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 best-actress nods also went to cable series stars, including Glenn Close of “Damages.” The hard-nosed legal drama joins “Mad Men” as the first basic cable shows put up for best series.
“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,” 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 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.”
“The Wire,” the just-ended, critically acclaimed HBO drama about police and drug dealers in Baltimore, lost its last shot at a best-drama nod after years of Emmy snubs. It received one nomination Thursday, for writing.
But other cable series made a serious dent in several top categories, gaining further ground on the networks. Broadcast 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” 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.”
Close’s competition for lead drama actress honors includes 2007 winner Sally Field for “Brothers & Sisters,” Kyra Sedgwick, “The Closer,” Mariska Hargitay, “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit” and Holly Hunter, “Saving Grace.”
“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.”
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 Howie Mandel of “Deal or No Deal,” Heidi Klum of “Project Runway,” Jeff Probst of “Survivor” and Tom Bergeron of “Dancing with the Stars.”
“I’m thrilled that they’ve added this category, and thrilled to be part of this virgin group, if you will,” Bergeron said.
The “Dancing” host said he debated whether to watch the announcement: “You know, there’s that sort of weird sort of superstitious-think, like, ‘Well, if I don’t watch, maybe I’ll get nominated, but if I do watch, I won’t.’ Like that’s gonna change anything.”
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 exclaimed, “Nice!”
The trio then blew out candles on a birthday cake to celebrate the Emmys’ 60th anniversary.
Harris kidded about his easy rapport onstage with Chenoweth, whose seemingly off-the-cuff quips injected some life into the normally mundane reading of a list.
“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.
Partial List of the 2008 Emmy Nominations:
“Boston Legal,” ABC
“Mad Men,” AMC
“Curb Your Enthusiasm,” HBO
“The Office,” NBC
“30 Rock,” NBC
“Two and a Half Men,” CBS
ACTOR, DRAMA SERIES:
Gabriel Byrne, “In Treatment”
Bryan Cranston, “Breaking Bad”
Michael C. Hall, “Dexter”
Jon Hamm, “Mad Men”
Hugh Laurie, “House”
James Spader, “Boston Legal”
ACTRESS, DRAMA SERIES:
Glenn Close, “Damages”
Sally Field, “Brothers and Sisters”
Mariska Hargitay, “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit”
Holly Hunter, “Saving Grace”
Kyra Sedgwick, “The Closer”
ACTRESS, COMEDY SERIES:
Christina Applegate, “Samantha Who?”
America Ferrera, “Ugly Betty”
Tina Fey, “30 Rock”
Julia Louis-Dreyfus, “New Adventures of Old Christine”
Mary-Louise Parker, “Weeds”
ACTOR, COMEDY SERIES:
Alec Baldwin, “30 Rock”
Steve Carell, “The Office”
Lee Pace, “Pushing Daisies”
Tony Shalhoub, “Monk”
Charlie Sheen, “Two and a Half Men”
SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY SERIES:
Jon Cryer, “Two and a Half Men”
Kevin Dillon, “Entourage”
Neil Patrick Harris, “How I Met Your Mother”
Jeremy Piven, “Entourage”
Rainn Wilson, “The Office”
SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA SERIES:
Ted Danson, “Damages”
Michael Emerson, “Lost”
Zeljko Ivanek, “Damages”
William Shatner, “Boston Legal”
John Slattery, “Mad Men”
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA SERIES:
Candice Bergen, “Boston Legal”
Rachel Griffiths, “Brothers and Sisters”
Sandra Oh, “Grey’s Anatomy”
Dianne Wiest, “In Treatment”
Chandra Wilson, “Grey’s Anatomy”
SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY SERIES:
Kristin Chenoweth, “Pushing Daisies”
Amy Poehler, “Saturday Night Live”
Jean Smart, “Samantha Who?”
Holland Taylor, “Two and a Half Men”
Vanessa Williams, “Ugly Betty”
Tom Bergeron, “Dancing With The Stars”
Heidi Klum, “Project Runway”
Howie Mandel, “Deal Or No Deal”
Jeff Probst, “Survivor”
Ryan Seacrest, “American Idol”
“The Amazing Race,” CBS
“American Idol,” FOX
“Dancing With The Stars,” ABC
“Project Runway,” Bravo
“Top Chef,” Bravo
“Antiques Roadshow,” PBS
“Dirty Jobs,” Discovery Channel
“Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” ABC
“Kathy Griffin: My Life On The D-List,” Bravo
“The Andromeda Strain,” A&E
“Cranford,” (Masterpiece Theatre), PBS
“John Adams,” HBO
“Tin Man,” Sci Fi Channel
ACTOR, MINISERIES OR A MOVIE:
Ralph Fiennes, “Bernard And Doris”
Ricky Gervais, “Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale”
Paul Giamatti, “John Adams”
Kevin Spacey, “Recount”
Tom Wilkinson, “Recount”
ACTRESS, MINISERIES OR A MOVIE:
Catherine Keener, “An American Crime”
Susan Sarandon, “Bernard And Doris”
Dame Judi Dench, “Cranford”
Laura Linney, “John Adams”
Phylicia Rashad, “A Raisin in the Sun”
“Bernard And Doris,” HBO
“Extras: The Extra Special Series Finale,” HBO
“The Memory Keeper’s Daughter,” Lifetime
“A Raisin In The Sun,” ABC