AMC's "Mad Men," the sharply observed drama of a changing 1960s America, received 19 Emmy nominations Thursday morning to lead the series pack, while HBO's melodramatic miniseries "Mildred Pierce" starring Kate Winslet grabbed a top 21 noms.
"Mad Men" has a chance to repeat for a fourth consecutive year as best drama. "Modern Family," last year's top comedy series, was the most-nominated sitcom with 17 bids.
Other leading nominees include the Prohibition-era drama "Boardwalk Empire" with 18 nominations, "Saturday Night Live" with 16 and 13 bids each for the sex-and-swords fantasy "Game of Thrones" and the sitcom "30 Rock."
HBO received 104 nominations, more than double any other channel.
"OK, keep it together," a surprised nominations co-announcer Melissa McCarthy said when she realized she was a nominee for her sitcom "Mike & Molly."
Scott Collins writes about television for the Los Angeles Times and shared his thoughts with KPCC on some of the Emmys' surprises and snubs. "The Walking Dead" only got three nominations - "pretty minor stuff," as Collins put it. "The Killing" didn't do as well as some might have expected and Showtime's "Shameless" only got one nomination, both surprises according to Collins. "All cable shows that got some critical acclaim, but didn't seem to do so well in the Emmys."
"There are some shows that did much better than I expected," said Collins. One on that list for Collins was the controversial miniseries "The Kennedys," which was dropped by the History channel and given a second chance by the lesser-known ReelzChannel. "The Kennedys" received 10 nominations, including best miniseries and acting bids for Greg Kinnear as President John F. Kennedy, Barry Pepper as Robert Kennedy and Tom Wilkinson as family patriarch Joe Kennedy. "When I saw that, I was kind of like 'wow,'" said Collins.
Telemundo's high-rated telenovela "La Reina del Sur" was talked about as a potential contender, but failed to be nominated. Collins said that one of his sources put it like this: "The Emmys are flukey." Collins went on, "It's not a logical process. That's probably the first thing to remember." While popular shows get nominated, "There's certainly not the correspondence with ratings that you'd expect."
"Not even quality," said Collins. "Within that world, Telemundo has kind of been the poor cousin." He says it's tough for them against competitors with more resources.
Familiar faces have a chance to claim - or reclaim - Emmys, including last year's lead comedy actress winner Edie Falco of "Nurse Jackie" and Jim Parsons, best actor for a comedy for "The Big Bang Theory." Both were nominated this year.
Jon Hamm received his fourth lead acting bid for "Mad Men," and this time the competitor who denied him the award three times before isn't in the category. Bryan Cranston and "Breaking Bad" weren't eligible for this year's awards because the series took a break between seasons.
Hamm's new competition includes Steve Buscemi, who received a Golden Globe for his performance as an Atlantic City political boss in "Boardwalk Empire."
Steve Carell earned a best comedy actor nomination for his final season of "The Office," his last chance to win an Emmy statuette for his role as TV's most clueless boss.
Matt LeBlanc, best known for his role as Joey in "Friends," received a lead comedy actor bid for playing a screen version of himself in the satiric show business series "Episodes."
And proving that the Betty White phenomenon still has legs: The 89-year-old wonder nabbed a best supporting actress bid for the sitcom "Hot in Clevand." If she wins, it would be her eighth Emmy.
"I am so thrilled. How lucky can an old broad be?" she said by phone a few minutes after her agent woke her with the news. "I wasn't even thinking about the nominations because I didn't even think there was a chance."
There were fresh faces as well, including best drama actress nominee Mireille Enos of "The Killing" and best drama actor Timothy Olyphant of "Justified."
Kyra Sedgwick of "The Closer," last year's best drama actress winner, found herself closed out of the category this year.
Ed O'Neill, who was snubbed last year for "Modern Family," this year received a supporting actor bid for his role as patriarch in the comedy.
Two Oscar winners, Winslet and Melissa Leo, have a chance to score an Emmy for "Mildred Pierce." Leo, who also appears in the New Orleans drama "Treme," received a supporting actress bid for the miniseries.
