average-size young woman in a medium prone to models, but there's nothing average about her talent. Wanda Sykes (Wanda at Large) Even in a subpar show, Sykes is one of the brightest, funniest presences on TV. Supporting actor Bryan Cranston (news) (Malcolm in the Middle (news - Y! TV)) As the kids on this family sitcom grow older and nastier, Cranston's dad remains a marvel of sweet comic befuddlement. Andy Dick (news) (Less Than Perfect) Finally, Dick seems to have realized less can be more. By reining himself in, he's giving the best comic performance of his TV career. Sean Hayes (news) (Will & Grace) Much the same can be said of Hayes, who brought his character down a notch and rediscovered some of the giddy joy of the earlier seasons. John C. McGinley (news) (Scrubs) All those workers who feel put-upon by incompetent bosses, and in turn torture struggling subordinates, have found the ideal TV patron saint in McGinley. David Hyde Pierce (news) (Frasier) The precipitous decline in Frasier's writing has been readily apparent to all but the willfully blind. But week to week, Pierce finds some way to rise above. Supporting actress Alexis Bledel (news) (Gilmore Girls) As TV's most precious precocious teen, Bledel practically shimmers on the screen. You should watch her free while you can; the girl seems destined to be a movie star. Paget Brewster (news) (Andy Richter) After a string of poor sitcom choices, Brewster finally landed in a first-rate sitcom, and she responded with one of the year's best performances. Too few people noticed. Andrea Martin (My Big Fat Greek Life) She may have been the saving grace of the season's biggest disappointment. With everything collapsing around her, Martin rung laughs out of the thinnest material. Megan Mullally (news) (Will & Grace) Like her male supporting counterpart, Mullally brought her character back to life by scaling her down to a slightly more realistic level. Not real, mind you -- just less scenery-chomping absurd. Bitty Schram (Monk) With all the attention justifiably lavished on Shalhoub, it would be easy to overlook Schram's contribution as his sometimes unwilling helpmate. Don't make that mistake. Monk couldn't work without her, and neither would Monk.