20 noms put AMC in a starring role

Dramatic showing for cable network

If last year was AMC’s coming-out party, this year represents its coronation.

The cabler burst on the Emmy scene last year thanks to the miniseries “Broken Trail.” Now it’s blazing a series trail as well, scoring 16 nods for “Mad Men” — the most of any drama this year — as well as four for “Breaking Bad.”

AMC’s 20 nominations leads all basic-cable networks and puts the net in seventh place overall, behind only HBO, the Big Four nets and Showtime.

Those noms include two for lead actor in a drama series, “Mad Men” star Jon Hamm and “Breaking Bad’s” Bryan Cranston. “Mad Men’s” John Slattery was additionally recognized in the supporting actor in a drama category.

Not bad for a channel that was mostly known for playing old movies until a year or two ago.

“It’s such a validation for our strategy,” said AMC exec VP-g.m. Charlie Collier. “To have them recognize both of our original series for the year, and to salute the creative talent both in front of and behind the camera, it feels really good for the network overall and for all of its partners.”

The timing couldn’t be better: AMC is throwing a premiere party Monday in Hollywood for “Mad Men’s” second season. The show returns July 27 and could potentially earn a ratings bump thanks to the Emmy love — not to mention the lavish press attention it’s received in recent weeks.

Not only is “Mad Men” breaking down more doors for AMC, it’s also shattering one of basic cable’s final Emmy barriers. The show, along with FX’s “Damages,” reps the first basic-cable entry to earn an outstanding drama nod.

“Basic cable has done such a good job putting quality on the screen,” Collier said.

Given AMC’s entry into the scripted realm “Mad Men” creator Matt Weiner said he’s pleased that the show has stood out as much as it has in a crowded field.

“AMC is a really incredible place to be in this early formative period,” Weiner said. “They’ve made a plan and they’ve been very brave and smart about sticking to it. They have a strategy of getting into the (original series) marketplace based on quality.”

“Mad Men” launched in July 2007, to instant acclaim. Series won two Golden Globes earlier this year, for drama series and drama actor (Hamm). But the Globes kudofest was canceled because of the Writers Guild strike; the AMC and “Mad Men” crew toasted their victory at a private party. This time, Collier said he’s looking forward to celebrating at the Emmy ceremony.

Although the “Mad Men” sweep wasn’t unexpected, the noms for “Breaking Bad,” created by Vince Gilligan, were a nice surprise.

“I’m looking forward to having everyone in the room (at the Emmys),” Collier said. “It’s going to be a special moment for AMC.”

It was “Trail” and its 16 noms last year — as well as the mini’s four wins — that paved the way last year for the launch of “Mad Men.”

Collier noted that AMC and parent Rainbow Media’s strategy, which he inherited upon his 2006 arrival, was to invest in series “that we could run side-by-side with the best movies of all time.”

“We want to build high-end cinematic TV,” he said, “and showcase it the way we showcase films. It started before I got here, but I’ve been fortunate enough to implement it.”

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