Emmy voters have a chance to flaunt their risk-taking side with "Game of Thrones," given the usual resistance to rewarding genre shows. The nominations for "Game of Thrones" surprised Collins. "Fantasy is generally not a genre that does well in the Emmys."
The series based on the George R.R. Martin novels scored a best drama nod but only a single acting bid, for Peter Dinklage in a supporting role.
Other best drama contenders besides "Game" and "Mad Men" are "Boardwalk Empire," "Dexter," "Friday Night Lights" and "The Good Wife."
"Modern Family" is competing with "The Big Bang Theory," "Glee," "The Office," "Parks and Recreation" and "30 Rock" for the best comedy crown. "Parks and Recreation" surprised Collins – "It's kind of a flawed show. It's an interesting flawed show."
The nominations, which were announced by McCarthy and Joshua Jackson of "Fringe" at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences," sets up a clash in a new category that combines the previously separate movies and miniseries.
The contenders besides "Mildred Pierce" and "The Kennedys" are "Cinema Verite," "Downton Abbey," "The Pillars of the Earth" and "Too Big to Fail," about the 2008 U.S. fiscal crisis. Snubbed in the category was the new incarnation of "Upstairs Downstairs," which found its turf poached by the other British class drama, "Downtown Abbey."
"Let's all dress like Mildred Pierce for the Emmys," Mindy Kaling of "The Office" joked in a tweet about the mid-20th century drama based on the James M. Cain novel.
Besides Bates and Enos, other best drama series actress contenders are Connie Britton for "Friday Night Lights," Mariska Hargitay for "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," Julianna Margulies for "The Good Wife" and Elisabeth Moss for "Mad Men."
Hamm, who plays the darkly conflicted Don Draper in "Mad Men," is competing in the lead drama actor category with Buscemi, Olyphant, Kyle Chandler of "Friday Night Lights," Michael C. Hall of "Dexter" and Hugh Laurie of "House" - who has yet to receive a trophy after five previous nods.
List of Emmy Award nominations in major categories
Nominees in major categories for the 2011 Emmy Awards announced Thursday by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
Drama Series: "Boardwalk Empire," HBO; "Dexter," Showtime; "Friday Night Lights," DirecTV; "Game of Thrones," HBO; "The Good Wife," CBS; "Mad Men," AMC.
Comedy Series: "The Big Bang Theory," CBS; "Glee," Fox; "Modern Family," ABC; "The Office," NBC; "Parks and Recreation," NBC; "30 Rock," NBC.
Miniseries or Made-for-TV Movie: "Cinema Verite," HBO; "Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)," PBS; "The Kennedys," ReelzChannel; "Mildred Pierce," HBO; "The Pillars of the Earth," Starz; "Too Big to Fail," HBO.
Actor, Drama Series: Steve Buscemi, "Boardwalk Empire," HBO; Michael C. Hall, "Dexter," Showtime; Kyle Chandler, "Friday Night Lights," DirecTV; Hugh Laurie, "House," Fox; Timothy Olyphant, "Justified," FX Networks; Jon Hamm, "Mad Men," AMC.
Actress, Drama Series: Connie Britton, "Friday Night Lights," DirecTV; Julianna Margulies, "The Good Wife," CBS; Kathy Bates, "Harry's Law," NBC; Mireille Enos, "The Killing," AMC; Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," NBC; Elisabeth Moss, "Mad Men," AMC.
Supporting Actor, Drama Series: Peter Dinklage, "Game of Thrones," HBO; Josh Charles, "The Good Wife," CBS; Alan Cumming, "The Good Wife," CBS; Walton Goggins, "Justified," FX Networks; John Slattery, "Mad Men," AMC; Andre Braugher, "Men of a Certain Age," TNT.
Supporting Actress, Drama Series: Kelly Macdonald, "Boardwalk Empire," HBO; Archie Panjabi, "The Good Wife," CBS; Christine Baranski, "The Good Wife," CBS; Margo Martindale, "Justified," FX Networks; Michelle Forbes, "The Killing," AMC; Christina Hendricks, "Mad Men," AMC.
