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Primetime Emmys: Nominations ‘Validating’ for Cable Programmers

The nominations for the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards arrived Thursday morning ushering in waves of validation for producers, directors and network executives.

Once again, HBO led the pack with 85 nominations including 23 for John Adams, the most of any program, with nods for best miniseries, director and lead and supporting actors.

AMC’s Mad Men received 16 nominations, including best drama and a best actor nomination for Jon Hamm, who already has a Golden Globe.

And NBC’s 30 Rockled the comedy nominations with 17, including acting nods for Alec Baldwin and series creator and producer Tina Fey.

“It’s validating on multiple levels,” said Charlie Collier, president and general manager of AMC. “It’s incredibly validating of our strategy: to create an environment where the best of Hollywood could come and be comfortable and thrive.”

The network’s Breaking Bad was also recognized with several nominations including an acting nod for series star Bryan Cranston.

That so many nominations went to cable productions, especially in the drama and movie and miniseries categories, is a testament to the original work being done there. That most of the nominated projects have audience levels well below the threshold of what would be considered viable on broadcast television further reinforces a business model that banks on quality begetting eyeballs.

Even NBC's 30 Rock -- and Emmy perennial The Office, which picked up nominations for best comedy and acting nods for Steve Carell and Rainn Wilson -- are hardly ratings juggernauts by broadcast-television standards.

Likewise, ABC’s Pushing Daisies had little time to build traction with viewers in its strike-shortened first season but was nevertheless recognized in the best drama and best actor categories.

John Adams is an interesting success story, having racked up healthy DVD sales since its run on HBO. The seven-hour miniseries, which featured singular performances from nominated stars Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney, also had the considerable task of presenting the birth of a nation with all of the nuance and subtlety of a nascent American political system.

“This was not a show where we dumbed down American history in order to pursue some kind of populist or commercial agenda,” said director Tom Hooper. “We really put the integrity of the story telling at the center of the film.”

HBO also dominated the made-for-TV movie category, with 11 nominations for Recount and nods for Bernard and Doris and Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale.

Bob Balaban, who was nominated for directing Bernard and Doris as well as for his supporting role in Recount, made Bernard and Dorison a shoestring budget of $500,000 and was preparing to take it to film festivals.

“We didn’t have distribution,” he said. “We didn’t have trailers. We barely had film in the camera. And you can certainly make a movie for, say, $50,000, but it is very, very hard to make a movie about the richest woman in the world without any money. Everything was a struggle, even to find good flowers to put on the tables. We had to go steal them from friends’ houses.”

Bernard and Doris, about the final decades of the life of eccentric tobacco heiress Doris Duke and her butler-turned-companion Bernard Lafferty, raked in 10 nominations in all, including a directing nod for Balaban and acting nominations for Ralph Fiennes and Susan Sarandon.

Balaban was about to head to the Toronto Film Festival when Colin Callendar, president of HBO Films, stepped in, giving the movie a home and a little polish in the form of a score and some postproduction work.

But so many Emmy nominations offer more than validation for work already done.

"They are also useful for my other projects," Balaban added. “It absolutely lends three degrees of glitter and stardust to whatever it is you’re [currently] doing. And that’s helpful. Plus you get to go to a lovely dinner and you get a free plane ticket and free hotel room, and I love that.”