The dark thriller "American Horror Story: Asylum" scored the most nominations for television's Emmy Awards on Thursday, but it was the Internet streaming service Netflix that made history with nods for its big push into original programming.
Netflix landed a total of 14 nominations for political drama "House of Cards," comedy "Arrested Development" and thriller "Hemlock Grove," a validation of its challenge to broadcast and cable networks. It is the first time programs not produced specifically for television have won Emmy nominations in the top categories, with "House of Cards" competing for best drama and leading stars Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright contenders for best actor and actress.
"If you look at the long history of the Emmys, and the incredibly strong contenders that have been recognized this year, it's about quality. We are very honored to be amongst that group," Spacey, who plays the win-at-all costs Washington politician Francis Underwood, told Reuters.
The breakthrough by Netflix was hailed as a turning point in television and an indication of an unabating shift toward Internet-delivered entertainment. It comes two decades after the the first cable show, on HBO, earned a nomination in one of the best series categories and shook up the world of broadcast TV.
"Everybody is stepping up their game. It's an opportunity to tell stories on multiple platforms and it's great news for our industry," said Bruce Rosenblum, chairman and chief executive of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which gives out the Primetime Emmys, America's top television awards.
Netflix's chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, said the nominations were recognition that online television is on equal footing with cable and broadcast TV.
"As of today, the lines are forever blurred between TV and the Internet. It's about what's on the screen," he said.
Netflix subscribers could download all 13 episodes of the David Fincher-directed "House of Cards" on its first day, changing the water-cooler conversation around television, in which episodes have long been released on a weekly basis.
But as Netflix blazed a new path sure to be followed by other digital companies, cable continued to reign at the Emmys, particularly Time Warner's HBO, which snagged 108 nominations, its highest number in nine years.
FX's "American Horror Story: Asylum" about abuse and torture in a nun-run mental institution pulled in 17 nominations including best miniseries and best actress for star Jessica Lange. HBO's "Game of Thrones," an epic tale of warring families, landed 16 including best drama.
Last year's big winner, post 9/11 psychological thriller "Homeland" from Showtime was nominated in 11 categories including best drama and best actor and actress for Damian Lewis and Clare Danes, who both took home those awards last season.
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None of the big four U.S. broadcasters - ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC - were nominated for best drama series.
"That's a real slap," said Tom O'Neil, an awards show handicapper at Goldderby.com.
In comedy, where traditional broadcast is strongest, NBC's "30 Rock" anchored the most nominations with 13 including best comedy for the long-running series' final season. Creator and star Tina Fey and co-star Alec Baldwin picked up nominations in leading comedy actor categories. Last year's big winner, ABC's "Modern Family," scored 12 nods including best comedy series.
HBO's "Girls," about twenty-somethings finding their way in New York City, was also nominated for best comedy series, gaining five nods overall, including best actress in a comedy for creator Lena Dunham.
The HBO movie "Behind the Candelabra," based on the life of pianist Liberace, pulled in 15 nominations, and Michael Douglas as Liberace and Matt Damon as his lover will compete in the lead actor in a miniseries or movie category.
AMC drama "Mad Men," an Emmy stalwart, picked up 12 nominations, including best drama series. Jon Hamm earned a nod for best actor in a drama, his 10th Emmy nomination, for his portrayal of ad man Don Draper, and Elisabeth Moss was nominated for best actress in a drama as Draper's protégé Peggy Olson.
British period drama "Downton Abbey," which airs on U.S. public broadcaster PBS, also earned a dozen nominations and will go head-to-head against "Mad Men" for best drama series, best actor (Hugh Bonneville) and best actress (Michelle Dockery).
"I think it's tremendously exciting when you make a show in the culture of one country and it's been a hit all over the world," creator Julian Fellowes said of the series, which is set in early 20th century aristocratic Britain.
"It means somehow you've touched universal values and interest," he added.
Another top Emmy contender for best drama series will be AMC's "Breaking Bad," a quirky drama about a high-school chemistry teacher played by Bryan Cranston who turns to a life of making drugs after he is diagnosed with terminal cancer. It had 13 nominations including best actor in a drama for Cranston.
"Sometimes it takes a little longer for the grittier series to break through," said O'Neil. "It will be the buzz of Hollywood because its airing its final season during the voting."
This year's Emmy Awards will take place on Sept. 22 and will be broadcast on CBS. Actor Neil Patrick Harris hosts.