Actor, Comedy Series: Jim Parsons, "The Big Bang Theory," CBS; Johnny Galecki, "The Big Bang Theory," CBS; Matt LeBlanc, "Episodes," Showtime; Louis C.K., "Louie," FX Networks; Steve Carell, "The Office," NBC; Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock," NBC.
Actress, Comedy Series: Laura Linney, "The Big C," Showtime; Melissa McCarthy, "Mike & Molly," CBS; Edie Falco, "Nurse Jackie," Showtime; Amy Poehler, "Parks and Recreation," NBC; Martha Plimpton, "Raising Hope," Fox; Tina Fey, "30 Rock," NBC.
Supporting Actor, Comedy Series: Chris Colfer, "Glee," Fox; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, "Modern Family," ABC; Ed O'Neill, "Modern Family," ABC; Eric Stonestreet, "Modern Family," ABC; Ty Burrell, "Modern Family," ABC; Jon Cryer, "Two and a Half Men," CBS.
Supporting Actress, Comedy Series: Jane Lynch, "Glee," Fox; Betty White, "Hot in Cleveland," TV Land; Julie Bowen, "Modern Family," ABC; Sofia Vergara, "Modern Family," ABC; Kristen Wiig, "Saturday Night Live," NBC; Jane Krakowski, "30 Rock," NBC.
Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Edgar Ramirez, "Carlos," Sundance Channel; Greg Kinnear, "The Kennedys," ReelzChannel; Barry Pepper, "The Kennedys," ReelzChannel; Idris Elba, "Luther," BBC America; Laurence Fishburne, "Thurgood," HBO; William Hurt, "Too Big to Fail," HBO.
Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Diane Lane, "Cinema Verite," HBO; Elizabeth McGovern, "Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)," PBS; Kate Winslet, "Mildred Pierce," HBO; Taraji P. Henson, "Taken From Me: The Tiffany Rubin Story," Lifetime; Jean Marsh, "Upstairs Downstairs (Masterpiece)," PBS.
Supporting Actor, Miniseries or Movie: Tom Wilkinson, "The Kennedys," ReelzChannel; Guy Pearce, "Mildred Pierce," HBO; Brian F. O'Byrne, "Mildred Pierce," HBO; Paul Giamatti, "Too Big to Fail," HBO; James Woods, "Too Big to Fail," HBO.
Supporting Actress, Miniseries or Movie: Maggie Smith, "Downton Abbey (Masterpiece)," PBS; Evan Rachel Wood, "Mildred Pierce," HBO; Melissa Leo, "Mildred Pierce," HBO; Mare Winningham, "Mildred Pierce," HBO; Eileen Atkins, "Upstairs Downstairs (Masterpiece)," PBS.
Reality Program: "Antiques Roadshow," PBS; "Deadliest Catch," Discovery Channel; "Hoarders," A&E; "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List," Bravo; "MythBusters," Discovery Channel; "Undercover Boss," CBS.
Reality-Competition Program: "The Amazing Race," CBS; "American Idol," Fox; "Dancing With the Stars," ABC; "Project Runway," Lifetime; "So You Think You Can Dance," Fox; "Top Chef," Bravo.
Variety, Music or Comedy Series: "The Colbert Report," Comedy Central; "Conan," TBS; "The Daily Show With Jon Stewart," Comedy Central; "Late Night With Jimmy Fallon," NBC; "Real Time With Bill Maher," HBO; "Saturday Night Live," NBC.
Children's Program: "A Child's Garden of Poetry," HBO; "Degrassi, My Body Is a Cage, Part 2," TeenNick; "iCarly, iGot a Hot Room," Nickelodeon; "Victorious, Freak The Freak Out," Nickelodeon; "Wizards of Waverly Place, Wizards Vs. Angels," Disney Channel.
AP Entertainment Writer Derrik J. Lang contributed to this report.