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Basic Cable Is Proving a Strong Contender for HBO's Emmy Throne

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By Lisa de Moraes
Friday, July 18, 2008

NORTH HOLLYWOOD, Calif., July 17 "Mad Men," AMC's stylish new '60s-set drama about Madison Avenue, and FX's legal thriller "Damages" made Primetime Emmy history Thursday when they became the first basic-cable shows to be nominated in a best-series competition.

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NBC's critically adored but ratings-starved "30 Rock" clocked 17 nominations -- the biggest haul ever for a comedy series.

HBO once again racked up the most nominations -- 85 -- but all the talk was about AMC's 20 nominations: 16 for "Mad Men" and four for the drug drama "Breaking Bad." No HBO series earned more than five nominations. "Entourage" nabbed that handful, including a nom for best comedy series.

But for the first time since 1998, HBO does not have a contender for best drama series. Critically heralded "The Wire" was snubbed again by Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, missing its last chance for a best-series Emmy. The gritty Baltimore-set drama received a single nomination for David Simon and Ed Burns's writing in the series finale. Most irksome to TV critics attending the Thank God We're Still Working Summer TV Press Tour 2008, it's only the second nomination ever for their darling "Wire."

"Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Flight of the Conchords" and "In Treatment" each received four nominations and accounted for the rest of HBO's series nominations. The pay-cable network, which has struggled to stay ahead of basic-cable nets in the race for big-ticket series, recently replaced its head of series development.

Acclaimed miniseries "John Adams" bolstered HBO's tally with 23 nominations -- the most for any TV movie or miniseries since "Roots" grabbed 37 way back in 1977.

But "Mad Men" snagged most of the headlines for its 16 noms, including the best-series nod, a first-time acting nom for Jon Hamm, another for John Slattery, two for art direction, two for writing and recognition for cinematography, costumes and direction, among others.

ABC's freshman series "Pushing Daisies" got a much-needed shot in the arm, logging an impressive 12 nominations, though a nom for best comedy series eluded the show about a piemaker who can bring things back from the dead. "Daisies" is among the series that lost momentum this past TV season during the 100-day writers' strike and will be relaunched in the fall. Noms include one for lead actor Lee Pace and another for supporting actress Kristin Chenoweth.

Chenoweth, with Neil Patrick Harris, star of the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother," announced the nominations in the so-called glamour categories in a pre-dawn ceremony at TV academy headquarters. Harris received a nomination for best supporting actor in a comedy series, one of two for "HIMYM."

Cable continued to chip away at broadcast TV's hold on the Emmys. And most of the momentum in the glam categories came from basic-cable networks, which also stole some ground previously gained by premium cable.

In the running for best-drama series are basic-cable shows "Mad Men" and "Damages" plus Showtime's "Dexter." Those three are the first non-HBO cable series ever nominated in a best-series race.

Joining their cable competitors: ABC's "Boston Legal," Fox's "House" and ABC's "Lost." Last year's best-drama winner, HBO's "The Sopranos," was not eligible, having ended its run. While basic-cable series got props from the academy, some of the most watched drama series, all on broadcast networks, failed to make the grade, including ABC's "Desperate Housewives" and "Grey's Anatomy" and, as usual, any of CBS's "CSIs."

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