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Win or lose, "The Sopranos" is ending on an Emmy high note.

Its 15 nominations not only leads the pack among all series this year but also represents the highest total a series has ever nabbed in its final season.

"I know that people really responded to this season and talked about it incessantly," said Carolyn Strauss, president of entertainment at HBO. "That may be what you're seeing in the voting."

The Emmys have a mixed track record when it comes to letting acclaimed programs go out on top. As recently as 2005, the comedy series "Everybody Loves Raymond" capped its closing season with a healthy 13 nominations and went on to win in the series category.

But it's a different story on the drama side, where a "Sopranos" win would mark the first final- season winner in 30 years. That distinction belongs to "Upstairs, Downstairs," the British series that ran on PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" and collected the last of its three wins in that category in 1977.

Some of TV's most legendary dramas have had trouble maintaining their momentum by Emmy standards. After a storied Emmy career, four-time best-series winner "The West Wing" faded to six nominations in 2006. Among other four-time winners, "Hill Street Blues" had just three nominations in 1987, and "L.A. Law" eked out just one in 1994.

"Sopranos" spread its nomination haul across a variety of categories, including two apiece in editing and writing. Four different "Sopranos" episodes were recognized in categories including cinematography, directing and sound mixing.

Bill Nelson, new chairman and CEO of HBO, said: "It's a tribute to the extraordinary range of talented people who come to work with us each year. To see them recognized across so many categories is very gratifying. We're very appreciative of the academy's recognition."

Five different actors were nominated for "Sopranos." James Gandolfini and Edie Falco each has been nominated six times and won three times. But they are looking to end a dry spell, having both last won in 2003. In supporting categories, Michael Imperioli is seeking his second win in five tries, while Aida Turturro and Lorraine Bracco are gunning for their first awards, having not been nominated since 2001.

HBO has seen some of its past series get different treatment from Emmy voters. "Sex and the City" had a strong showing in its final season in 2004, garnering 11 nominations, including a win for star Sarah Jessica Parker. But in 2006, critics grumbled when "Six Feet Under" was shut out of the drama category, leaving it with nine nominations.

With 111 nominations in its Emmy career, "Sopranos" will end up falling short of the record set this year by NBC's "ER," which received three Thursday for a total of 120. "ER" edged past "Cheers," which has 117.

With 18 Emmy wins already under its belt, "Sopranos" has a secure place among Emmy's best and brightest. But even if "Sopranos" were to miraculously sweep all of its nominations, it would still fall far short of the record holder for most wins, "Frasier," with 37.

Another record "Sopranos" will try to reach: "West Wing" wangled nine wins in 2000, the most by a series in a single season. The most nominated drama series in Emmy history remains "NYPD Blue," which nailed 27 in 1994.

"Sopranos" isn't the only HBO series singing its Emmy swan song. "Rome" is ending its two-season run with seven nominations, and "Deadwood" scored six. HBO is still considering bringing back the latter series as an original film.

By its own standards, 2007 is actually a pretty ho-hum year for "Sopranos." Fifteen nominations is only its fifth-largest nomination haul. In 2001, "Sopranos" set its personal best with 22 noms.

Still, this year could be as good as any for "Sopranos" to break its own record for wins in one year. The series has topped out at four wins four times, in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2004.

Strauss is pleased that the Emmys have always been good to "Sopranos" but said that she isn't sure the final season is the only factor in its strong showing this year.

"It's going to stir up sentimentality among voters," she said. "I guess it could be that, but it could also be this, that and the other thing — who knows?"
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