LOS ANGELES (AP) – The sprawling and bloodthirsty saga “Game of Thrones,” defying the Emmy Awards’ grudging respect for such fantasy fare, emerged as the leader in the nominations announced Thursday with 19 bids, including best drama series.
Other top nominees included a pair of ambitious miniseries, “Fargo,” with 18 bids, and “American Horror Story: Coven,” with 17. The AIDS drama “The Normal Heart” received 16 nominations, including best TV movie. The meth kingpin tale “Breaking Bad” got 16 bids for its final season, including best drama and a best actor nod for star Bryan Cranston.
The 66th prime-time Emmy Awards ceremony will have big-screen star power to spare. This year’s Academy Awards best-actor winner Matthew McConaughey (“Dallas Buyers Club”) and nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) are both nominees for TV projects, as is past Oscar winner Julia Roberts.
In the competitive best-drama series category, “Game of Thrones” will compete with “Breaking Bad,” “Downton Abbey,” “House of Cards,” “Mad Men” and “True Detective.”
Whether HBO’s “Game of Thrones” can take home the top trophy is another question: Only one fantasy or sci-fi series, “Lost,” has ever captured it, according to Tom O'Neil, author of “The Emmys” and organizer of the Gold Derby awards site.
Snubbed in the category was “The Good Wife,” despite a season that was both critically acclaimed and gasp-inducing for the sudden, violent death of character Will Gardner (Josh Charles).
Netflix’s “House of Cards” which made a breakthrough last year as the first online series nominated for a major award, has the chance again to grab Emmy gold.
“Orange is the New Black,” also from Netflix, leaped that barrier on the flip side this time around with a bid for best comedy series, along with a nod for star Taylor Schilling.
Also competing for best comedy honors are “The Big Bang Theory,” “Louie,” “Silicon Valley,” “Veep,” and “Modern Family,” a four-time winner that has the chance to tie “Frasier” as the all-time winning sitcom with one more award.
“Orange is the New Black,” a prison-set hybrid “dramedy,” could have been entered in either the drama or comedy category, and the decision to go for the latter paid off. Not so for “Shameless,” a onetime drama contender that tried for better luck on the comedy side but failed to get a top bid.
Another category-buster is “True Detective,” the dark-hearted Southern drama that starred McConaughey and Woody Harrelson. It was entered in the series category although it had a close-ended story and its stars have indicated they don’t plan on returning for the show’s second season.
But the crime anthology qualifies as a series because of the “created by” credit given to Nic Pizzolatto by the Writers Guild of America, said John Leverence, the TV academy’s senior vice president for awards. That credit serves as a “marker” to help determine a program’s first-year Emmy categorization, which can be ambiguous, Leverence said.
McConaughey and Harrelson both will vie for best drama actor honors, along with four-time winner Cranston for “Breaking Bad,” Jon Hamm for “Mad Men,” Kevin Spacey for “House of Cards,” and Jeff Daniels for “The Newsroom,” who won the Emmy last year.
Nominees in the lead actress drama category are last year’s winner, “Homeland” star Claire Danes along with Lizzy Caplan for “Masters of Sex,” Michelle Dockery for “Downton Abbey,” Julianna Margulies for “The Good Wife,” Kerry Washington for “Scandal” and Robin Wright for “House of Cards.”
“I’m crazy grateful that the TV Academy has acknowledged our show in these ways,” Washington said in a statement, giving a shoutout to fellow “Scandal” nominees Joe Morton and Kate Burton. They were recognized in the guest actor and actress categories.
For comedy series, the lead actor nods went to Don Cheadle for “House of Lies,” Louis C.K. for “Louie,” Ricky Gervais for “Derek,” Matt LeBlanc for “Episodes,” William H. Macy for “Shameless” and Jim Parsons for “The Big Bang Theory.” Parsons won the Emmy last year.
Best actress comedy nominees besides Schilling were Lena Dunham for “Girls,” Edie Falco for “Nurse Jackie,” Melissa McCarthy for “Mike & Molly,” Amy Poehler for “Parks and Recreation” and last year’s winner, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, for “Veep.”
“This list of nominees would also be the list for the best dinner party in history,” “Girls” creator and star Dunham said in a statement, dubbing them “fierce and funny women.”
With a resurgence of so-called long-form drama, the TV academy separated the best movie and miniseries categories that had been combined for several years because of scant entries. The acting categories, however, remain a mix of the two.
In the miniseries category, “American Horror Story: Coven” and “Fargo,” a riff on the 1996 movie of the same name, will compete with “Bonnie & Clyde,” “Luther,” “Treme” and “The White Queen.”
Along with “The Normal Heart,” the TV movie nominees are “Killing Kennedy,” “Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight,” “Sherlock: His Last Vow (Masterpiece)” and “The Trip to Bountiful.”
Roberts is a supporting actress nominee for “The Normal Heart.” Ejiofor earned a bid for the miniseries “Dancing on the Edge.”
The 66th Primetime Emmy Awards will air Monday, Aug. 25, on NBC, with emcee Seth Meyers, the former “Saturday Night Live” player and new NBC late-night host. The ceremony, traditionally held on Sunday, was moved to avoid a conflict with NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” and with MTV’s Video Music Awards.
HBO received a leading 99 nominations, followed by CBS with 47; NBC, 46; FX Networks, 45; ABC, 37; PBS, 34; Showtime, 24, and Fox, 18.
Lynn Elber is a national television columnist for The Associated Press. She can be reached at lelber(at)ap.org and on Twitter at http://twitter.com/lynnelber .