The new drama “Heroes” and comedies “Ugly Betty” and “30 Rock” broke through into the traditionally veteran-dominated best series categories at the 59th annual Primetime Emmys, announced Thursday morning in North Hollywood.
Last year, no new program earned a spot in the comedy or drama balloting. That result yielded plenty of grumbling about the selection process despite changes implemented specifically to bring an infusion of new blood into the awards. Instead, several nominees had already been canceled or concluded their network runs.
Beyond the newcomers, repeat nominees in drama — almost certainly the Emmys’ most competitive category — include “Grey’s Anatomy,” “House” and “The Sopranos” (this year’s most-nominated series, at 15), plus a first bid for ABC’s “Boston Legal,” perhaps the biggest surprise. Time ran out, meanwhile, on Fox’s “24” — left off the list despite its victory last year, as was the acclaimed new NBC series “Friday Night Lights.”
Among comedies, the aforementioned Thursday-night freshmen are joined by defending champ “The Office,” first-time nominee “Entourage” and TV’s top-rated sitcom, “Two and a Half Men.”
With 86 nominations, HBO tallied the most bids for the seventh consecutive year, albeit with its lowest total since that streak began. The pay cabler has been the most-honored network six years running, including ties with NBC in 2001 and ’02.
The HBO charge was led by the Dick Wolf-produced historical movie “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee,” which, despite mixed reviews, lassoed 17 nominations — one more than another Western, AMC’s “Broken Trail,” starring Robert Duvall. Interestingly, last year’s most-recognized project was another miniseries drawn from that era, TNT’s “Into the West.”
Those productions are up for movie and miniseries, respectively, with the pickings thin enough in the multipart category that only two other contenders, PBS’ final “Prime Suspect” outing and USA’s “The Starter Wife,” round out the field. (Although it received seven mentions, ABC’s controversial “The Path to 9/11” was overlooked in the miniseries arena.)
Capping its historic run at 111 nominations (nine short of all-time leader “ER”), “The Sopranos” has been in the drama running six times previously but taken the prize only once, in 2004. This year’s voting did correct what many considered perhaps the most glaring oversights of the 2006 campaign, with the mob drama’s stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, as well as “House’s” Hugh Laurie, securing Emmy bids to go with their respective shows.
Barring a few exceptions, the acting categories are heavily populated by familiar faces, though “Betty’s” America Ferrera, her nemesis Vanessa Williams and “30 Rock’s” Tiny Fey and Alec Baldwin snagged key comedy spots. Sally Field and Minnie Driver also garnered bids for new programs — ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters” and FX’s “The Riches,” respectively.
By contrast, Gandolfini and Falco are already three-time winners, as is Tony Shalhoub, vying for his third consecutive Emmy as USA’s “defective detective,” Monk. Similarly, “Boston Legal’s” James Spader and supporting actor William Shatner have a pair of Emmys each for those roles.
Other prior winners again in the mix are Mariska Hargitay, Patricia Arquette, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Felicity Huffman. Another nominee, “Weeds” pot mom Mary-Louise Parker, earned separate recognition for Oxygen movie “The Robber Bride.”
Reflecting the strength of its ensemble cast, “Grey’s Anatomy” accounted for a third of the 12 dramatic supporting-actor slots, with since-departed co-star Isaiah Washington not among them. “Sopranos,” “Two and a Half Men” and “Lost” also claimed multiple supporting spots, but those categories also opened up to first-timer Masi Oka for “Heroes” and Rachel Griffiths for “Brothers & Sisters.”
HBO’s gaudy nom totals are generally fueled by the variety of its programming arsenal, which has included nabbing honors for movie — a genre the broadcast nets have largely abandoned — 12 of the last 14 years.
While HBO has managed to maintain its leadership in the face of increasingly stiff competition from other cable nets, pay rival Showtime had less to celebrate. Despite splashy ad campaigns for series such as “The Tudors” and “Dexter,” the former was crowned with only four nominations in technical areas, and the latter’s star, Michael C. Hall, couldn’t crack the lead-actor code.
Showtime’s 17 bids actually dipped slightly from last year, while NBC improved markedly on its collective haul with 69, one less than broadcast champ ABC.
“The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” and “Amazing Race” — both “fourpeat” winners in their respective variety and reality-competition spheres — will also defend those titles, with ratings blockbuster “American Idol” again a nominee in the latter.
Presented by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Emmys are by far the most diverse awards presentation, with over 460 nominations spread across 90 categories. Unlike the Oscars or Grammys, the challenge of having programs eligible year after year complicates the juggling act and has historically spurred frustration over voters’ failure to quickly bestow laurels on hot new series.
Programs that appeal to younger audiences have also fared poorly, as evidenced by the lone nod to the CW network (“Smallville,” for sound editing), after predecessors the WB and UPN combined for six last year. The continuing snub of HBO’s “The Wire” — which received zero nominations — will also come as a mystery to many viewers and TV critics, many of whom have hailed the gritty urban show as the best hour on television.
That said, the mentions for “Betty” and “Heroes” — out-of-the-box hits that watched their ratings slide somewhat alarmingly during the spring — and the low-rated “30 Rock” could provide promotional boosts to those series entering their sophomore seasons, one advantage of the telecast’s timing as a kickoff to the new TV season.
In a footnote to its one-and-out run, NBC’s “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” took more nominations than “Friday Night Lights,” a less expensive NBC drama that survived (and surely was hoping to benefit from a stronger nomination showing), with three of its five bids coming for guest actors.
The main Emmy ceremony will take place Sept. 16 at the Shrine Auditorium and will be televised by Fox.