“I didn’t think this was gonna happen,” Mad Men creator Matt Weiner said in his acceptance speech when the AMC period drama won its fourth consecutive best drama series Emmy last September. Weiner should be even more concerned this year as two hot newcomers are entering the drama field: Downton Abbey, which switched from the movie/miniseries to the drama series category, and Homeland, which has dominated 2012 awards races to date. Mad Men kept its title as most nominated series with 17 noms but by a hair, with Downton Abbey right behind it with 16. Mad Men‘s other serious rival, Breaking Bad, had 13 nominations, followed by fellow best drama series nominees Boardwalk Empire (12), Game Of Thrones (11) and Homeland (9).
Related: 2012 EMMYS NOMINATIONS
A total of four first-time series contenders entered the Emmy race in a big way this year — Downton Abbey, Homeland and new HBO comedies Veep and Girls. Both comedies landed best series and best lead actress nominations for stars Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Lena Dunham, who also created Girls, and helped bring new blood to all series lead acting categories. Newbies Veep and Girls ended The Office‘s streak of six consecutive best comedy series nominations (and a win in 2006). The NBC comedy failed to make the top comedy category for its first season without original star Steve Carell. Also falling out was Greg Daniels’ other NBC series, Parks And Recreation, which didn’t make the cut after scoring its first best series Emmy nom last year. The rest of the best comedy series field was familiar: reigning champ Modern Family, which once again netted the most nominations for a comedy series with 14; HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, back from an 2011 Emmy hiatus; CBS’ The Big Bang Theory; and NBC’s 30 Rock.
Commercial broadcast TV made a major retreat in the top series categories, from seven nominations last year — all six comedy series noms and a drama mention for The Good Wife — to three this year. Those all came in the best comedy series category, with ad-supported broadcast nets shut out completely in the best drama series category for the first time.
HBO made a strong return to the top series categories with five best series nominees: dramas Boardwalk Empire and Game Of Thrones and comedies Curb Your Enthusiasm, Girls and Veep. It was the best showing for the pay cable network in the two categories and the first time it has landed three best comedy series contenders. Overall, HBO’s tally slid to 81 nominations this year from 104 in 2011, but it still led the network pack. Among the studios, 20th Century Fox TV was tops with 62 noms.
Downton Abbey and Modern Family dominated the series acting categories, with Downton scoring noms in all four categories, and Modern Family, whose actors submit themselves as supporting, once again getting its entire adult cast nominated.
With Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston back after a year off because of airdates eligibility and Homeland‘s Damian Lewis and Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville entering the best actor in a drama series race, another British actor named Hugh — perennial nominee Hugh Laurie — missed the chance to win an Emmy for his starring role on Fox’s House after five consecutive nominations and six overall. Snubbed on the distaff side was the star of another long-running broadcast series and TV Academy favorite, Law & Order: SVU‘s Mariska Hargitay, who was nominated each of the past eight years and won in 2006. The only representatives of the commercial broadcast networks in the lead drama acting categories were Julianna Margulies of The Good Wife and Kathy Bates of NBC’s cancelled Harry’s Law.
Three of the six nominees in the best actress in a comedy series are new: Dunham, New Girl‘s Zooey Deschanel and Louis-Dreyfus, who previously won the category for The New Adventures Of Old Christine. They join previous winners Tina Fey, Melissa McCarthy and Edie Falco.
Newcomers in the best comedy actor field are Don Cheadle, who put his new Showtime series House Of Lies on the board in a major way, and Two And A Half Men‘s Jon Cryer, a previous winner in the supporting actor category who moved to the lead actor field this year following the departure of original star Charlie Sheen. Cryer’s new co-star, Ashton Kutcher, did not make the cut, but two-time winners Jim Parsons and Alec Baldwin did as well as standups-turned-actors in their own series Larry David and Louis C.K.
In the supporting fields, Parsons’ on-screen love interest on Big Bang Mayim Bialik and Saturday Night Live‘s Bill Hader scored their first-ever acting Emmy noms.
The Mad Men-Downton Abbey Emmy drama series race is mirrored by FX’s American Horror Story and History’s Hatfields & McCoys, which also scored 17 and 16 nominations, respectively. The consolidated best movie/miniseries category is very competitive this year, with AHS and Hatfields joined by HBO’s Game Change and Hemingway & Gellhorn as well as Masterpiece’s Sherlock: A Scandal In Belgravia and BBC America’s Luther. In specials, the Brian Grazer/Don Mischer-produced Academy Awards became the most-nominated Oscar telecast with eigh noms.
There were a handful of changes in the variety and reality series categories. Jimmy Kimmel Live landed its first best variety series nom, replacing Conan on last year’s list featuring five returning players. It was the same in the best reality-competition series category, where The Voice took over for American Idol. After four consecutive nominations and three wins, Survivor host Jeff Probst surprisingly didn’t make the cut, knocked out by TV Academy darling Betty White of NBC’s Betty White’s Off Their Rockers.