LOS ANGELES » "Mad Men" is on the brink of making Emmy drama series history, Lena Dunham’s comedy "Girls" is the buzz du jour and both are on cable. As Thursday’s nominations proved, the gap between cable and the broadcast networks is stunningly wide and only getting wider.
Five out of six best drama series slots were claimed by cable shows, both premium and basic, with the sixth going to PBS. Networks, which had controlled the comedy genre last year, lost fully half of that turf to "Girls," "Veep" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," all on HBO.
How cable and the networks fared in racking up nominations for the 2012 Emmy Awards announced Thursday by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences:
81: HBO | 60: CBS | 58: PBS
WHEN TO WATCH
The Emmy ceremony will air Sept. 23 with Jimmy Kimmel as host.
‘FIVE-0’ GETS NOD
The lone nomination for "Hawaii Five-0" went to stunt coordinator Jeff Cadiente, who received his second Emmy nomination in the outstanding stunt coordination category for the Oct. 3 episode, "Kame’e," which featured a sky-diving scene over Mokuleia.
Not a single actor in a network drama series earned a lead or supporting bid for September’s Emmy Awards.
Cable channels offer so much awards-caliber programming that even theatrical films, increasingly dependent on action films and adolescent comedies, can look shabby in comparison.
"A lot of what’s happening on cable TV, you’d be hard pressed to see that happen in a studio film," said Don Cheadle, whose performance in Showtime’s "House of Lies" earned him a best comedy actor bid. "Right now one of the most difficult things to put together are movies which have interesting content and adult themes."
For writers and actors who want to pursue creative work, that leaves independent films or the expanding number of cable channels willing to invest in ambitious scripted projects.
Lena Dunham, who made a splash with her indie film "Tiny Furniture," breathed life into the TV sitcom with "Girls," a darkly comedic coming-of-age New York story on HBO. It received a best comedy nod and acting, writing and directing nominations for her.
She described the experience of premiering the much buzzed-about "Girls" as "this feeling of finding your audience in this incredibly clear, beautiful way and being shocked that people were connecting to what I was doing and being amazed by the level of debate it was starting."
"Girls" is HBO’s "current spin on ‘Sex and the City,’ which was a strong past Emmy favorite," said Tom O’Neil, editor of the Gold Derby awards website. He called Dunham the current "toast of Hollywood."
History Channel moved into scripted fare in a big way (after backing away from airing the controversial "The Kennedys") with its "Hatfields & McCoys," starring Kevin Costner, which earned solid reviews and spectacular ratings during the spring and 16 nods Thursday.
The miniseries was the most watched entertainment telecast ever on basic cable, drawing about 13 million each for its first two parts and hitting a high of 14.3 million for its third chapter. The best the networks had to offer that week: NBC’s "America’s Got Talent," was seen by 11.5 million people.
Networks increasingly rely on talent contests and sports, programming that invites live viewing and means fewer people will record the airings and skip commercials. News magazines, relatively cheap to produce, have been another broadcast staple.
Scripted series, whether drama or comedy, tend to be formulaic — which certainly doesn’t mean unpopular. CBS is the most watched network on the strength of crime dramas including "NCIS," "CSI" and their spinoffs.
But innovation is coming from shows like "Mad Men," which earned a leading 17 Emmy nominations and the chance to earn its fifth best drama award and set a record as the most honored drama in television history.
The shows it’s currently tied with and could leave behind: the broadcast dramas "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and "The West Wing," which once represented the best of TV.
"I always use ‘L.A. Law’ as an example," said "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner. "If you went to pitch ‘L.A. Law’ to NBC right now, you’d end up on Showtime."
Other leading nominees for the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards include the elegant British-born soap opera "Downton Abbey," which earned 16 bids, and the movie "Hemingway & Gellhorn" with 15.
The network standout: the clever and popular "Modern Family," honored as best comedy series for the past two years, which was the sitcom leader with 14 bids and practically ran the table in supporting actor nods.
NOMINEES IN MAJOR CATEGORIES
Miniseries or made-for-TV movie
Actor, drama series
Actress, drama series
Supporting actor, drama series
Supporting actress, drama series
Actor, comedy series
Actress, comedy series
Supporting actor, comedy series
Supporting actress, comedy series
Actor, miniseries or movie
Actress, miniseries or movie
Supporting actor, miniseries or movie
Supporting actress, miniseries or movie
Variety, music or comedy series