Some big surprises in Thursday morning's Emmy nominations. The best one: Jim Parsons getting a nomination for best comic actor for his portrayal of a lovably annoying anal-retentive Cal Tech nerd in The Big Bang Theory. Though I've loved the show from the beginning, the CBS sitcom hasn't left a big critical footprint, and only began to pull in viewers late last season, its second. (That's Parsons over on the left, in case you're one of the still-vast number of people who've never even heard of The Big Bang Theory.) The second-best: Showtime's murderous Miami drama Dexter getting a nomination for best drama. Showtime, operating eternally in the shadow of HBO, rarely gets the credit it's due.
Less welcome, in a way, were the startling 22 nominations for NBC's subversive workplace comedy 30 Rock. I'm a big fan of the show, but really -- 22? That says more about the state of TV comedy than it does about 30 Rock. Similarly, AMC's anti-nostalgic Mad Men, about the advertising world of the early 1960s, is terrific, but 16 nominations suggests it's turned from a series into a cult.
And that leads us to the biggest surprise: AMC, which remains fundamentally a channel for old movies with little original programming of its own, nonetheless will be competing against itself in the best-drama category: Both Mad Men and Breaking Bad, AMC's bleak comedy-drama about a high-school chemistry teacher turned meth merchant, got nominations. I don't think there's any network, broadcast or cable, getting more bang for its programming buck.