AMC's tony Madison Avenue period piece, "Mad Men," moved one step closer to making Emmy history as the most honored drama series, bagging a leading 17 nominations Thursday, including its fifth best-series bid.
"Mad Men" has won the best-drama Emmy for four consecutive years, tying "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and "The West Wing."
"Mad Men's" 17 noms tied the tally of FX's haunted-house nightmare, "American Horror Story," whose recognition included an acting nod for star Connie Britton.
The FX anthology series pulled off this feat by not competing as a drama against "Mad Men." After competing in the drama series races at the Golden Globe Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards, the decision makers behind "AHS" decided for Emmy purposes that the show is a miniseries - a strategy that paid off.
Conversely, PBS's sophisticated British crunchy-gravel drama, "Downton Abbey," will compete against "Mad Men" in several categories after landing 16 nominations. Tying "Downton": History's hugely popular miniseries, "Hatfields & McCoys." HBO's period biopic, "Hemingway & Gellhorn," trailed with 15.
ABC's "Modern Family," two-time winner for best comedy series, led all comedies with 14 noms, including one for best series and acting noms for all its leading adult cast members.
Thursday wasn't such a good day for broadcast networks. Cable shows took their usual five of six best-drama slots as well as half the best-comedy slots (broadcasters usually dominate the latter category).
Girl power erupted like a rash in the comedy competitions, including four noms for new It Girl Lena Dunham, who received acting, writing and directing nods for her dark coming-of-age HBO comedy, "Girls"; the show also was nominated.
For the first time, the Fox singing competition "American Idol" - the country's most popular non-football program - wasn't nominated for reality competition series. But maybe the biggest surprise of Thursday morning's unveiling of the glam-category nominees was Betty White.
The wily nonagenarian - host of NBC's "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" - has replaced "Survivor" host Jeff Probst in the race for best reality competition series host; her nom prompted a collective gasp at the TV academy's theater. Probst has won this category every year since it was created. (White is also nominated for her 90th-birthday special on NBC, for best variety special.)
"Dancing With the Stars" host Tom Bergeron had started to call it the Jeff Probst Award. On Thursday, Bergeron tweeted: "Emmy Prediction: Probst will still find a way to win this thing!" (Besides White and Bergeron, this year's race includes "American Idol" host Ryan Seacrest, Cat Deeley of "So You Think You Can Dance" and Phil Keoghan of "The Amazing Race.")
The other nominees for best drama series are HBO's Prohibition-era "Boardwalk Empire"; AMC's teacher-turned-meth-dealer show, "Breaking Bad"; Showtime's freshman espionage drama, "Homeland"; and HBO's swords-and-sex drama, "Game of Thrones." "Downton Abbey," which won an Emmy last year for best miniseries, will face stiffer competition in the drama series category this year.
According to the TV academy, its Primetime Awards Committee decided that "Downton" has "transitioned from a stand-alone miniseries, 'based on a single theme or story line, which is resolved within the piece,' to a Drama Series, 'in which the ongoing theme, story line and main characters are presented under the same title and have continuity of production supervision.' "
Yes, dealing with the academy's awards committee can make your head hurt.
It may be small consolation for "Downton," but the elegant soap is considered by many to have the best chance of toppling "Mad Men."
"Modern Family" is considered by pundits to have a lock again on the comedy category, so the nominations announcement might have been the Big Emmy Moment for the competing "Girls," HBO's "Veep," NBC's "30 Rock," HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and CBS's "The Big Bang Theory."
"Modern Family" nearly ran the table again in the supporting acting categories, including nods to cast members Julie Bowen, Sofia Vergara, Ed O'Neill, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ty Burrell and Eric Stonestreet. But Bowen may have a tough time repeating her win; among the supporting comedy actress nominees is the late Kathryn Joosten.
Joining Dunham in the comedy lead actress category are another first-timer, "New Girl" star Zooey Deschanel, and returnees Edie Falco of "Nurse Jackie," Amy Poehler of "Parks and Recreation," Tina Fey of "30 Rock," "Mike & Molly" star Melissa McCarthy (last year's winner) and Julia Louis-Dreyfus (a previous winner for "Seinfeld" and "The New Adventures of Old Christine").
Only two newcomers made the best comedy actor race: Don Cheadle, star of Showtime's "House of Lies," and Jon Cryer of CBS's "Two and a Half Men." Cryer is six-times nominated (and one-time winning) in the Emmy race for best comedy supporting actor. The TV academy's bestowal of a nom in the lead contest is the least it could do to acknowledge Cryer's having survived the Charlie Sheen years.
Cryer's category is tough: The field includes two-time winner Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory," Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," Louis C.K. of "Louie" and Alec Baldwin of "30 Rock."
For dramatic acting, the cast of "Mad Men" is still 0-for-however-many years each member has been nominated. And this doesn't look to be a good year for star Jon Hamm. His stiff competition includes "newcomers" Damian Lewis of "Homeland" and "Downton Abbey" patriarch Hugh Bonneville. Steve Buscemi of "Boardwalk Empire" and Michael C. Hall of "Dexter" return as nominees. And perhaps most formidably, "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston is back after sitting out last year's Emmys because his AMC show didn't air in the eligibility period. Cranston has won this derby every year he's been eligible.
"House" star Hugh Laurie - who has never won an Emmy for his title role in that long-running Fox doc drama - was not nominated for his last season.
Kathy Bates, on the other hand, will get one last at-bat for her work on NBC's canceled "Harry's Law." The other drama actress nominees are Claire Danes of "Homeland" (for which she's won a Golden Globe and a Critics' Choice TV Award), Michelle Dockery of "Downton," Glenn Close" of "Damages," Julianna Margulies of "The Good Wife" (last year's winner) and Elisabeth Moss of "Mad Men."
Can any competitors end "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart's" nine-year winning streak? Jimmy Kimmel's late-night ABC show got its first nomination in this category, joining "The Colbert Report," "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," "Saturday Night Live" and "Real Time With Bill Maher."
"Should I give a speech now?" a pajama-clad Kimmel asked Thursday as he appeared at the TV academy's theater as a last-minute fill-in at the nomination ceremony. The host agreed to step in late Wednesday when Nick Offerman of "Parks" bailed, citing bad weather on the East Coast.
"This is a sex dream, isn't it?" Kimmel said as he walked on stage at 4:40 a.m. Pacific time, noting to the TV academy chief executive in the hall: "This could be just as good at noon."
Meanwhile, the big news in the reality competition series category is the dropping of "American Idol" to make room for NBC singing competish "The Voice." Of course, it's sort of academic because nine-time winner "The Amazing Race" is back. Also in the running are "Dancing With the Stars," "Project Runway" and "So You Think You Can Dance."
Even in the miniseries/movie category, "American Horror Story" is not going to have such a prance through the park. HBO's Sarah Palin story, "Game Change," is nominated, as are "Hemingway & Gelhorn," BBC America's cop drama "Luther," PBS's "Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia" and "Hatfields & McCoys," which is the highest-rated entertainment telecast ever on ad-supported cable.
As usual, HBO led the network tally with 81 nods. But it was followed most closely by broadcaster CBS, which copped 60, spread across a landscape of traditional sitcoms, lawyer drama "The Good Wife," and a slew of Emmy-bait trophy shows and specials such as "The Kennedy Center Honors."
Meanwhile, the CBS co-owned broadcast network CW accrued no Emmy nominations. CW tweeted: "Emmy nominations day! Or as we call it, Thursday."
The Primetime Emmy Awards Show will air Sept. 23 on ABC.