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Emmy playing field balanced

Broadcast catches up to cable in nominations

Emmy’s broadcast-vs.-cable battle may be over.

After years of watching cable steal its Emmy thunder, the broadcast networks had plenty of reason to cheer as the TV Academy announced this year’s nominations.

Sure, HBO still dominated the proceedings, but that was mostly thanks to longforms like “The Pacific,” which landed a whopping 24 nominations. The networks don’t play that game anymore — but they’re still in the series biz, and to that end, programs like “Glee” (19 nominations), “30 Rock” (15) and “Modern Family” (14) shined.

“The broadcast networks are winning back a fair share of the attention and accolades from this group of voters,” notes 20th Century Fox TV chairman Dana Walden.

Talk about parity: Among the 12 outstanding drama and outstanding comedy nominees, six come from broadcast and six come from cable.

“We like to see that parity,” says TV Academy awards senior VP John Leverence. “You had a lot of exciting newcomers, as well as ongoing strength of basic cable.”

Indeed, among the wired nets, basic cable — with entries like “Mad Men” (AMC) and the telepic “Georgia O’Keefe” (Lifetime) — held its own versus its better-funded pay neighbors.

ABC led all broadcast nets, thanks to “Modern Family” as well as the “82nd Annual Academy Awards,” which earned 12.

In the reality TV world, “Dancing With the Stars” led the pack, with nine noms.

This year’s nominations also provided quite a bit of gender balance. Guy-heavy “The Pacific” and “Mad Men” did well but so did femme-led fare like “Temple Grandin,” “The Good Wife” and “Nurse Jackie.”

Meanwhile, leading this year’s disappointments, “The Big Bang Theory” couldn’t make the outstanding comedy cut — despite a healthy marketing push by Warner Bros.

Still, comedy got a makeover, as five of last year’s seven nominees — “Entourage,” “How I Met Your Mother,” “Family Guy,” “The Flight of the Conchords” and “Weeds” — failed to repeat (“Conchords” wasn’t eligible).

“Glee” and “Modern Family” were considered Emmy shoo-ins; the real rookie surprise went to CBS’ “The Good Wife.” The skein received a very healthy nine nods, including five in the acting categories and also top drama series.

Nobody knows better than CBS that ratings and Emmys don’t necessarily go together — as evidenced by the dearth of “CSI” and “NCIS” nominations — but “The Good Wife” resonated in a powerful way.

Net will undoubtedly use the Emmy love as a promotional tool for the Julianna Margulies starrer, which cooled some in the ratings down the stretch of its rookie season.

On the other hand, it may be harder for CBS to promote the significant timeslot shift of “Big Bang Theory” from its comfy Monday perch to a leadoff slot on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Emmy voters also showered some love on “Friday Night Lights,” the acclaimed but lightly watched drama that’s been around since 2006. It’s the rare example of a show that scored its first major nominations in its fourth season or later (“Family Guy” and “How I Met Your Mother” did it on the comedy side a year ago).

Connie Britton and Kyle Chandler, who play what many consider the most realistic husband-wife combo on television, were both nominated in lead acting categories for the first time.

The show, which is expected to wrap after its next season, has lived on thanks to an inventive production arrangement between NBC and satellite provider DirecTV.

On the pay cable landscape, HBO was dominant with its network-leading 101 nominations, although it’s a closer battle for bragging rights when it comes to series, since 59 of HBO’s nods came for movies and miniseries.

Pleasant surprises came for a series nod for HBO’s most buzzed about show, “True Blood,” in a very competitive drama category. “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” with its pseudo-“Seinfeld” reunion, repped the comedy class.

Showtime stood tall with seven noms for its most popular skein, “Dexter,” which has now been acknowledged by voters three years in a row.

And “Nurse Jackie,” starring former HBO champ Edie Falco, earned a network-leading eight noms, including for comedy series. Whether it actually stands as a comedy is a different discussion, however.

In the variety/comedy/music category, few could resist the irony of Conan O’Brien landing an Emmy nomination for “The Tonight Show” — the job he left in January after being forced to move time slots.

But the producer with most to celebrate may have been Lorne Michaels, whose “Saturday Night Live” managed to surpass “ER” as the most-nominated program in Emmy history.

The academy changed its rules last year, allowing “SNL” players to compete in the comedy acting categories. As a result, the latenight vet scored 12 noms this year to bring its total to 126.

A few other notes and oddities:

n Emmy voters just can’t stop showing the love to “Mad Men” and “30 Rock,” but it is tempered at least. Last year both shows scored no less than four writing noms apiece; this year, it’s down to two apiece. In the directing category, “30 Rock” made do with one bid in the directing category, down from three last year, but “Mad Men” boosted its showing with two bids, up from one last year.

n Fresh off his Oscar win for “Crazy Heart,” Jeff Bridges has a shot at his first Emmy with a nom for his work in the HBO telepic “A Dog Year.”

n “Curb Your Enthusiasm” has become the grey eminence of primetime. Larry David’s improv HBO laffer, which bowed in 2001, is the longest-running skein among the shows nommed for comedy and drama series.

n Most obscure nomination might be “Virtuality,” the busted Fox sci-fi pilot that ultimately ran as a TV movie way back in June 2009. The program, which is nominated for special visual effects on a mini, movie or special, is so obscure that the TV Academy even got the network wrong. NBC (which produced “Virtuality” through Universal Media Studios) got the credit for the program, even though Fox actually aired it.

n One thing is for certain this time at the Emmys: HBO’s “The Pacific” will win the outstanding sound mixing for a mini or movie category. That’s because all four nominations in the category went to “The Pacific”: Part 2 vs. Part 5 vs. Part 8 vs. Part 9.

n Most depressing category goes to the outstanding children’s nonfiction program award, where “Nick News with Linda Ellerbee – The Face of Courage: Kids Living with Cancer” faces off with PBS’ “When Families Grieve.” What happened to sunny days, sweeping the clouds away?

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