BEVERLY HILLS -- The Emmy Award nominations got so many things right this year, it takes a while to realize what they missed -- and what they missed is more a symptom of how wide open the field has become.
When you see that AMC's Mad Men, last year's most-praised series, receives 16 nominations, including best drama, it takes a moment to realize that The Wire, one of the most-praised series in TV history, received a paltry one nomination, a writing one for series creator David Simon's script for the finale.
When you see that 30 Rock, arguably last year's most-praised comedy, received 17 (second only to John Adams, representing HBO's annual Emmy nomination domination with 23 nods), it takes a moment to realize that Desperate Housewives, a longtime Emmy fave, received only four nominations -- none for a series regular, although guest-actress nominee Kathryn Joosten appears so often she almost counts -- or that a critical fave like How I Met Your Mother got by with only two, including an expected supporting-acting one for Neil Patrick Harris as smarmy Barney.
The Writers Guild strike, along with last year's paucity of breakout new shows on the networks, had some effect on the nominations. But quality (if sometimes problematic) cable series did break through. Aside from Mad Men's big success, FX's twisted legal drama Damages scored seven nominations, including best drama, including Glenn Close for best drama actress and Ted Danson and Zeljko Ivanek in supporting categories.
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The outstanding-drama category was rounded out by perennial Emmy favorite Boston Legal (with stars James Spader and William Shatner once again scoring nods), as well as Lost, House and Dexter, making for six best-drama series nominees. Conspicuous by their absence in the category were the popular (Grey's Anatomy, CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) and the critically beloved (Battlestar Galactica, The Riches).
Dexter's Michael C. Hall made it into a particularly strong best drama actor category that also featured Boston Legal's Spader, Bryan Cranston for his career-redefining performance as a dying man who gets involved in drug dealing in AMC's Breaking Bad, Gabriel Byrne for his delicately modulated performance as a psychiatrist in HBO's In Treatment, Jon Hamm for his mystery-ridden Mad Men ad man; and Hugh Laurie for his sarcastic doctor from House.
The race for best drama actress is testament that there are good roles for women over 40 in Hollywood -- they're just all on TV. Brothers & Sisters matriarch Sally Field, last year's winner, was nominated again; joining her are Kyra Sedgwick for her tough cop on The Closer; Close for her duplicitous lawyer on Damages; Mariska Hargitay for her hard-but-sensitive detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit; and Holly Hunter for her hard-living cop of Saving Grace.
Pushing Daisies was the most-recognized new series with 12 nominations, including best actor/comedy (Lee Pace) and supporting actress (Kristen Chenoweth). But it was shut out of the best-comedy category, which was filled by 30 Rock, The Office, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage and Two and a Half Men. Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin scored the expected acting nominations for 30 Rock, but its most impressive achievement was nabbing four out of five guest-actor nods, for Rip Torn, Steve Buscemi, Will Arnett and Tim Conway.
If there was anything to truly beef about, it was the miniseries categories. HBO's staid, prestigious but consistently watchable John Adams probably deserved to rule the nominations, but creative misfires like Sci-Fi's Wizard of Oz flip Tin Men and A&E's misguided Andromeda Strain remake scored multiple nominations, and that's the type of thing that gives the Emmys a bad name. But that's a minor quibble in an Emmys that seems more solid than usual this year.