But innovation is coming from shows like "Mad Men," which earned a leading 17 Emmy nominations and the chance to earn its fifth best drama award and set a new record as the most-honored drama in television history.
The shows it's currently tied with and could leave behind: the broadcast dramas "Hill Street Blues," ''L.A. Law" and "The West Wing," which once represented the best of TV.
"I always use 'L.A. Law' as an example," said "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner. "If you went to pitch 'L.A. Law' to NBC right now, you'd end up on Showtime."
But he said he's hesitant to talk about the broadcast vs. cable dynamic.
"It's because, in the end, I think people should remember that the same companies are making both products, and really it's a diversification businesswise," he said. "If you are in the business of Viacom, you are making 'Homeland' and you are making 'The Mentalist.'"
"There is always room to take a risk when you don't have to deliver 25 million people, and that's an unfair advantage," Weiner said.
That leaves Showtime able to boast about the nine nominations "Homeland" earned for its first year, including best drama series, while "The Mentalist" has earned a single nomination, for star Simon Baker, since it debuted in 2008.
Other leading nominees for the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards include the elegant British-born soap opera "Downton Abbey," which earned 16 bids, and the movie "Hemingway & Gellhorn" with 15.
The network standout: the clever and popular "Modern Family," honored as best comedy series for the past two years, which was the sitcom leader with 14 bids and practically ran the table in supporting actor nods.
The Emmy ceremony will air Sept. 23 with Jimmy Kimmel as host.
HBO had a leading 81 nominations, while CBS had the highest network total with 60. PBS received 58 nods, followed by NBC with 51, ABC with 48, AMC with 34, Fox with 26 and Showtime with 22.
AP Entertainment Writers Jake Coyle in New York and Derrik J. Lang and Sandy Cohen in Los Angeles contributed to this report.