LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - A month after he abruptly disappeared from TV screens, Tony Soprano was back to grab a piece of the Emmy action on Thursday as HBO’s mob drama led the field of network series nominated for U.S. television’s highest honors.
“The Sopranos,” which ended its six-season run in June with its famously ambiguous blackout, claimed 15 nominations and will pit Tony’s grizzled gangsters against the young superhumans of NBC’s newly arrived “Heroes” in the marquee Emmy race for best drama.
“Heroes” spearheaded a pack of newer, young-skewing shows that broke into the Emmy derby, mostly among comedies where freshman programs “Ugly Betty” and “30 Rock” and HBO’s hip Hollywood satire “Entourage” also gained best-series nominations.
“Ugly Betty,” ABC’s show about a perky but homely office assistant at a high-fashion magazine, earned 11 nods, the most for a comedy this year, including one for best comedy series.
“There’s a lot of fresh faces this year, and that’s especially true in the new comedy series,” said Dick Askin, president of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which presents the Emmys.
But “Sopranos,” which won for best drama in 2004, was the clear sentimental favorite. Some pundits say the mob saga is a shoo-in to win thanks largely to the media hype over its finale and the huge debate about its fill-in-the-blank conclusion.
If that prediction proves true, the show widely hailed by critics as American television’s greatest dramatic series of all-time would make Emmy history as the first to win the top prize after ending its prime-time run.
James Gandolfini was nominated again as best actor for his role as conflicted New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano, and Edie Falco earned another best actress nod for playing his long-suffering wife, Carmela. Each has won three times before.
“Sopranos” creator and executive producer David Chase received two nominations for his writing.
Rounding out the best drama contenders are two medical shows nominated last year — ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” and Fox’s “House” — as well as ABC courtroom hour “Boston Legal.”
Workplace shows dominated the best comedy nominees with last year’s winner, “The Office,” joining fellow NBC sitcom “30 Rock” and ABC’s “Ugly Betty.” Bawdy CBS hit “Two and a Half Men” and “Entourage” completed the category.
The Emmy recognition was especially welcome for “30 Rock,” a critically praised satire of network television that struggled in its first season to build an audience.
Tina Fey, who stars as the beleaguered head writer of a TV variety show, was nominated as best actress. Co-star Alec Baldwin, embarrassed this year after a tirade at his real-life daughter, earned a nomination for playing Fey’s venal boss.
The most nominated programs overall were westerns in the mini-series and TV movie group. HBO’s “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” was No. 1 with 17 bids including best TV movie, followed by AMC’s “Broken Trail” with 16, among them best mini-series.
One surprise omission from this year’s Emmy race was the acclaimed NBC football drama “Friday Night Lights,” which was a leading critics’ choice for best drama.
Last year’s big drama winner, Fox espionage thriller “24,” also was shut out of the top drama category, although star Kiefer Sutherland was nominated as best actor.
While Gandolfini continued to bask in Emmy glory for playing a gangster, academy voters apparently drew the line at nominating actors who portray serial killers with a snub of critical darling Michael C. Hall for Showtime’s “Dexter.”
Other notable lead-acting nominations went to “Ugly Betty” star America Ferrera, British performers Hugh Laurie for “House” and Minnie Driver for FX’s “The Riches,” comic favorite Steve Carell for “The Office” and Hollywood veteran Sally Field for ABC drama “Brothers & Sisters.”
Three other lead-acting winners from last year also are back — “Seinfeld” alumna Julia Louis-Dreyfus for “The New Adventures of Old Christine” on CBS, Mariska Hargitay from NBC’s “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” and three-time champion Tony Shalhoub for “Monk” on the USA Network.
The 59th annual Prime-time Emmy Awards will be broadcast live from Los Angeles on September 16.