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Cable TV shows break through at Emmys

Two new cable TV shows, "Mad Men" and "Damages," claimed Emmy nominations for best drama series on Thursday, marking a turning point in the 60-year-old competition for US television's highest honours.

"Mad Men," the AMC network's 1960s period piece set in the world of advertising, and "Damages," the freshman legal hour on FX starring Glenn Close, are the first two shows airing exclusively on a cable network other than HBO that were nominated for best drama series.

They will be competing against the serial killer drama "Dexter," from Showtime and CBS, as well as the Fox medical drama "House" and ABC's castaway thriller "Lost," which won the best-drama Emmy in 2005 in its first season.

But NBC's show-within-a-show "30 Rock" was the most recognized series overall with 17 nominations, including a nod for best comedy, a category it won last year. "Mad Men" was close behind with 16 total nominations.

"30 Rock," a spoof of network television, will compete in the comedy series race against fellow NBC workplace sitcom and 2006 comedy champ "The Office," the bawdy CBS hit "Two and a Half Men" and a pair of HBO series, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Entourage."

But HBO, home of such past Emmy darlings as "The Sopranos" and "Deadwood," was shut out of the best drama derby for the first time since 1998.

Still, the heavy presence of contenders from a variety of cable channels reflected the recent flourishing of cable as an incubator for high-quality dramas. Emmy watchers said that phenomenon was made more pronounced by the shortened season on broadcast TV this year due to the Hollywood writers strike.

"This represents the changing of the guard in a lot of ways," said Ken Ehrlich, executive producer of the upcoming Emmy telecast.

He said the inclusion of shows like "Mad Men," "Damages" and "Dexter" in top categories heralds the arrival of "some really fresh new shows."

While "30 Rock" was the most nominated series, HBO's mini-series "John Adams," about the second US president, claimed the most nominations of any single program - 23.

Other contenders in that category include the PBS "Masterpiece Theatre" presentation of "Cranford," A&E's production of the science-fiction thriller "The Andromeda Strain" and Sci Fi Channel's "Tin Man."

The 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be broadcast live on 21 September from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles on ABC.