LOS ANGELES (AP) — "Mad Men" is on the brink of making Emmy drama series history, Lena Dunham's comedy "Girls" is the buzz du jour, and both are on cable. As Thursday's nominations proved, the gap between cable and the broadcast networks is stunningly wide and only getting wider.
Five out of six best drama series slots were claimed by cable shows, both premium and basic, with the sixth going to PBS. Networks, which had controlled the comedy genre last year, lost fully half of that turf to "Girls," ''Veep" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm," all HBO.
Not a single actor in a network drama series earned a lead or supporting bid for September's Emmy Awards.
Cable channels offer so much awards-caliber programming that even theatrical films, increasingly dependent on action films and adolescent comedies, can look shabby in comparison.
"A lot of what's happening on cable TV, you'd be hard-pressed to see that happen in a studio film," said Don Cheadle, whose performance in Showtime's "House of Lies" earned him a best comedy actor bid. "Right now, one of the most difficult things to put together are movies which have interesting content and adult themes."
For writers and actors who want to pursue creative work, that leaves independent films or the expanding number of cable channels willing to invest in ambitious scripted projects.
Lena Dunham, who made a splash with her indie film "Tiny Furniture," breathed life into the TV sitcom with "Girls," a darkly comedic coming-of-age New York story on HBO. It received a best comedy nod and acting, writing and directing nominations for her.
She described the experience of debuting the much-buzzed about "Girls" as "this feeling of finding your audience in this incredibly clear, beautiful way and being shocked that people were connecting to what I was doing and being amazed by the level of debate it was starting."
"Girls" is HBO's "current spin on 'Sex and the City,' which was a strong past Emmy favorite," said Tom O'Neil, editor of the Gold Derby awards website. He called Dunham the current "toast of Hollywood."
History Channel moved into scripted fare in a big way (after backing away from airing the controversial "The Kennedys") with its "Hatfields & McCoy," starring Kevin Costner, which earned solid reviews and spectacular ratings this spring and 16 nods Thursday.
The miniseries was the most-watched entertainment telecast ever on basic cable, drawing about 13 million each for its first two parts and hitting a high of 14.3 million for its third chapter. The best the networks had to offer that week: NBC's "America's Got Talent," seen by 11.5 million people.
Networks increasingly rely on talent contests and sports, programming that invites live viewing and means fewer people will record the airings and skip commercials. News magazines, relatively cheap to produce, have been another broadcast staple.