Published September 20, 2009
LOS ANGELES – "Mad Men" aimed to repeat Emmy history Sunday, while "Family Guy" tried to make it.
The first basic cable television show to win a top series honor, "Mad Men" had the chance for a second consecutive best-drama trophy. Potential trailblazer "Family Guy" was the first animated series to vie for the best comedy award since a 1961 bid by "The Flintstones."
The Fox show was up against last year's winner, actress-writer Tina Fey's "30 Rock," trying for its third consecutive award in the category. Fey and co-star Alec Baldwin had a chance to repeat as best comedy series leads.
Neil Patrick Harris was prepared to play the singing host, as he did at this year's Tony Awards for Broadway shows. "Hairspray" composers Scott Wittman and Marc Shaiman, who dashed off a custom-made tune for Harris at the Broadway awards, wrote one for the Emmys.
The TV academy, meanwhile, hoped to avoid an unwanted rerun at the 61st Annual Primetime Emmy Awards: paltry viewership. The 2008 ceremony was the least-watched ever with an audience of 12.3 million.
Acclaimed but low-rated series like AMC's retro 1960s show "Mad Men" about life inside and outside an advertising agency are seen as one reason viewers bypassed the awards, so major categories were expanded to increase the odds for more popular fare. There were as many as seven nominees per category, compared with the traditional five.
Rising network star Jim Parsons of CBS' "The Big Bang Theory" made the cut for best comedy series actor, but niche premium cable shows including HBO's "Flight of the Conchords" and Showtime's "Weeds" grabbed a hefty share of nods.
TV's most-watched comedy, CBS' "Two and a Half Men," failed to score a best series bid, although stars Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer were up for awards.
Fox's "American Idol," the most-watched show, tries to earn its first reality competition show Emmy against dominant winner CBS' "The Amazing Race."
Harris and Emmy executive producer Don Mischer promised to keep the scheduled three-hour ceremony snappy, but they had less room to maneuver than planned. A TV academy proposal to pre-tape some acceptances and show them in a truncated version — gaining time for something more entertaining than speeches — was quashed by industry opposition.
Harris also was a supporting actor nominee for "How I Met Your Mother." Others competing for Emmy gold included Bryan Cranston of AMC's "Breaking Bad" and Glenn Close of FX's "Damages," the 2008 winners for best drama series leads.
"Mad Men" stars Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss were among their competition.
HBO went into the ceremony as the awards leader after last weekend's Creative Arts Primetime Emmys ceremony for technical and other achievements. The channel earned 16 trophies, followed by NBC with 11 and Fox and ABC with eight awards each. CBS, PBS and Cartoon Network had six each.