LOS ANGELES – Emmy ruler "Mad Men" is facing a threat from the mobsters and crooked politicians of "Boardwalk Empire."
AMC's 1960s Madison Avenue saga, which has earned three consecutive Emmy Awards as best drama series, is competing Sunday with HBO's tale of Atlantic City, New Jersey, schemers making the most of the wild days of Prohibition in the 1920s.
"The Sopranos," another HBO show about New Jersey hoodlums, was an Emmy magnet for the cable TV channel that earned 21 trophies during its six seasons.
HBO and AMC's leading men are in a showdown as well. "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm, shut out three times by Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad," caught a break when Cranston's series didn't air within the Emmy eligibility period.
But newcomer "Boardwalk Empire" brought Steve Buscemi into the picture with a first-string nomination for the actor who's been acclaimed for supporting roles.
Also nominated for best drama series are "Dexter," "Friday Night Lights," "Game of Thrones" and "The Good Wife."
Other contests to watch include best comedy series, with "Modern Family" trying to repeat last year's win against competitors including "Glee" and "Parks and Recreation."
Steve Carell of "The Office" is making his last Emmy stand for his fifth and final season as clueless manager Michael Scott, after being snubbed four years in a row.
A new category, which combines the previously separate best miniseries and made-for-TV movie nominees, includes the miniseries "Mildred Pierce," with Kate Winslet nominated in the role of an embattled mother, and the movie "Too Big to Fail," about the U.S. fiscal crisis in 2008.
In the reality-competition category, perennial also-ran "American Idol" will take its ninth shot at winning, this time for a season in which it successfully navigated the loss of key judge Simon Cowell.
HBO came into the night with a leading 15 awards earned at the Sept. 10 creative arts awards, followed by PBS with 10, Fox with nine, CBS with seven and NBC with five.
"Boardwalk Empire" captured a leading seven creative arts Emmys, which honor technical achievements and guest stars such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who won for her appearance in "Glee."
First-time Emmy producer Mark Burnett, whose string of reality TV hits includes "Survivor," was in charge of the ceremony that has played to a dwindling audience.
After hitting an all-time viewership low of 12.3 million in 2008, the Emmys rebounded somewhat in the last two years and drew a 2010 audience of 13.47 million, compared to 26.7 million for this year's Grammys and nearly 38 million for the Oscars.