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Conan O'Brien's nom: a sympathy vote?

Emmys recognize host for seven-month 'Tonight Show' stint

Was Hollywood sending a message to NBC -- similar to the one on Lindsay Lohan's fingernails -- by nominating "The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien" for four Emmys, including best variety music or comedy series?

The television community was divided on that question, with some suggesting that Thursday's noms represent a sympathy vote given for O'Brien's travails at NBC. Others applauded the work that O'Brien did in his seven months hosting the legendary late-night show.

NBC Universal, which submitted the show for awards consideration but didn't campaign for it, officially took the high road. "We congratulate Conan and all our nominees on their creative accomplishments and their deserved nominations," the network said in a statement.

One executive at the network suggested that if the noms represented a slight, it was not directed at NBC or the un-nominated Jay Leno. "Jay doesn't have a history of being nominated," he said. "It has usually been Letterman."

With more than 60 career Emmy noms, David Letterman's show came up empty this year for the first time since 1993, when his "Late Show" debuted on CBS. Leno has one just one Emmy during his first 17 years hosting "The Tonight Show."

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One executive at a rival network said the O'Brien nomination "seems like a political statement rather than a vote about the quality of the program itself. I guess fans of Conan are basically saying that he got a raw deal (from NBC). But I don't think even Conan would say that show yet represented what he wanted it to be in terms of an Emmy-winning performance. He was still finding his voice."

But another competitor said he felt O'Brien's show was nominated on its merits. "I don't look at it as a sympathy vote," he said. "I never could stand Conan O'Brien, but his last three months on the 'Tonight Show,' I became a fan. He had a fire in his belly."

And O'Brien deserved the nomination for the way he handled his plight when the show became engulfed in controversy, this executive added. "His presentation of the events got more people caring about late-night than there was since the days of Johnny Carson," he said.

As for O'Brien -- who begins his 11 p.m. TBS show this fall -- he continued to milk the humor out of the dramatic events of the past season.

"Congrats to my staff on 4 Emmy nominations," he tweeted. "This bodes well for the future of The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien."