Funny business eludes cable

Major nets sweep best-comedy field

There’s one thing absent from this year’s Emmy nominations for best comedy: cable.

Although cable networks continue to dominate drama — including three-peat winner “Mad Men” and the lavish new HBO series “Boardwalk Empire” and “Game of Thrones” — the major networks swept the best-comedy field for only the second time in the last 20 years in bids for the 63rd annual Emmy Awards announced Thursday.

Admittedly, the broadcasters’ feat comes with an asterisk: A perennial comedy nominee, HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” didn’t air during the eligibility window. Still, shutting out cable for the first time since 2005 provides tangible evidence of a comedy resurgence spearheaded by the sophomore series “Modern Family” and “Glee,” along with CBS’ popular “The Big Bang Theory” and an NBC trio — “The Office,” “30 Rock” and the modestly rated “Parks and Recreation” — whose recognition is surely welcomed.

Noting that the sitcom represents “a truly American art form,” “Big Bang” co-creator Bill Prady said, “People declare it dead. It’s only dead when the shows aren’t funny.”

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences did liberally spread the wealth by nominating stars from FX’s “Justified” and “Louie” and AMC’s “The Killing,” for example, but not the programs themselves. Similarly, the much-admired leading ladies of Showtime’s half-hours “Nurse Jackie” and “The Big C” — 2010 winner Edie Falco and Laura Linney, respectively — were apparently deemed more worthy than the series in which they star.

As is so often the case, this year’s Emmys feature a mixture of old and new — the one enduring constant being HBO’s status as the most-nominated network, a claim that’s now extended to a dozen years, weathering heightened premium competition from Showtime (whose total dropped slightly) and basic cablers like AMC. Indeed, the pay service’s 104 noms mark its third-highest total and the fourth time it has cracked the 100-noms plateau — surpassing the next two networks, CBS and NBC, combined.

As usual, HBO offered acad voters a diverse menu, including this year’s most-recognized program, the five-part “Mildred Pierce,” starring Kate Winslet. In addition, the twin drama nominations for “Boardwalk” and “Thrones” represent the first for a pair of new series from the same network since the mid-1960s.

All told, five HBO projects — including “Boardwalk,” “Thrones” and the movies “Cinema Verite” and “Too Big to Fail” — earned nine nods or more.

HBO programming prez Michael Lombardo said it was extremely gratifying to garner so much recognition given the increasingly fierce competitive landscape and this year’s rule changes on the longform front. He also cited some “fresh and exciting” nominations overall, noting that by acknowledging a fantasy piece like “Game of Thrones,” “The Emmy voters are finally seeing the excellence through the genre.”

After fielding relatively few miniseries contenders in recent years, the made-for-TV movie and mini categories were merged this year, consisting of two movies and four multiparters. HBO — the movie winner a gaudy 16 of the last 18 years — still accounts for half, with other spots going to PBS’ “Masterpiece” for “Downton Abbey,” the Starz acquisition “Pillars of the Earth” and “The Kennedys,” a historical miniseries dropped by the channel that commissioned it, History, before finally airing on the little-seen ReelzChannel.

History and period pieces were much in vogue this year, often a trend among Emmy voters. In chronological order, “Downton Abbey,” “Boardwalk,” “Mildred Pierce,” “The Kennedys,” “Mad Men,” and “Cinema Verite” all take place in various stages of the 20th century, while “Thrones” and “Pillars” occupy medieval settings, though “Thrones” is a medieval fantasy.

Among dramas, a fourth straight winning campaign for AMC’s “Mad Men” would match streaks by “The West Wing” and “Hill Street Blues.” (“L.A. Law” also won four times, but not consecutively.)

Elsewhere, “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart” will have the opportunity to extend its unprecedented eight-year run as outstanding comedy-variety series, joined by Conan O’Brien’s new TBS show, while neither Jay Leno nor David Letterman’s latenight programs made the cut.

While reality competition can boast TV’s two most-watched series, “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars,” Bravo’s “Top Chef” is defending its crown after seizing those honors from “The Amazing Race,” which had won every previous year since the award was established.

Among variety specials, HBO took four of five bids with an assortment of projects that would certainly make for an intriguing dinner party, featuring Lady Gaga, Bette Midler, Pee-wee Herman and Carrie Fisher. Only CBS’ “The Kennedy Center Honors” broke up the premium channel’s block party.

The main awards ceremony will be Sept. 18 and televised on Fox. The creative arts awards will be presented Sept. 10.

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