September 22, 2008 / 5:51 AM / 11 years ago

HBO sweeps Emmys, but upstart AMC grabs top prize

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - HBO swept the prime-time Emmys on Sunday, consolidating its reputation as a powerhouse of U.S. television by winning 26 trophies, thanks mostly to the historical mini-series “John Adams” and the modern political movie “Recount.”

The producers and cast of "Mad Men" pose after winning for Outstanding Drama Series at the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards in Los Angeles September 21, 2008. REUTERS/Mike Blake

But despite taking more Emmys than any network, HBO was omitted for the first time in a decade from the prestigious race for best drama series, which went to upstart cable channel AMC with “Mad Men.”

“Mad Men” — a slow-burning drama set in a New York advertising agency just before the social revolution of the mid-1960s — made AMC the first basic cable show to win the top drama honors on U.S. television’s biggest night.

Despite an audience of less than 2 million per episode, the network finished the night with eight Emmys in all, including best writing for a drama for “Mad Men” creator Matthew Weiner and a surprise win for Bryan Cranston as lead actor in a drama for his role as a chemistry teacher with lung cancer in “Breaking Bad.”

Weiner said backstage he was surprised to learn that “Mad Men’s” victory was an historic first for basic cable, which are channels included in basic packages that do not require paying premiums.

“I though it was about quality,” Weiner said of the Emmy Awards. “We are glad we were not prejudiced against because we were on basic cable. I don’t know why there is a distinction,” Weiner said.

Further evidence of basic cable’s breakthrough in original drama series came with three Emmys for the FX channel.

Glenn Close won the trophy for best actress in a drama for playing a brilliant but ruthless lawyer in “Damages,” while co-star Zeljko Ivanek took the Emmy for best supporting actor on the show.

HBO’s “John Adams,” the story of the second U.S. president, ended up with 13 Emmys, including awards for best miniseries, outstanding writing, best actor (Paul Giamatti), best actress (Laura Linney) and best supporting actor (Tom Wilkinson).

HBO’s “Recount,” about the disputed U.S. presidential election in 2000, won Emmys for best made-for-TV movie and best director for a dramatic special.

HBO has used Emmy recognition in the past for shows like “The Sopranos” and “Sex in the City” to market itself to subscribers as the place to watch high-end shows.

ABC was the second most successful network at the 60th annual Primetime Emmys, winning 12 awards, one of them for Jean Smart’s supporting role in the new comedy “Samantha Who?”

NBC, CBS and PBS tied for third place with 10 trophies apiece. The network TV satire “30 Rock,” won best comedy series, best comic actress (Tina Fey), best actor (Alec Baldwin) and best comedy writer for Fey, accounting for much of NBC’s haul.

Comedy Central won three Emmys, including two for perennial favorite Jon Stewart’s satirical news show “The Daily Show,” the winner for best variety series for six years straight.

HBO is a unit of Time Warner Inc. ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co; NBC is a division of the NBC Universal unit of General Electric Co; FX is part of News Corp. CBS is part of CBS Corp; AMC is owned by Cablevision Systems Corp.

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