An Emmy requiem for 'Sopranos'; 'Betty' is hot

Ruthless New Jersey mobsters and a good-hearted young woman from Queens led the series races in the 59th Primetime Emmy Award nominations.

Meanwhile, three noms Thursday made NBC's "ER" the most Emmy-nominated program ever with 120, surpassing the 117 for "Cheers."

"It's wonderful and humbling to become the most-nominated show in Emmy history," "ER" exec producer John Wells said.

HBO's "The Sopranos" is leaving the primetime scene with a bang, scoring 15 nominations, including best drama series and noms for stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco.

ABC's "Ugly Betty" is the belle of the comedy ball with 11 nominations, including best comedy series and a nom for star America Ferrera.

Not too bad for a show that was first earmarked for a quiet, under-the-radar existence on Friday night.

"Starting off as the little show that could, we made it through all the obstacles, and to get to this point is incredibly gratifying," "Betty" creator/executive producer Silvio Horta said.

In total, three freshman series, "Betty" and NBC's "Heroes" and "30 Rock," made the cut in the best series categories. The snub of another one, critical darling "Friday Night Lights," was considered one of the major upsets when the main nominations were unveiled at dawn Thursday.

But while "Betty" and "Heroes" are critical and commercial hits, the acclaimed but low-rated "30 Rock," which landed 10 noms, was in danger of cancellation until its renewal in April.

"Hopefully (the nominations) will let people know that the show exists," said "30 Rock" creator/executive producer Tina Fey, also nominated for her starring role on the show and for writing the pilot.

As usual, a longform project, HBO's telefilm "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee," leads the Emmy nomination field overall with 17 noms. It is followed closely by AMC's miniseries "Broken Trail" with 16 noms, including one for star Robert Duvall.

Also as usual, HBO racked up the most nominations, 86, while ABC and NBC are neck and neck for second place with 70 and 69, respectively.

But with HBO's tally down from 97 last year and ABC and NBC improving from 63 and 47, respectively, HBO's lead over the broadcast networks is the smallest since four noms separated it from No. 2 NBC in 2002.

Several basic cable networks, including AMC (18 noms), Discovery Channel (16), Comedy Central (12) and Bravo (nine), had their best showing ever.

"We always hope for the best, but this has exceeded even our highest expectations," said Michele Ganeless, executive vp and GM of Comedy Central.

But aside from HBO, the cable networks, including well-regarded Showtime and FX, were shut out of the best series races.

Fueled by "30 Rock," NBC's "The Office" (nine nominations), "Heroes" (eight) and the USA Network miniseries "The Starter Wife" (10, including one for star Debra Messing), Universal Media Studios almost doubled its previous record with 60 nominations this year. ABC Studios is a close second with 56, also the studio's best showing.

In the best drama series category, "Sopranos" and "Heroes" are joined by two returning nominees, ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" and Fox's "House," and a surprise newcomer to the field: "Boston Legal," David E. Kelley's dramedy for ABC.

For the second year in a row, the reigning drama series champ didn't make the cut. This year, it is Fox's "24," whose most recent season was knocked by critics. Last year, it was ABC's "Lost," which is a surprise absentee from this year's field after a strong third season.

In the best comedy series field, rookies "30 Rock" and the one-hour "Betty" will compete against another first-time nominee, HBO's "Entourage"; last year's winner, "The Office"; and CBS' "Two and a Half Men."

The first best series nom for Hollywood-centric "Entourage" came on its third try.

"You always want something like this; it makes you feel validated, especially for a show about the industry," said "Entourage" creator/executive producer Doug Ellin.

ABC's "Desperate Housewives," which won the 2005 Emmy for best comedy series after its freshman season, missed the cut for the second year in a row.

Meanwhile, two "Betty" executive producers, Ben Silverman and Salma Hayek, earned two noms each. Silverman also is recognized as exec producer of "Office," while Hayek is in the running for her guest-starring role on "Betty."

James Spader of "Boston" and Patricia Arquette of "Medium," who won Emmys in the lead drama acting categories in 2005, are back in contention after being left out last year.

The best actor in a drama series category proved an impenetrable fortress for newcomers this time around, with only former nominees making the cut: Spader, Denis Leary of FX's "Rescue Me," three-time winner Gandolfini, last year's winner Kiefer Sutherland of "24" and Hugh Laurie of "House," who won the Golden Globe in January.

