By Jill Serjeant
LOS ANGELES, Sept 17 (Reuters) - "Saturday Night Live" found laughter and lampoonery in America's fraught political and social scene and on Sunday the satirical sketch show looks set to reap the benefits at the Emmy awards, the highest honors in television.
Led by Alec Baldwin's withering impersonations of U.S. President Donald Trump and Melissa McCarthy's winning turn as former White House spokesman Sean Spicer, the show earned 22 Emmy nominations after its most-watched season in 23 years.
Kate McKinnon is competing in the supporting actress race for her spoofs of former presidential candidate Hillary Clinton and White House aide Kellyanne Conway on the live show that airs on Comcast Corp's NBC.
Politics promise to run through Sunday's ceremony in Los Angeles, starting with host Stephen Colbert, whose relentless attacks on Trump have brought a surge of viewers to "The Late Show."
"The biggest TV star of this year is undoubtedly Donald Trump. No one's close," quipped Colbert ahead of the ceremony.
Julia Louis-Dreyfus is expected to win her sixth consecutive Emmy for playing an egotistical, losing presidential candidate on Time Warner's HBO comedy "Veep."
"Veep" could also be a repeat winner for best comedy series, with actor-director Donald Glover's hip-hop themed "Atlanta" and contemporary African-American family show "black-ish" seen by pundits as its closest rivals.
Netflix's dark Washington drama "House of Cards" and its stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright are competing in a drama series category that includes fan favorite "Stranger Things," dystopian series "The Handmaid's Tale," lawyer show "Better Call Saul", sci-fi drama "Westworld," British royal series "The Crown" and front-runner family show "This Is Us."
Two-time Emmy champ "Game of Thrones" is out of the running this year because of a later broadcast date for its seventh season.
Sunday's red carpet turnout will feature a slew of A-list free movie stars who are flocking to the small screen and the more than 400 scripted shows on cable, streaming platforms and broadcast television.
Nicole Kidman's battered wife in HBO's "Big Little Lies" is seen as leading the limited series category that features three other Oscar winners: Reese Witherspoon (also for "Big Little Lies"), and "Feud" co-stars Susan Sarandon and Jessica Lange.
"Nicole is the one to beat. She is having a career resurgence and she played the courageous role of the survivor of physical abuse in marriage," said Tom O'Neil, founder of awards website goldderby.com
The Emmy awards will be shown live on CBS television starting at 8 pm ET/5 pm PT.
(Reporting by Jill Serjeant; Editing by Mary Milliken)