The good news for "American Idol" on Thursday was the same as the bad news: seven Emmy nominations, its second-highest total ever, including a fifth consecutive in the reality-competition category. What could be bad about that? Only that "Idol" has lost all 22 of its Emmy races. Were "Idol" to lose in all seven of its nominated categories, it will beat the all-time record for Emmy futility of 25 winless noms set by "The Bob Newhart Show." All the top-rated show needs to do to avoid the dubious achievement is win once, but that could well prove too tall an order for a season that gave us Sanjaya.

Alec Baldwin not only scored a best actor nomination for his role on NBC's "30 Rock," but he also helped the show that inspired "30 Rock," NBC's late-night sketch comedy "Saturday Night Live," earn two of its three nominations: for directing and technical directing. "SNL" was nominated in the two categories for the November episode hosted by Baldwin.

"SNL's" surprising third nomination came for the musical number "Dick in a Box," whose uncensored version has become an Internet phenomenon. "Box" was nominated for outstanding original music and lyrics, probably marking the first time lyrics featuring the word "dick" have earned an Emmy nomination. With its name, the skit starring Justin Timberlake is sure to cause a few uncomfortable moments and a lot of chuckles at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony.

The fact that the USA Network miniseries "The Starter Wife" received 10 Emmy nominations — including noms for best miniseries and for performers Debra Messing, Judy Davis and Joe Mantegna as well as its writing team — stands as a testament to the potential benefits of bending the Emmy system to fit a need. While minis were required to have aired in their entirety by May 31, "Starter Wife" premiered its first two hours (out of six) that night, leaving it four short. Tough luck, right? Wrong. USA petitioned the TV academy to allow qualification so long as the mini ran in full someplace in the USA universe that night by 2 a.m. — technically June 1. Reportedly, "Starter Wife" did run its final four hours, but not on TV. It was instead streamed on USA's Web site to get around the restrictions. Because it showed so close to the voting deadlines, the mini was fresh in voters' minds as the ballots were poised to be marked, which helped it land double-digit nomination attention.

The much-talked-about final episode of "The Sopranos" received a writing nomination for creator David Chase but failed to make the cut in the directing category. One explanation: A sudden cut to black to end a beloved series is not a very popular directing technique. The finale didn't get a mention for editing, either.

As was the case last year, ATAS has released the Primetime Emmy nominations list minus the names of producers in all of the series and specials categories. The reason, according to acedemy senior vp awards John Leverence, involves allowing sufficient time for a vetting process to determine legitimate eligibility (i.e., who is a real producer and who isn't). "We only tossed out a very few credits last year, but we need a little bit of extra time to determine qualification," Leverence said. The deadline for determining actual producers from those merely claiming to be is July 27, with the final list scheduled to be released the week of July 30.

Emmy winners Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy are becoming the golden Emmy couple. For the second time, the husband and wife are both nominated in the same year: Macy for TNT's "Nightmares & Dreamscapes," Huffman for "Desperate Housewives." In 2005, he was nominated for TNT's "The Wool Cap," and she was nominated for and won for "Housewives." The couple are joined by another nominated married team this year — "30 Rock" creator/executive producer Tina Fey, nominated for best series, lead actress and writing the pilot, and her husband Jeff Richmond, nominated for the show's theme music.

The Emmy Award nominations can make for some strange bedfellows. For sheer apples-and-oranges diversity, it's difficult to beat this year's lineup competing in the makeup for a series category, which boasts episodes of ABC's "Dancing With the Stars" and Fox's "MadTV" locking horns with HBO's period dramas "Rome" and "Deadwood" along with CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation." It spurs an obvious dilemma: How does one choose between the cosmetic appeal of late-night sketch comedy performers ("MadTV") and surly, foul-mouthed Old West gunslingers ("Deadwood")? Then again, the makeup group has nothing on the art direction for a multicamera series nominees, which include the decorators and designers of the CBS comedy "How I Met Your Mother" and ABC's "Ugly Betty" locking horns with — among others — those who worked on "Rome" and Showtime's "The Tudors."

America Ferrera isn't really ugly, of course. In point of fact, she's anything but. However, playing ugly has left her sitting pretty with a lead comedy actress nomination for the ABC freshman hour "Ugly Betty" six months after winning the Golden Globe for her role. Contrary to a rumor circulating Thursday, Ferrera is not the first Latina actress to be cited in the category. That would be Rita Moreno, who earned her nom in 1983 for the CBS comedy "9 to 5." But there is one first regarding "Ugly Betty": It has the distinction of being the only series with "Ugly" in the title to be honored by the TV academy.

Ray Richmond

and Nellie Andreeva