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Every year at this time, exasperated TV critics make their bitter final plea to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences: Please, for the love of all things not involving John Lithgow, bring some fresh blood to the Emmy Awards.

Sometimes, their calls are heeded (Sex and the City won last year, and Malcolm in the Middle scored a much-deserved nomination). Other times, it's the same ol', same ol'. (Oh, looky there. ER and Law & Order got nominated, but not CSI or Buffy the Vampire Slayer. How shocking.)

Once again, the ritual has begun. Nominations for the 54th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be announced bright and early Thursday morning in Los Angeles. (E! will present live coverage of Emmy nominations Thursday morning at 8 a.m. ET/5 a.m. PT, followed by a special one-hour Emmy edition of E! News Live at 6:30 p.m.)

So far, the questions are similar: Will newcomers like 24, Six Feet Under, The Bernie Mac Show or Alias get any love from Emmy voters? Or how about as-yet-unrecognized favorites like CSI, Gilmore Girls and--most infamous of all--Buffy the Vampire Slayer? And what about those cable shows that aren't on HBO: Will FX's The Shield or Showtime's Chris Isaak Show grab enough attention from voters?

The good news for the dramas is that one potential contender has been whacked from the competition: HBO's The Sopranos, which scored 22 Emmy nominations last year, won't be eligible for any trophies this time out because no new episodes aired between June 1, 2001 and May 31, 2002 (or, for that matter, June, July and August 2002).

In its place, a pile of newcomers are hoping to step in: Some critics have singled out 24's Kiefer Sutherland, Buffy's Sarah Michelle Gellar, The Shield's Michael Chiklis and Six Feet Under's Peter Krause and Michael C. Hall for acting honors.

On the other hand, two veteran Emmy winners have a chance to set some records: If Law & Order scores another nod for Outstanding Drama, it will tie the record of 11 consecutive nominations for best series held by both M*A*S*H and Cheers, according to awards-show expert Tom O'Neil.

Meanwhile, Frasier is just two Emmy wins away from tying the record 29 trophies held by The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

Also on the comedy side, the cast of Friends will find out Thursday morning whether its new strategy worked: After years of submitting their names for the supporting actor categories, all six stars are vying for the lead actor trophy.

To find out what happens, set your alarm and check out E!'s live coverage and E! Online's complete recap, including a full list of nominees.