Cable's connected

AMC's 'Mad Men,' FX and Showtime break barriers

Cable networks shattered Emmy's glass ceiling Thursday. After no other cable network besides HBO had ever been able to break into the best series categories, three cablers — AMC, FX and Showtime — made their debut among the nominees in the top fields at the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards.

In doing so, they also broke their previous Emmy nom records, as did Bravo and Sci Fi Channel.

Cable's breakthrough performance also comes just as the broadcast networks are reeling from a tough season, scarred by the effects of the writers strike.

AMC's period drama "Mad Men" landed 16 nominations, including best drama series and best lead actor for star Jon Hamm.

In the drama series category, it was joined by FX's "Damages" and Showtime's "Dexter."

"Not only is this an incredible affirmation of everything we've done on the show, it's part of a shattering of the network TV monopoly," "Mad Men" creator/executive producer Matthew Weiner said.

"The TV academy and its members finally recognized cable television in an unprecedented way," "Damages" co-creator/exec producer Todd Kessler said. "What I hope it ultimately means is that more shows and more people will embrace opportunities away from network TV — and hopefully network TV will reflect, in terms of content and storytelling, what's going on in other areas of television."

Also nominated for best drama series are ABC's "Lost," which returns to the category after a two-year absence coming off one of its strongest seasons, along with ABC's "Boston Legal" and Fox's "House."

Missing the cut were ABC's "Grey's Anatomy," whose snub is even more surprising because the category was expanded to six series this year, and NBC's critical darling "Friday Night Lights."

The Peacock's "30 Rock" led the series field with 17 noms, including best comedy series and lead acting honors for Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin.

The show's tally is the largest ever for a comedy series in a single year, surpassing the 16 for HBO's "The Larry Sanders Show" in 1997.

In the comedy series category, defending champ "30 Rock" will face 2006 winner "The Office" and HBO's "Entourage" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm." CBS' "Two and a Half Men" is the lone representative of the multicamera sitcom genre in the category dominated by single-camera half-hours.

Toon "Family Guy's" quest to make history with a best comedy series nomination came up short after making the list of 10 finalists. (It still landed a nom in an animated program category.) Also absent from the comedy series category: ABC's much-lauded freshman "Pushing Daisies."

Overall, HBO miniseries "John Adams" was the most-nominated program with 23 mentions, including best miniseries and lead acting noms for Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney.

Not surprisingly, HBO bagged the most nominations among all the networks, 85, followed by ABC with 76 and CBS with 51.

As strong a presence as cable had in the best series categories, its dominance in the lead drama acting categories was even more impressive.

Four actors on cable series — Hamm, Michael C. Hall of "Dexter," Bryan Cranston of AMC's "Breaking Bad" and Gabriel Byrne of HBO's "In Treatment" — made the list, joined by returning contenders James Spader of "Boston Legal" and Hugh Laurie of "House."

On the distaff side, Glenn Close of "Damages," Holly Hunter of TNT's "Saving Grace" and Kyra Sedgwick of TNT's "The Closer" are facing the past two winners in the category: Sally Field of ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" and Mariska Hargitay of NBC's "Law & Order: SVU."

In the lead comedy actress category, Fey — who won the Golden Globe in January for her starring role on "30 Rock" — will compete against past winners Julia Louis-Dreyfus of CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and America Ferrera of ABC's "Ugly Betty," along with Mary-Louise Parker for Showtime's "Weeds" and Christina Applegate for ABC's freshman comedy "Samantha Who?"

Notably missing are the ladies of Wisteria Lane as ABC's "Desperate Housewives" was shut out of the top categories.

In the lead actor in a comedy series field, Steve Carell will have his third shot at an Emmy for his role on "The Office." He is going up against three-time winner Tony Shalhoub of USA's "Monk," Baldwin, Charlie Sheen of "Two and a Half Men" and Lee Pace of "Pushing Daisies."

While new cable series were red-hot, freshmen broadcast series barely registered this go-round, with just a handful of acting nominations. Last year, three rookies — "30 Rock," "Ugly Betty" and NBC's "Heroes" — earned best series noms; "30 Rock" won.

But this past season, freshmen series were heavily impacted by the writers strike, and many of them, including "Pushing Daisies," didn't produce more episodes beyond their short fall runs.

The work stoppage affected all broadcast series, which produced fewer episodes, and the long winter drought of originals might have steered viewers, including TV academy members, to cable.

Louis-Dreyfus said it was a "huge relief" to get nominated because the show shot only 10 episodes because of the strike.

"I thought any chance of getting any nomination was slim for that reason," she said.

Coincidence or not, all of the broadcast series that landed in the top categories aired original episodes in the spring.

"House" almost didn't, as Fox originally opted not to order more originals after the strike. It eventually did, and one of these extra episodes yielded a nom for director Greg Yaitanes.

While there might have been some impact from the strike, the recognition for cable mostly is a reflection of its creative strides in the past few years, said "House" creator/exec producer David Shore.

"With the gains they've made, it's long overdue," he said. "The way for us to keep up is by trying to do as good television as we can."

Additionally, the tally of some cable networks, including Showtime, may have been boosted by their decisions to stream episodes or full seasons on the Web for TV academy members.

Nominees in the top categories were announced at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences by Kristin Chenoweth, Neil Patrick Harris and academy chairman John Shaffner.

The Emmy ceremony will be held Sept. 21 from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles and broadcast on ABC.

Ray Richmond contributed to this report.