Tina Fey, Jerry Seinfeld Front Emmy Icons 2013 Portfolio

"Breaking Bad's" Bryan Cranston, "Mad Men's" Matthew Weiner, "Arrested Development's" Mitchell Hurwitz and more legends of television on how the award can save a series ("30 Rock"), give validation beyond ratings ("Seinfeld") and provoke anxiety. Says "ER" creator John Wells: "I forgot to thank George Clooney in my acceptance speech!"


Matthew Weiner (22 noms, 9 wins) Charlie Collier (president of AMC) and Bryan Cranston (10 noms, 3 wins)

It might seem that Mad Men and Breaking Bad have little in common aside from their shared home on the basic cable network AMC. But Bad star Cranston reveals that Weiner's pilot episode for his drama about 1950s Madison Avenue was actually the reason the actor said yes to starring in Vince Gilligan's darker tale about a cancer-stricken chemistry teacher who cooks meth for money.

"I told AMC's [then executive vp] Rob Sorcher, 'I'm nervous. I love this, but it needs to be treated delicately and with support,' " recalls Cranston, 57. "And then I get this envelope with the Mad Men pilot and a note from Rob saying: 'This is what we aim to do.' I watched, mouth agape, and said, 'OK, I'm good, let's go!' "

The moment not only helped to usher in AMC's giant presence in the scripted arena -- especially noteworthy for a network previously best known for infomercials and old Westerns -- but also an avalanche of Emmy attention that has eluded even a stalwart premium competitor like Showtime.

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In July 2007, Mad Men premiered to huge acclaim, and Weiner took home the first of his four consecutive outstanding drama series trophies at the 2008 Emmys. (By comparison, HBO's The Sopranos won only two series trophies during its run.) That same year, just months after Bad's little-seen January 2008 premiere, Cranston enjoyed the first of his record-tying three-in-a-row best actor wins (with Bill Cosby) for playing Bad's antihero, Walter White.

"I remember when the show finally aired, people said, 'Congrats! Where is it?' " laughs Weiner, 48, remembering AMC's then-anonymity. He describes Mad Men's 15-trophy haul -- it's nominated again this year for outstanding drama series -- as "completely surreal." For Collier, 44, who was an early champion of both series, the attention was overwhelming. "To come out of the gate with these series? We all felt very blessed."

Photographed by Joe Pugliese on July 26 at Trader Vic’s at the Beverly Hilton in Beverly Hills

Next … The Record-Setter: Alfre Woodard

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