'30 Rock' tops Emmy nominations

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Nominees list: part I | Nominees list: part II

New blood broke into key nominations for the 61st annual Emmy Awards, with two youth-oriented series — the animated “Family Guy” and HBO’s musical “Flight of the Conchords” — among the seven candidates for outstanding comedy series, while defending champ “30 Rock” garnered 22 bids, a record-setting tally for a laffer.

A rules change expanded the number of designated comedy and drama nominees (along with the nominees in key acting categories) from five to six for the 2008-09 eligibility window, intensifying the jockeying for those final slots. But ties in the voting actually yielded seven contenders in both series fields.

As with the Academy Awards’ more dramatic shift to 10 best-picture contenders, part of the rationale for the procedural tinkering is to allow a few more commercially successful series to break through — thus boosting interest in (and ratings for) the kudocast. By that measure, the results appear to be a mixed bag.

Fox’s “House” and ABC’s “Lost” were the lone broadcast entries for best drama, joined by AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and last year’s winner, “Mad Men” — the most-nominated drama, with 16 — as well as HBO’s first-timer “Big Love” (whose lone nomination came in that category), FX’s “Damages” and Showtime’s “Dexter.”

Even with the extra bids, this year’s drama balloting was perceived to be especially fierce, thanks in part to the number of long-running series — including “ER,” “The Shield” and “Battlestar Galactica,” all ultimately overlooked — in their swan-song seasons, which some critics felt merited consideration.

The real surprises, however, largely came on the comedy front, especially given that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences — which presents the awards — has historically been slow to recognize new programs as well as those that appeal to younger audiences.

Fox made a concerted push for “Family Guy,” producer Seth MacFarlane’s ribald comedy, which, along with “Conchords,” joins such familiar players as “Entourage,” “The Office” and “30 Rock.” Two other veteran programs, CBS’ “How I Met Your Mother” and Showtime’s “Weeds,” were also first-time nominees for comedy.

“Damages” and “Mad Men” became the first basic-cable programs to earn drama or comedyscripted series nominations in 2008, and “Breaking Bad” — whose star, Bryan Cranston, was honored last year — becomes the third.

The new faces remained somewhat limited in terms of acting honors. “Mad Men’s” Elisabeth Moss was the only new lead drama actress, for example; the category features the last three winners — in sequence, Mariska Hargitay, Sally Field and Glenn Close, along with repeat TNT nominees Holly Hunter and Kyra Sedgwick.

On the drama side, Simon Baker, star of CBS’ breakout hit “The Mentalist,” was the only first-time nominee joins Gabriel Byrne, Michael C. Hall, Jon Hamm and Hugh Laurie — all multiple nominees who have never won — and Cranston.

In comedy, “The Big Bang Theory’s” Jim Parsons and half of the “Conchords’” duo, Jemaine Clement, crash the partyattended by 2008 Emmy recipient Alec Baldwin, multiple nominees Steve Carell and Charlie Sheen and three-time winner Tony Shalhoub. Similarly, along with “United States of Tara’s” Toni Collette and Sarah Silverman — for her eponymous Comedy Central program— will vie with Christina Applegate, Mary-Louise Parker and Emmy faves Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

As for producer Chuck Lorre’s two high-rated multicamera CBS sitcoms, “Two and a Half Men” and “The Big Bang Theory,” the news was bittersweet: While “Big Bang’s” Parsons and “Men’s” Sheen and Jon Cryer were recognized, neither program made the comedy category cut.

Despite growing competition from other cable nets, HBO remains the most-nominated channel overall for the ninth consecutive year. Its 99 noms mark the highest total for the cable network since 2004. (The channel amassed more than 100 nominations that year as well as in 2003.)

That said, Showtime upped its haul to a network-best 29 bids, as did AMC at 23. Despite its ratings woes, NBC — led by “30 Rock,” which nearly cornered the market on writing and guest acting — was the most-nominated broadcaster for the first time in five years, with 67, while ABC slipped to its lowest total since 2005.

HBO has received the most prizes every year since 2001, including a pair of ties with NBC when the streak began. The pay cabler’s diversified assault has been predicated in part on utter dominance of the TV movie category, winning that honor 14 of the last 16 years. HBO received three of this year’s five movie bids — for “Grey Gardens,” “Into the Storm” and “Taking Chance” — joined by Lifetime’s “Prayers for Bobby” and “Coco Chanel.”

By contrast, the major broadcast networks accounted for just 10 of the 28 awards claimed during last year’s primary ceremony, with HBO alone — fueled by the miniseries “John Adams” — equaling their total.

After “Adams” dazzled with 13 Emmys, the miniseries has fallen on especially hard times. Only two received nominations — HBO’s Iraq drama “Generation Kill” and PBS’ eight-hour “Little Dorrit” — because a mere seven were submitted. That triggered the TV Academy’s “one-third rule,” which states that the number of nominees will not exceed one third of the entries.

Meanwhile, the two longest streaks in Emmy history may well continue, with reality competition “The Amazing Race” and comedy-variety’s “The Daily Show” each having topped their fields for six straight years. Notably, the final year of “The Tonight Show With Jay Leno” didn’t crack the latter category.

With the nominations now official, the TV Academy and this year’s host network, CBS, will huddle on the thorny task of determining which awards can be removed from the main event, with the board having established a goal of reducing the number of awards presented live from 28 to 21.

Although movie awards are believed to be in play to be relocated, there are several marquee faces to be found among those performers.

The playbill includes the U.K. triumvirate of Kenneth Branagh, Brendan Gleeson and Ian McKellen; first-time Emmy nominees Kevin Bacon and Kevin Kline; and Kiefer Sutherland (for the movie “24: Redemption”). Lead actress features the “Grey Gardens” tandem of Drew Barrymore and Jessica Lange plus Sigourney Weaver and Chandra Wilson (also up for “Grey’s Anatomy”). Shirley MacLaine — who won an Emmy in 1976 — is also up for what amounted to an extended cameo in “Coco Chanel.”

Emmys will be handed out on Sept. 12 — the Creative Arts Awards, a night devoted primarily to technical areas — and Sept. 20, with the E! channel televising the earlier event.

The Primetime Emmys will be handed out Sept. 20 and broadcast by CBS. The Creative Arts Emmys —devoted primarily to technical areas — will be handed out Sept. 12 and carried a week later on E!.

After poor reviews for last year’s show, the TV Academy tapped Don Mischer — who has overseen nine Emmy broadcasts, the last in 2004 — to again produce the show.

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