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Cable Once Again Tops Emmy List

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Cable again dominated the list of nominees for the 61st Primetime Emmy Awards, announced July 16 in Los Angeles.

Cable series garnered five of the seven best drama nominations as well as three nods in the best comedy category. They also made a significant showing in the variety, reality and top acting categories.

HBO led the way with 99 nominations, followed by the broadcasters: 67 for NBC, 55 for ABC, 49 for CBS and 42 for Fox.

30 Rock set an Emmy comedy record with 22 nominations. These included a raft of acting nods for regulars Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin as well as for Jane Krakowski, Tracy Morgan and Jack McBrayer, all first-time nominees for their work on the show.

30 Rock also racked up a disproportionate amount of nods in the guest star category with nominations for Steve Martin, Alan Alda, Jon Hamm, Jennifer Aniston and Elaine Stritch. It seems about the only 30 Rock guest stars who didn’t get recognized were Salma Hayek and Oprah Winfrey.

And while the show attracts a weekly audience that’s modest by broadcast standards (something that series creator Fey has often joked about), it is firmly established in the media Zeitgeist.

“I’ve done shows for three people sitting in the back room of a bar at 11:30 at night,” observes McBrayer, a veteran of the improve circuit. “And so I get it. Sometimes people ain’t necessarily coming out in droves to buy what you’re selling. But as long as the few people who are paying attention are enjoying it, that is quite a compliment.”

AMC’s Mad Men led the dramas with 19 nods. And while Mad Men has been the darling of the awards circuit since it premiered two seasons ago, AMC’s Breaking Bad broke through this season to also land a best drama series nomination, the first for the show.

“It really elevates the brand to have multiple [series] nominated,” says Charlie Collier, president and general manager of AMC. “We want to be known for the best storytelling on television. I do think people are coming to the AMC brand for the highest-quality storytelling, and that really is important to us.”

FX's Damages was once again nominated in the best drama series category. The show was also recognized in acting categories with nods for Glenn Close, Rose Byrne, William Hurt and Ted Danson.

Cable's dominance in the drama series category, says Damages creator and executive producer Todd A. Kessler, "just has to signal something."

Kessler also received a directing nomination for Damages.

"It's just tremendous that shows like Breaking Bad and Mad Men and Dexter and Big Love are being recognized, which is not taking anything away from the [broadcast] networks," he adds. "But these cable shows are attracting levels of talent that network television wasn't attracting. And I think that's because you're able to write a deeper sense of character."

Still, despite the familiar networks and shows, the addition of an extra nominee in each of the major categories—and the fact that the nominees were based entirely on the popular vote this year—led to a few surprises.

At the top of the list is Family Guy, which chose not to enter the Outstanding Animated Program category to make a run at the broader Outstanding Comedy Series category. The bet paid off, as Family Guy got the nod. Weeds also made the cut, the first time a Showtime series has been nominated in the best comedy category.

Also making an unexpected appearance was comedian Sarah Silverman, who received a Best Actress in a Comedy Series nod for her role in Comedy Central’s The Sarah Silverman Program. Showtime, which was well represented with 29 nominations overall, garnered two nods in the category, with Mary-Louise Parker for Weeds and Toni Collette for the new series United States of Tara.

“This type of recognition is important,” says Matt Blank, chairman and CEO of Showtime Networks. “We’re not a mass audience vehicle. If you compare us to CBS, I don’t know how many Emmys CSI has won over the years. But CSI is the ultimate mass audience vehicle. I think the awards are just very, very different in our world, where we’re looking for people to really appreciate the brand and build awareness and demand for the brand.”

Simon Baker snagged a Best Actor in a Drama Series nomination as the star of the CBS rookie drama The Mentalist. And in a new category, Best Variety, Music or Comedy Series, the nominees were The Colbert Report, The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Saturday Night Live, Real Time With Bill Maher and The Late Show With David Letterman.

Bravo once again dominated the Outstanding Reality Competition category with 12 nominations, a record for the network. Top Chef and Project Runway each received four nods in the category. The nominations for Runway, which moves to Lifetime after a protracted legal battle, is “a nice way to go out,” says Frances Berwick, executive VP and general manager of Bravo Media. “To me, that’s great validation that we’ve maintained the quality for the run of that show on Bravo.”

Kathy Griffin’s My Life on the D-List received its fourth consecutive nod in the Outstanding Reality Program category.

Griffin, who was also nominated in the Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special category for Bravo’s She’ll Cut a Bitch, will host this year’s Creative Arts Emmy Awards program.

Griffin, adds Berwick, has “gone full circle in terms of being almost banished by the academy to being asked to host the Creative Arts Emmys.”

It wasn't so long ago that the inclusion of reality television among the genres honored with Emmy Awards caused a minor stir in the industry.

"It's part of television now," says Craig Piligian, executive producer of Discovery's Dirty Jobs, which received its second consecutive nomination for Outstanding Reality Program.

"In fact there's more reality television on TV than other kinds of television."

Lifetime will roll out Project Runway on Aug. 20. But it is the network's made-for-television movies that garnered Emmy nods. Coco Chanel and Prayers for Bobby were nominated in the best movie and acting categories for Shirley MacLaine and Sigourney Weaver, respectively.

The nominations, says Andrea Wong, president and CEO of Lifetime Networks, validates the network's commitment to high quality made-for-TV movies.

"A couple of years ago we really put a new strategy in place," says Wong. "We decided that we were going to put great talent in front of and behind the camera and that we were going to create great roles for female actors."

The nominees in the major categories are:

Outstanding Comedy Series:

30 Rock (NBC)

Family Guy (Fox)

Entourage (HBO)

Flight of the Conchords

(HBO)Weeds (Showtime)

The Office (NBC)

Outstanding Drama Series

Mad Men (AMC)

Lost (ABC)

Breaking Bad (AMC)

Dexter (Showtime)

Big Love (HBO)

House (Fox)

Damages (FX) 

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series

Bryan Cranston, Breaking Bad, AMC

Michael C. Hall, Dexter, Showtime

Hugh Laurie, House, Fox

Gabriel Byrne, In Treatment, HBO

Jon Hamm, Mad Men, AMC

Simon Baker, The Mentalist, CBS

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series

Sally Field, Brothers & Sisters, ABC

Glenn Close, Damages, FX

Mariska Hargitay, Law & Order: SVU, NBC

Elisabeth Moss, Mad Men, AMC

Holly Hunter, Saving Grace, TNT

Kyra Sedgwick, The Closer, TNT

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series

Alec Baldwin, 30 Rock, NBC

Jemaine Clement, Flight of the Conchords, HBO

Tony Shalhoub, Monk, USA

Jim Parsons, The Big Bang Theory, CBS

Steve Carell, The Office, NBC

Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men, CBS

Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy series

Tina Fey, 30 Rock, NBC

Christina Applegate, Samantha Who?, ABC

Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine, CBS

Sarah Silverman, The Sarah Silverman Program, Comedy Central

Toni Collette, The United States of Tara, Showtime

Mary-Louise Parker, Weeds, Showtime

The complete list of nominees is available here.