Basic cable TV looked more like a pop-culture bargain Thursday as AMC’s “Mad Men” and FX’s “Damages” snared historic best-series Emmy nominations, while stars from cable’s less glamorous channels also made a splash in major acting categories.
Meanwhile, premium channel HBO and broadcast networks saw their share of awards glory erode.
In the lead drama actor category, four of the six nominees were stars of cable shows, including Jon Hamm of “Mad Men.” The sleek drama about 1960s America set in New York’s advertising world was also the leading drama series contender with 16 nominations.
Three of the best-actress nominations went to cable series stars, including Glenn Close of “Damages.” The hard-nosed legal drama and “Mad Men” became the first basic cable shows with best-series nods.
“I think it’s changed the landscape of television,” Close said of basic cable’s growing creative strength.
HBO failed to field a best-drama series contender for the first time since 1998, after its now-departed “The Sopranos” claimed the honor last year. The premium cable channel still scored a leading 85 bids overall, followed by ABC with 76.
Boosting HBO’s total was the historical drama “John Adams,” which was the overall front-runner with a record 23 bids. That included a lead-actor nomination for Paul Giamatti’s turn as one of America’s founding fathers.
“30 Rock,” last’s year’s best comedy series Emmy winner, was the top nominee among sitcoms with 17 bids. Other best comedy series nominees were “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Entourage,” “The Office” and “Two And a Half Men.”
But other cable series made a serious dent in several top categories, gaining further ground on broadcast networks that used to dominate them.
Network audience favorites that failed to make a serious showing included “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Desperate Housewives,” both left out of the best-series categories. “Grey’s Anatomy” stars Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson received nominations — but the “Desperate” cast was shut out.
“Lost,” rebounding with a well-received season, joined “Mad Men” and “Damages” in the best-drama series category with six nominees, including “Boston Legal, “Dexter” and “House.”
Only one acting nomination went to “Lost,” a best-supporting actor nod for Michael Emerson’s role as the manipulative Ben.
Oh and Wilson are competing in the best supporting drama actress category that last year was won by castmate Katherine Heigl — who took herself out of the running this time, blaming her decision on lackluster scripts.
Joining Hamm with lead drama acting nods were last year’s winner James Spader, “Boston Legal,” Bryan Cranston of “Breaking Bad,” Michael C. Hall, “Dexter,” Hugh Laurie, “House” and Gabriel Byrne, “In Treatment.”
“I’m surprised,” Hamm said. “For someone like me to be included is amazing. Look at this list: These are people I’ve been watching, and been a fan of, for years and years. It’s a genuinely wonderful feeling.”
“I’m very honored,” Field said in an email. “It never gets old. I do, but it doesn’t.”
“Damages,” in which Close plays a tough-as-nails litigator, won critical acclaim last year but not great ratings. Close is hoping the Emmy attention will boost the show’s audience for season two.
“We need all the help we can get,” said Close, who was being driven to a shooting location on Long Island when her sister, Nancy, called her cell phone with the nomination news.
As for her nomination, she was more sanguine.
“I don’t believe in comparison among artists,” she said, “but, given the amazing number of talented people in this profession, to be included with a distinguished group of people is a huge honor.”
Actresses nominated for best comedy series were Tina Fey of “30 Rock,” the series she created; last year’s honoree America Ferrera of “Ugly Betty,” Christina Applegate, “Samantha Who?” and Mary-Louise Parker, “Weeds.”
Ferrera, her boyfriend and her dog watched the announcement in her New York apartment.
“I feel like I was pretty nonchalant about it — up until the moment where your category comes up, and then you’re kind of like, ’What are all these weird things I’m feeling?’ It’s exciting. You kind of just mentally prepare yourself for either way, like if it happens, great, if it doesn’t... But in the moment, that kind of all goes out the window and you hope it does.
Nods for comedy series lead actors went to Tony Shalhoub for “Monk,” Steve Carrell, “The Office,” Lee Pace, “Pushing Daisies,” Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock” and Charlie Sheen, “Two And A Half Men.”
Ryan Seacrest, host of top-rated series “American Idol” made the cut in the new category of best host for a reality or reality-competition show. Other nominees were Tom Bergeron of “Dancing with the Stars,” Howie Mandel of “Deal or No Deal,” Heidi Klum of “Project Runway” and Jeff Probst of “Survivor.”
“I’m thrilled that they’ve added this category, and thrilled to be part of this virgin group, if you will,” Bergeron said.
Nominees in the top categories for the 60th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards were announced at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences by Kristin Chenoweth, Neil Patrick Harris and TV academy Chairman John Shaffner.
Shaffner surprised Harris and Chenoweth at the end of the telecast by announcing supporting-actor nominations for each. Chenoweth, of “Pushing Daisies,” stood open-jawed, while Harris, the regular scene-stealer of “How I Met Your Mother,” pumped his fist and said, “Nice!”
The trio then blew out candles on a birthday cake to celebrate the Emmys’ 60th anniversary.
Harris later joked about “shvitzing,” or sweating, in his grey pin-striped suit while surrounded by a crush of reporters. Otherwise, the actor seemed happy but calm about his Emmy nod.
“There’s not a lot of weight on this,” he told The Associated Press. “You don’t get nominated, you don’t get fired or anything. But this turned out nice.”
Harris also kidded about his easy rapport onstage with Chenoweth, whose seemingly off-the-cuff quips injected some life into the normally dull telecast.
“We dated for years and years,” joked the actor, who came out as gay to People magazine in 2006.
Besides ABC’s 76 nods, the broadcast networks tallies were CBS, 51 nominations; NBC, 50 and Fox, 28. PBS had 33 bids, while AMC garnered 20 bids.
The Emmy Awards ceremony will be held Sept. 21 and broadcast on ABC. Other Emmy honors, including those for technical achievement and guest actors and actresses in series, will be given at the creative arts ceremony on Sept. 13.