2012 Emmy Awards: “Mad Men” and “American Horror Story” Lead the Way

Adman Don Draper and madman Walter White will renew their rivalry Sunday night at the 2012 Emmy Awards, while a couple of upstarts will try find their place in a field that appears unusually wide open.

AMC's "Mad Men" (17 nominations) tied "American Horror Story" for the most nominations, and finds itself in position to claim an unprecedented fifth consecutive Best Drama award. But to do so, it will have to overcome one of the strongest fields in the awards' history, as it goes up against "Boardwalk Empire" (12), "Breaking Bad" (13) "Downton Abbey" (16) "Game of Thrones" (11) and "Homeland" (9).

And while "Breaking Bad" tries to upend "Mad Men," "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm will try to finally win Best Actor in a Drama, a prize that has been denied him three times by "Breaking Bad" star Bryan Cranston.  Hamm goes up against Hamm's best chance at victory came last year when Cranston was ineligible, but "Friday Night Lights" star Kyle Chandler beat him to the punch. Cranston is again nominated this year.

It's not just the drama field that's particularly impressive, as the stars of two new entries in the Comedy category have quickly risen to new heights. The words "television" and "auteur" don’t often find their way into the same sentence, but this year's Emmy nominations find both Lena Dunham and Louie CK getting nods for writing, directing and acting.

Dunham, whose "Girls" (5) is also up for Best Comedy Series, is the creative force behind the most divisive show on TV. Hailed by some as a genius, dismissed by others as a hack, Dunham's show was so affecting that even some people who professed to hate "Girls" couldn’t help but watch.

"Louie" (4), Louis CK's self-titled show, meanwhile, has established itself as TV's most original, unpredictable and disorienting comedy. The show explores the vagaries of parenting, artistic pride, racism and romance, and on more than one occasion finds out hero in some toe-curling sexual encounters. Louis CK also received three other nominations for his brilliant stand-up special, "Louis CK: Live at the Beacon Theater."

"Girls" will join "30 Rock" (7), "The Big Bang Theory" (5), "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (5), and "Veep" (3) in trying to knock off two-time defending Best Comedy champ "Modern Family" (14). How "Louie" got left out of this mix is a mystery—when you've got nomination-worthy acting, writing and directing, you pretty much have the bases covered, no?

The ascension of "Girls" and "Louie" represents a changing of the guard, as for the first time since 2005, neither "The Office" nor "House" received a nomination in any category.

Once again, the Outstanding Miniseries or Movie category is stacked, with "American Horror Story," vying with "Hatfield & McCoys" (16), "Hemingway & Gellhorn" (15) "Game Change" (12), "Luther" (4) and "Sherlock Holmes: A Scandal on Belgravia" (13).

This crop of nominees may force the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences to to again tweak their categories. It doesn't quite seem fair that "AHS" with its 13-episode arc competes with the 6-hour "Hatfield & McCoys" and the stand-alone "Sherlock Holmes" and "Game Change" entries. This isn't to suggest that anyone enjoys an unfair advantage, necessarily, but each one is trying to do something very different.

Jimmy Kimmel will serve as host of this year's Emmys, and presenters this year will include Louis C.K., Jon Cryer, Claire Danes, Jeremy Davies, Zooey Deschanel, Tina Fey, Ricky Gervais, Ginnifer Goodwin, Mindy Kaling, Melissa McCarthy, Jim Parsons, Martha Plimpton, Amy Poehler, Emily VanCamp, Kerry Washington, Giancarlo Esposito, Michael J. Fox, Jon Hamm, Julianna Margulies and Julianne Moore, along with Andre Braugher, Connie Britton, Ron Howard, Lucy Liu and Keifer Sutherland.

Coverage of the 64th annual Emmy Awards on Emmys.com will begin with Backstage Live! at 7 p.m., followed by the ceremony at 8 p.m. (ET) on ABC.

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