NBC, which finished second in the prime-time ratings this year -- and first in the hearts of Manhattan's advertising agencies -- yesterday ambled off with 125 nominations for the 37th annual prime-time Emmy awards . . .

CBS, winner of the 1984-85 ratings race, settled for a "mere" 75 nominations, ABC had 41, PBS 39, syndicated shows 12 and Operation Prime Time five, as the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced its annual choices yesterday . . .

The Award winners will be announced on ABC the night of Sunday, Sept. 22 . . .

NBC newcomer "Miami Vice" -- barely noticed at first when it debuted last fall against "Falcon Crest" on Friday nights -- led the field with 15 nominations, followed by NBC's "Cheers" with 12 and that network's "Hill Street Blues" and the "Motown Returns to the Apollo" special, both with 11 . . .

"Hill Street Blues" and, more recently, "Cheers" have figured largely in NBC's Emmy-winning success story, which began in 1981 . . .

NBC, despite basement finishes in the ratings over this past decade, began winning the most Emmys each season that year. In the three years since, those awards have drawn critical attention, at least, to the network's increasing level of quality programming, a factor that probably contributed to its rise to second this year . . .

Network television's biggest new hit this season -- NBC's "The Cosby Show" -- walked off with eight nominations yesterday. But star Bill Cosby had early on declined to accept any personal nominations and that undoubtedly kept that show's nomination count down . . .

Cosby, who won three Emmys for "I Spy" in the 1960s, "has a longstanding personal preference in not accepting awards or nominations or competing against his fellow performers," a Cosby spokesman said earlier this week. "This belief does not extend to the show or its cast, and in that regard he hopes they win many awards" . . .

Cosby accepted the earlier Emmys, according to David Brokaw, "because at another time in his career, he felt different about it" . . .

Yesterday, CBS' "Cagney & Lacey" got 10 nominations, while nine each went to NBC's "St. Elsewhere" and its mini-series "Wallenberg: A Hero's Story" . . .

Running down the top individual and program nominations, starting with actors and actresses:

Outstanding actor in a drama series: William Daniels and Ed Flanders, "St. Elsewhere"; Don Johnson, "Miami Vice"; Tom Selleck, CBS' "Magnum, P.I."; and Daniel J. Travanti, "Hill Street Blues" . . .

Supporting actor in a drama series: Ed Begley Jr., "St. Elsewhere"; John Hillerman, "Magnum, P.I."; John Karlen, "Cagney & Lacey"; Edward James Olmos, "Miami Vice"; and Bruce Weitz, "Hill Street" . . .

Outstanding actress in a drama series: Tyne Daly and Sharon Gless, "Cagney & Lacey"; Debbie Allen, of syndicated "Fame"; Veronica Hamel, "Hill Street"; and Angela Lansbury, CBS' "Murder, She Wrote" . . .

Supporting actress in a drama series: Barbara Bosson and Betty Thomas, "Hill Street"; Christina Pickles, "St. Elsewhere"; Doris Roberts, NBC's "Remington Steele"; and Madge Sinclair, CBS' "Trapper John, M.D." . . .

Actor in a comedy series: Harry Anderson, NBC's "Night Court"; Ted Danson, "Cheers"; Robert Guillaume, ABC's "Benson"; Bob Newhart, CBS' "Newhart"; and Jack Warden, CBS' "Crazy Like a Fox" . . .

Supporting actor in a comedy series: Nicholas Colasanto, John Ratzenberger and George Wendt of "Cheers"; Michael J. Fox, NBC's "Family Ties"; and John Larroquette, NBC's "Night Court" . . .

Actress in a comedy series: Phylicia Ayers-Allen, "The Cosby Show"; Jane Curtin and Susan Saint James, CBS' "Kate & Allie"; Shelley Long, "Cheers"; and Isabel Sanford, "The Jeffersons" . . .

Supporting actress in a comedy series: Selma Diamond, "Night Court"; Julia Duffy, "Newhart"; Marla Gibbs, "The Jeffersons"; Rhea Perlman, "Cheers"; and Inga Swenson, "Benson" . . .

Actress in a Limited Series or Special: Jane Alexander, CBS' "Malice in Wonderland"; Peggy Ashcroft, PBS' "The Jewel in the Crown"; Farrah Fawcett, NBC's "The Burning Bed"; Mary Tyler Moore, ABC's "Heartsounds"; and Joanne Woodward, CBS' "Do You Remember Love?" . . .

Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Special: Richard Chamberlain in NBC's "Wallenberg: A Hero's Story"; Richard Crenna, ABC's "The Rape of Richard Beck"; James Garner, ABC's "Heartsounds"; Richard Kiley, CBS' "Do You Remember Love?"; and George C. Scott, CBS' "A Christmas Carol" . . .

Programming nominations include:

Best Drama Series: "Cagney & Lacey"; "Hill Street Blues"; "Miami Vice"; "Murder, She Wrote"; and "St. Elsewhere" . . .

Best Comedy Series: "Cheers"; "The Cosby Show"; "Family Ties"; "Kate & Allie"; and "Night Court" . . .

Best Limited Series: Operation Prime Time's "Barbara Taylor Bradford's A Woman of Substance"; CBS' "Ellis Island"; PBS' "The Jewel in the Crown"; CBS' "Robert Kennedy and His Times"; and CBS' "Space" . . .

Best Variety, Music or Comedy Program: CBS' "The American Film Institute Salute to Gene Kelly"; NBC's "Late Night With David Letterman"; PBS' "Lena Horne: The Lady and her Music"; NBC's "Motown Returns to the Apollo"; and NBC's "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson" . . .

Best Comedy or Drama Special: NBC's "The Burning Bed"; CBS' "Do You Remember Love?"; NBC's "Fatal Vision"; ABC's "Heartsounds"; and NBC's "Wallenberg: A Hero's Story" . . .

Best Classical Program in the Performing Arts: PBS' "Live From the Met: Aida"; PBS' "Bernstein Conducts 'West Side Story' "; PBS' "Dance in America: Baryshnikov by Tharp With American Ballet Theatre"; PBS' "Live From The Met: Tosca"; and PBS' "The Well-Tempered Bach With Peter Ustinov" . . .

Best Informational Special: syndicated "Cousteau-Mississippi"; syndicated "Cousteau-Amazon: Snowstorm in the Jungle"; PBS' "A Day in the Country: Impressionism and the French Landscape"; PBS' "Judy Garland: The Concert Years"; and NBC's "Missing . . . Have You Seen This Person?" . . .

Best Informational Series: syndicated "At the Movies With Ebert and Siskel"; ABC's "The Barbara Walters Specials"; syndicated "Entertainment Tonight/Entertainment This Week"; PBS' "The Heart of the Dragon"; and PBS' "The Living Planet: A Portrait of the Earth" . . .

Best Animated Program: CBS' "Donald Duck's 50th Birthday"; CBS' "Garfield in the Rough"; and ABC's "The Wind in the Willows" . . .

Best Children's Program: PBS' "American Playhouse -- Displaced Person"; ABC's "The Ewok Adventure"; ABC's "The Night They Saved Christmas"; NBC's "Punky Brewster"; and PBS' "Reading Rainbow"