Emmys: Basic cable's breakthrough
FX's "Damages" and AMC's "Mad Men" made history this morning when they became the first basic-cable series to earn Emmy nominations for best drama, edging out such favorites as "Grey's Anatomy" and "The Wire."

"Mad Men," a stylish period drama set on Madison Avenue in the early advertising world of the 1960s, earned 16 nominations for the 60th annual Emmy Awards, including one for breakout star Jon Hamm for lead actor. The thrilling legal drama "Damages" garnered seven, including a best actress nod for star Glenn Close.

Joining them in the dramatic series category are "Boston Legal," "Dexter" and "House." "Lost" also earned a nod in this category, a comeback of sorts for the ABC show that many said had lost its way. In the comedy category, "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Entourage," "The Office," "30 Rock" and "Two and a Half Men" earned nominations.

HBO continued its domination in the nominations, earning 85, with 23 of those going to its lavish miniseries about the second U.S. president, "John Adams." That production earned nods for best miniseries, lead actor for Paul Giamatti and lead actress for Laura Linney.

HBO also managed to dominate the categories of lead actor and supporting actor in a miniseries or movie: All 10 of the nominees in those categories are from the pay-cable channel's projects.

But it wasn't all about HBO.

ABC earned 76 nominations, with "Pushing Daisies" garnering 12 and reality-TV show "Dancing With the Stars" waltzing away with eight.

And thanks to "Mad Men," AMC managed to walk away with 20 nominations -- a record for the cable channel.

Notably missing from the nominees for best drama series were "Grey's Anatomy" and critical favorite "The Wire." Although "Ugly Betty" earned six nominations and "Pushing Daisies" received 12, the two shows were shut out of the marquee category of best comedy series.

The nominees for best actor in a comedy series are Alec Baldwin for "30 Rock," Steve Carell for "The Office," newcomer Lee Pace for "Pushing Daisies," Emmy favorite Tony Shalhoub for "Monk" and Charlie Sheen for "Two and a Half Men."

The nominees for best actress in a comedy series are Christina Applegate for "Samantha Who?," America Ferrera for "Ugly Betty," Tina Fey for "30 Rock," former winner Julia Louis-Dreyfus for "The New Adventures of Old Christine" and Mary-Louise Parker for "Weeds."

In addition to Hamm, the nominees in the best dramatic actor category are Gabriel Byrne for "In Treatment," Bryan Cranston for "Breaking Bad," Michael C. Hall for "Dexter," Hugh Laurie for "House" and three-time winner James Spader for "Boston Legal."

In addition to Close, the nominees for best dramatic actress are last year's winner, Sally Field, for "Brothers & Sisters," Mariska Hargitay for "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Holly Hunter for "Saving Grace" and Kyra Sedgwick for "The Closer."

Other nomination highlights:

-- Sci Fi Channel's "Tin Man," the quirky retelling of "The Wizard of Oz," earned nine nominations, and "Masterpiece Theatre's" acclaimed period drama "Cranford" received eight.

-- New to the Emmy nominations this year is the category of outstanding host for a reality show or reality competition program. Among the nominees are Ryan Seacrest for "American Idol," Heidi Klum for "Project Runway" and one of the biggest surprises of the day, Howie Mandel for "Deal or No Deal."

-- The late George Carlin's last HBO comedy concert -- "It's Bad For Ya!" -- was nominated for outstanding variety, music or comedy special.

-- Amy Poehler becomes the first "Saturday Night Live" regular to be nominated for supporting actress in a comedy series. No doubt she got a boost from her turn during this election campaign as presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton. Keeping it in the family, Poehler's husband, Will Arnett, is nominated for best guest actor in a comedy series for "30 Rock."

Kristin Chenoweth, who earned a nomination for best supporting actress in a comedy series for "Pushing Daisies," and Neil Patrick Harris, who earned a nod for supporting actor in a comedy series for "How I Met Your Mother," revealed the nominees along with TV Academy Chairman John Shaffner at the Academy's Leonard H. Goldenson Theatre in North Hollywood.

Because of the crippling Writers Guild of America strike, the television season was cut short with several series -- including the acclaimed "Pushing Daisies" -- failing to return after the strike ended in February.

Strike concerns aren't over, however.

This year's Emmy Awards may yet have to grapple with a work stoppage: The Screen Actors Guild recently rejected producers' latest contract proposal.

Back in 1980, the Emmy telecast went on despite an actors strike. Powers Boothe was the only acting nominee who didn't boycott the show. He ended up winning an Emmy that evening.

The Emmys are set to air Sept. 21 on ABC from the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles.

susan.king@latimes.com