Eddie Izzard, star of FX's "The Riches," was a notable omission, but his wife on the show, Minnie Driver, scored her first Emmy nomination in the lead actress in a drama series field. She will compete against Sally Field of ABC's "Brothers & Sisters," who is making her first appearance in the category; previous winners Falco and Arquette; and 2007 Golden Globe winner Kyra Sedgwick.

There is an intriguing face-off in the lead actor in a comedy series category, where Golden Globe winner Steve Carell of "Office" is competing against Ricky Gervais, who originated Carell's character on the British version of "Office," which he also co-created. Gervais is nominated for his latest series, HBO's "Extras."

Carell and Gervais' competition includes Alec Baldwin of "30 Rock," a first-time nominee in the category; three-time winner Tony Shalhoub of USA's "Monk"; and Charlie Sheen of CBS' "Two and a Half Men."

On the distaff side, the winners from the past two years — Felicity Huffman of "Housewives" and Julia Louis-Dreyfus of CBS' "The New Adventures of Old Christine" — are back for more, facing category rookies Ferrera, Fey and Golden Globe winner Mary-Louise Parker of Showtime's "Weeds." Parker also is nominated for her lead role in Oxygen's telefilm "The Robber Bride."

T.R. Knight's first Emmy nomination for his supporting role on "Grey's" comes after a particularly tough season for the actor, who was drawn into a tabloid war with former co-star Isaiah Washington, who isn't nominated. In the supporting actor in a drama series field, Knight will face previous winners Michael Imperioli of "Sopranos" and William Shatner of "Boston," breakout "Heroes" co-star Masi Oka and "Lost" ensemble players Michael Emerson and Terry O'Quinn.

After three previous nominations in the lead actress category, Lorraine Bracco is making a first appearance in the supporting actress in a drama series field for her role as Jennifer Melfi on "Sopranos." She is joined by her "Sopranos" co-star Aida Turturro, Rachel Griffiths of "Brothers & Sisters" and three "Grey's" co-stars: previous nominees Chandra Wilson and Sandra Oh and first-timer Katherine Heigl.

On the comedy side, last year's winner, Jeremy Piven of "Entourage," is joined by co-star Kevin Dillon, Jon Cryer of "Two and a Half Men" and newcomers Neil Patrick Harris of CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" and Rainn Wilson of "Office."

Wilson's "Office" co-star Jenna Fischer likewise cracked the list of supporting actress in a comedy series nominees, joined by two other rookies: Vanessa Williams of "Betty" and Conchata Ferrell of "Two and a Half Men." Also in the running are previous nominees Jaime Pressly of NBC's "My Name Is Earl," Holland Taylor of "Two and a Half Men" and Elizabeth Perkins of "Weeds."

In the reality-competition category, the reigning king, CBS' "The Amazing Race," earned its fifth consecutive nom, as did Fox's "American Idol." But CBS' "Survivor," which had been nominated along with "Race" and "Idol" every year since the category was established in 2003, didn't make the cut. Its place was taken by Bravo's "Top Chef," which joined two returning nominees: ABC's "Dancing with the Stars" and another Bravo series, "Project Runway."

"We're dominating as a network in that category — not only are we the only cable network ever nominated in it, but certainly we're the only network nominated with two shows," Bravo president Lauren Zalaznick said. "We're 90% amazed and stunned and deeply gratified, and that 10% is we have no expectation of being nominated, but our expectation is that our shows are good enough to be nominated."

With only 11 miniseries eligible after the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences changed its rules this year to exclude projects like Showtime's limited series "Sleeper Cell," there are only three minis competing: "Trail," "Starter Wife" and PBS' "Masterpiece Theatre" presentation "Prime Suspect: The Final Act."

In the telefilm category, "Knee" is joined by Discovery's "Inside the Twin Towers," HBO's "Longford," TNT's "The Ron Clark Story" and Lifetime's "Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy."

Along with Parker, Messing and Duvall, the acting nominees for movies/miniseries also include reigning queen Helen Mirren, recognized for "Prime Suspect"; Queen Latifah for HBO's "Life Support"; Gena Rowlands for Lifetime's "What If God Were the Sun"; Matthew Perry for "Ron Clark," William H. Macy for TNT's "Nightmares & Dreamscapes," Tom Selleck for CBS' "Jesse Stone: Sea Change" and Jim Broadbent for "Longford."

Primetime Emmy winners in 63 categories will be presented Sept. 8 at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. The remaining 27 awards will be handed out Sept. 16 at the Shrine in a ceremony telecast live on Fox.

Programs that aired between June 1, 2006, and May 31 are eligible for the 59th Emmys.