- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences announced its nominees for the Primetime Emmy Awards Thursday after, like its movie counterpart, making changes to the process aimed at bringing more populist appeal to a ceremony suffering in the ratings.

Those changes helped, but just a little some popular favorites were nominated in big categories for the first time, but critical darlings still dominated, including “30 Rock,” which leads the field and set a comedy record with 22 nominations, and “Mad Men,” second with 16 nods.

The organizers of the Oscars made headlines in June by expanding the best picture field from five to 10 nominees this year, but the Emmys, television’s highest honor, already had announced a similar decision in February. Nominations in the top categories best drama and comedy, lead actor and actress and supporting actor and actress in both comedy and drama increased from five to six. Seven nominees were announced Thursday for both best drama and comedy series, though, indicating ties.

It might not have been simply a ratings ploy that led the academy to change the rules. Basic cable has followed pay cable’s lead in the last few years, developing quality original series, so there have been many more good shows vying for the same number of nominations. AMC premiered its first original series just 13 years ago, and now has two series competing for best drama 1960s advertising drama “Mad Men,” which just premiered in 2007, and “Breaking Bad,” about a high-school chemistry teacher who turns to drug dealing to support his family, which premiered in 2008. “Mad Men” was the first basic-cable winner in the category, taking home the trophy last year.

TWT RELATED STORY: Complete list of Emmy nominations

Competing with those AMC series are HBO’s polygamy drama “Big Love,” Showtime’s serial killer series “Dexter” and FX’s legal drama “Damages.” Only two broadcast shows made the cut Fox’s popular medical mystery, “House” and ABC’s castaway puzzler “Lost.”

The ceremony airs on CBS Sept. 20, hosted by Neil Patrick Harris, whose popular CBS series “How I Met Your Mother” got its first nod in the best comedy category. A bigger surprise was another first-time comedy nominee Fox’s outrageous and clever comedy “Family Guy” was the first prime-time animated series to be nominated in the category since “The Flintstones” in 1961. (Even “The Simpsons” has never gotten a nod in the category.) Vying with those two series are NBC’s behind-the-scenes-at-a-sketch-comedy series “30 Rock” and workplace comedy “The Office” and HBO’s musical “The Flight of the Conchords” and inside-Hollywood series “Entourage.”

Changing the number of nominations wasn’t the only switch the academy made. So-called “blue-ribbon” panels picked the nominees in years past, which some critics complained shut out popular but not necessarily critical favorites. This year, the nominees were decided by a popular vote of the members of the Academy of Televison Arts and Sciences.

There were other surprises, mostly snubs. HBO led the networks in nominations with 99, but its new, acclaimed series “True Blood” and “No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency,” the pilot of the latter being “The English Patient” director Anthony Minghella’s final project before his death, got no nods in the top categories. Neither did ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” The ladies of “Desperate Housewives’” Wisteria Lane are perennial nominees in the best actress in a comedy category, but not one got a nod this year.

Instead, the nominees were Christina Applegate for ABC’s now-canceled “Samantha Who?” Toni Collette for Showtime’s “United States of Tara,” Tina Fey for “30 Rock,” Julia Louis-Dreyfus for CBS’s “The New Adventures of Old Christine,” Mary-Louse Parker for Showtime’s “Weeds,” and Sarah Silverman for Comedy Central’s “The Sarah Silverman Program.” The drama nominees were Glenn Close for “Damages,” Sally Field for ABC’s “Brothers & Sisters,” Mariska Hargitay for NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” Holly Hunter for TNT’s “Saving Grace,” Elisabeth Moss for “Mad Men,” and Kyra Sedgwick for TNT’s “The Closer.”

“CSI’s” William Petersen was ignored for his last season on “CSI.” Instead, the nominees for best actor in a drama were Simon Baker for the new and popular CBS series “The Mentalist,” Gabriel Byrne for HBO’s “In Treatment,” Bryan Cranston for “Breaking Bad,” Michael C. Hall for “Dexter,” Jon Hamm for “Mad Men,” and Hugh Laurie for “House.” Comedy nominees were Alec Baldwin for “30 Rock,” Steve Carell for “The Office,” Jermaine Clement for “The Flight of the Conchords,” Jim Parsons for CBS’s “The Big Bang Theory,” Tony Shaloub for USA’s “Monk” and Charlie Sheen for CBS’s “Two and a Half Men.”

Nominees for outstanding made-for-TV movie were Lifetime’s “Coco Chanel” and “Prayers for Bobby,” and HBO’s “Grey Gardens,” “Into the Storm” and “Taking Chance.” Just two miniseries are competing in that category HBO’s “Generation Kill” and PBS’s “Little Dorrit.”

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