The Primetime Emmy nominations were unveiled this morning, honoring the best in television during the 2011-12 season. AMC’s juggernaut Mad Men and the FX mini-series American Horror Story led the way with 17 total nominations apiece, while PBS’ Downton Abbey and the History Channel mini-series Hatfields & McCoys each nabbed 16. Among comedies, ABC’s Modern Family led the way with 14 nods.
Here are 8 things we learned from this morning’s Emmy nominations:
- Experience pays off: In the acting categories, 40 percent of the nominees are 50 or older. The supporting actor and actress in a movie or miniseries categories were particularly good to older actors, with each tabbing 4 performers over 50, including David Strathairn (Hemingway & Gellhorn, HBO) and Ed Harris (Game Change, HBO) among the actors and Jessica Lange (American Horror Story, FX) and Judy Davis (Page Eight, Masterpiece) among the actresses.
- CBS’ adult-skewing hits get no respect: The Eye network airs 6 dramas that ranked among the top 20 most-watched shows last season (NCIS, NCIS: Los Angeles, The Mentalist, Person of Interest, Criminal Minds and Unforgettable). Total Emmy nominations for those shows: zero. It wasn’t all bad news for CBS, though: the network garnered 60 total nominations, second only to HBO’s 81.
- Cable has all the drama: At least according to Emmy voters. Not a single network drama managed to snare a nomination in the Best Drama Series category, which includes Boardwalk Empire, Breaking Bad, Downton Abbey, Homeland, Game of Thrones and Mad Men. The Good Wife, the CBS legal drama that was the sole network nominee last year, was left out of the category for the first time in its three season run.
- No shortage of funny females: Every year around Oscar time, we hear complaints about the dearth of great film roles for actresses. This isn’t a problem on the small screen. In fact, the Lead Actress in a Comedy Series category was so stacked this year there are 7 nominees instead of the normal 6, including pushing-50 and over-50 vets like Edie Falco, a previous winner here for Showtime’s Nurse Jackie, and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who’s an absolute hoot as the acerbic, expletive-spewing second-in-command on HBO’s Veep.
- Mad Men goes for the record: The AMC critical darling has taken the trophy for Best Drama Series in each of its first four seasons. It’s nominated again (one of 17 total nominations), and if it wins, it will break the record for most wins in this category. Hill Street Blues, The West Wing and L.A. Law each also won Best Drama Series four times.
- Downton dominance: The British import swallowed up 16 nominations, with representation in every acting category. Maggie Smith seems like a lock to win for her brilliant portrayal of the Dowager Countess of Grantham (see video below for her greatest hits), but it was particularly gratifying to see Jim Carter nominated in the supporting actor category for his turn as the loyal butler, Mr. Carson. It’s the 64-year-old Brit’s first ever nomination.
- Betty White is still rolling: In what might have been the upset of the morning, the 90-year-old actress (and AARP spokesperson) was nominated as Outstanding Host for a Reality Show for her hosting duties on NBC’s Betty White’s Off Their Rockers. She supplanted Survivor host Jeff Probst, who has won the category in all four years of its existence, but wasn’t nominated this year.
- Over-50 surprises: Kathy Bates was nominated for a second straight year as Outstanding Actress in a Drama Series for her role in Harry’s Law, even though NBC cancelled the show after last season. John Slattery (Mad Men’s Roger Sterling) was left out of the running in the Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series category after four straight nominations. Mandy Patinkin didn’t snare a nod for Homeland, though the Showtime series was one of the morning’s big winners, earning nine nominations, the most for any new show.
The Primetime Emmy Awards, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, will air on ABC on September 23 at 7:00 p.m. EST.