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Oscar's TV past: Will SNL finally break through?

The TV set: Eddie Murphy, Jennifer Hudson and Will Smith.

Many an Oscar winner made his or her first big mark on the lowly small screen.

To name a few: Sally Field (Gidget/The Flying Nun), Clint Eastwood (Rawhide), Helen Hunt (Mad About You), Denzel Washington (St. Elsewhere), Robin Williams (Mork & Mindy), Tom Hanks (Bosom Buddies), Jamie Foxx (The Jamie Foxx Show), George Clooney (ER).

The newest nominees again include previous winner Eastwood, this time as best director for Letters from Iwo Jima. Otherwise the acting categories are strongly represented with TV expatriates looking for their first Oscars.

Leonardo DiCaprio only peripherally counts. Nominated as best actor for Blood Diamond, he logged 23 episodes in the recurring role of Luke Brower during the closing two seasons of ABC's Growing Pains. That show didn't make him a star. But it did give him a li'l leg up in Hollywoodland.

Of more interest is Eddie Murphy, who has to be the early favorite in the best supporting actor category for his showy role in Dreamgirls. He's the fifth Saturday Night Live regular to be nominated, but would be the first to win. The others are Joan Cusack (Working Girl), Dan Aykroyd (Driving Miss Daisy), Robert Downey, Jr. (Chaplin) and most recently, Bill Murray (Lost in Translation).

Will Smith, who starred for six seasons on NBC's The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, seems like a longshot to win for The Pursuit of Happyness. But the other two TV personages have solid chances to make acceptance speeches.

American Idol semi-finalist Jennifer Hudson (Dreamgirls) would be a surprise non-winner in the supporting actress slot. Not that Idol needs any more publicity, but a Hudson victory would further solidify the show as a starmaking ratings Goliath.

In the best actress category, Helen Mirren first hit it big on these shores as Det. Supt. Jane Tennison in a series of seven PBS Prime Suspect movies, the first in 1991. She looks like a lock for her title role performance in The Queen.

There's also Sacha Baron Cohen, who has a best adapted screenplay nomination for Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. HBO first put him on the map with Da Ali G Show. But Cohen's recent testicles/anus acceptance speech at the Golden Globes may have put Academy voters off their feed.

If not, it could be a very long night for the seven-second delay button. After all, Cohen hasn't even touched on the female anatomy yet.