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This year's Emmy nominations mark radical shift

In a bid to make its trophy show more relevant, more interesting to viewers , and more attractive to the broadcast networks who this year must decide whether they want to keep broadcasting it, the TV academy this year has radically adjusted its thinking about what deserves an Emmy nomination.

Judging by the noms announced Thursday morning, that new thinking includes a major push to recognize new broadcast series that might actually attract large audiences, -- as opposed to the niche cable show's it has fawned over for several seasons -- and shrewd nods to some shows it has steadfastly snubbed in the past but that have rabid fan bases. The fuddy-duddy academy even went out and courted controversy in a couple of nominations.

First, Fox's perky new high- school musical comedy, "Glee," was showered with the most Emmy nominations for a series, with 19. ABC's new mockumentary comedy, "Modern Family," was not far behind with 14 noms.

Both freshman series are up for best comedy series -- a category over which broadcast TV re-gained control this year. In 2009, three cable shows were in this race; this year, it's down to two: Showtime's "Nurse Jackie" and HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," which are in the mix with the two new comedies and NBC's "The Office" and "30 Rock."

"Glee's" nominations include those for the show's Broadway-seasoned stars, Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison, as well as supporting-acting nods to Jane Lynch (the high school's cheerleading coach from hell, Sue Sylvester) and Chris Colfer (a.k.a. the glee club's sensitive Kurt).

"Modern Family," meanwhile, walked off with a whopping five nominations for supporting-Öacting work, the show's expansive ensemble having decided none of them would submit their names in the lead-acting derbies. Every adult cast member is nominated -- Ty Burrell, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Eric Stonestreet, Sofia Vergara and Julie Bowen -- except show patriarch Ed O'Neill, who got snubbed, which is nothing new: The academy ignored him every year he starred in "Married...with Children."

As for controversy, the academy jumped into the raging Conan-vs.-Leno "Tonight Show" kerfuffle feet first, nominating Conan O'Brien's "Tonight Show" for best variety program but not Jay Leno's "Tonight Show." The crowd of jaded industry professionals who littered the academy's North Hollywood theater, where the noms were unveiled early Thursday morning, gasped when Conan's name was read and Leno's was not.

Conan's the guy who walked from "The Tonight Show" after just seven months on the job when his ratings tanked and NBC tried to move the show to a later time slot to return Leno to late night. And yes, this means Conan's going to be seen on NBC at least one more time because that network is broadcasting this year's Emmy Awards ceremony. Here's hoping he wins -- his acceptance speech ought to be a doozy. Already Conan has tweeted: "Congrats to my staff on 4 Emmy nominations. This bodes well for the future of 'The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien'."

And in one of this year's stranger nominations, the academy decided that the 200th and 201st episodes of Comedy Central's "South Park" merited consideration for outstanding animated program, where it will compete against Fox stalwart "The Simpsons," and HBO's critically lauded "The Ricky Gervais Show" -- an animated version of Gervais's podcasts with pals Stephen Merchant and Karl Pilkington.

Those are the two "South Park" episodes Comedy Central censored so as not to show a cartoon character that viewers were led to believe was an animated Muhammad disguised in a bear costume -- but which, in fact, turned out to be Saint Nicholas in a bear suit. Meanwhile, the show's creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker, hated the episodes as they aired and said so very publicly. And yet, we're told, the producers picked these two episodes for the academy to consider and now that they've been nominated, it raises the question: Will the TV industry's organization award Comedy Central an Emmy on Aug..29 for censoring one of its programs?

Contacted for comment, Comedy Central e-mailed this non-response:

"We're extremely proud of 'South Park's' tenth overall Emmy nomination and hope that the series will be honored with its fifth Emmy Award later this year."

After largely ignoring ABC's cult drama "Lost" last year, the academy welcomed it back to the fold with 12 nominations for its final season, including a bid for best drama, and for actors Matthew Fox, Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson.

In that same vein, the academy this year abandoned its long-held No Fangs policy to nominate for best drama series HBO's cult vampire drama, "True Blood," about a psychic waitress and her 173-year-old, sallow-skinned vampire boyfriend.

And "Friday Night Lights," another rabid-fan-base cult show that's been virtually ignored by the academy over the years, received two big nominations for stars Kyle Chandler and Connie Britton, who play a small-town Texas high school football coach and his wife.

All this love for new and formerly snubbed shows is not to say that this year's Emmy broadcast -- moved to August from September to accommodate NFL football on NBC -- won't necessarily be a rerun of last year's (which, in turn, was a repeat of the year before).

Three-time best-comedy winner "30 Rock," for instances, is back in the running.
"We're grateful and excited -- especially since today is the fifth anniversary of the day NBC forgot to cancel us," show creator and star Tina Fey said Thursday morning.

Back again in the best-drama race: AMC's two-time winner "Mad Men." The 1960s Madison Avenue-set drama is this year's most- nominated drama series, with 17 bids for trophies.

Likewise, "The Amazing Race," which has had a death grip on the reality-competition series race since that category was created, is back. And Conan's "Tonight Show" faces Comedy Central's "The Daily Show," which has won the variety-show derby the past seven years running.

Meanwhile, "30 Rock's" Alec Baldwin, AMC's "Breaking Bad" meth-cooking high school teacher Bryan Cranston, and FX's "Damages" harridan Glenn Close -- all of whom snared their second consecutive best-acting wins last year -- are up again in their respective categories: best comedy actor, drama actor and drama actress.

Baldwin will duke it out with Jim Parsons of CBS's "The Big Bang Theory," HBO's "Curb" star Larry David, "The Office's" Steve Carell, and Tony Shalhoub in his last bid as star of the now-canceled USA obsessive-detective drama "Monk."

Cranston is joined by "Lost's" Fox, "Friday Night Light's" Chandler, "Mad Men's" Jon Hamm, Michael C. Hall of "Dexter," and "House's" Hugh Laurie.

Close is pitted against "Mad Men's" January Jones, "The Good Wife's" Julianna Margulies, TNT's "The Closer" star Kyra Sedgwick, "Friday Night Lights" Britton, and Mariska Hargitay of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."

And last year's best comedy actress winner, Toni Collette of Showtime's "The United States of Tara," will defend her title against "Glee's" Michele, "30 Rock's" Fey, Julia Louis-Dreyfus for the canceled CBS sitcom "The New Adventure of Old Christine," "Nurse Jackie" star Edie Falco, and NBC's "Parks and Recreation" star Amy Poehler.

"Glee" and "Modern Family" face not only "30 Rock" but "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Nurse Jackie" and "The Office" in the best comedy race.

Meanwhile, "True Blood," "Lost," "The Good Wife" and "Mad Men" make strange bedfellows in the drama series race that also includes "Breaking Bad" and Showtime's "Dexter."

In its third decade on the air, "Saturday Night Live" finally became the most nominated program in TV history, with a lifetime 126 nominations -- two more than former record-holder "ER," logged over its 15 seasons. "SNL's 12 new noms include one for Betty White as guest host.

And, remember that Super Bowl Snickers ad in which Betty gets tackled? It's also up for an Emmy -- best commercial.

By Lisa de Moraes  |  July 8, 2010; 11:06 PM ET
Categories:  Emmy Awards  
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