"I think that the whole thing going into this was how well are these cable shows going to do?" People magazine Executive Editor and Early Show entertainment contributor Jess Cagle said.
The HBO historical drama "John Adams" was the overall frontrunner with 23 bids, including a lead-actor nomination for Paul Giamatti's turn as one of America's founding fathers.
"30 Rock," last year's best comedy Emmy winner, was the top nominee among sitcoms with 17 bids. "Mad Men" was the leading drama series contender with 16 nominations, including one for star Jon Hamm.
"The Wire," the just-ended, critically acclaimed HBO drama about police and drug dealers in Baltimore, lost its last shot at a best-drama nod after years of Emmy snubs. It received one nomination Thursday, for writing.
But other cable series made a serious dent in several top categories as broadcast networks watched their share of Emmy nominations glory erode.
In the lead drama actor category, four of the five nominees were stars of cable shows, including Jon Hamm of "Mad Men." In the corresponding actress category, three of the slots went to cable series stars, including Glenn Close of "Damages."
"I'm so glad that Michael C. Hall and Jon Hamm got in there. I think that shows the Emmys are opening it up," Cagle said.
Close said she heard about her nomination from her sister Nancy, who called her on her cell phone as she was being driven to a shooting location on Long Island in New York.
"I don't believe in comparison among artists, but, given the amazing number of talented people in this profession, to be included with a distinguished group of people is a huge honor," Close said.
"Damages" won critical acclaim last year - but not great ratings. She's hoping Emmy attention will boost its audience for season two.
"We need all the help we can get," she said.
HBO failed to field a best-drama series contender for the first time in nearly a decade, after "The Sopranos" claimed the honor last year. But the premium cable channel had a leading 85 bids overall, followed by ABC with 76.
Network audience favorites that failed to make a serious showing included "Grey's Anatomy" and "Desperate Housewives," both left out of the best-series categories, although "Grey's" stars Sandra Oh and Chandra Wilson received nominations.
"Lost," rebounding with a well-received season, joined "Mad Men" and "Damages" in the best-drama series category with six nominees, including "Boston Legal, "Dexter" and "House."
Other best comedy series nominees besides "30 Rock" were "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "Entourage," "The Office" and "Two And a Half Men."
Oh and Wilson are competing in the best supporting drama actress category that last year was won by castmate Katherine Heigl - who took herself of the running this time, blaming her decision on lackluster scripts.
Lower profile categories included plenty of star power. Competing in outstanding guest actress in a drama series category are Ellen Burstyn, Diahann Carroll, Cynthia Nixon, Angjelica Huston and Sharon Gless. Guest actress in a comedy nominees are Polly Bergen, Kathryn Joosten, Sarah Silverman, Carrie Fisher, Edie Falco and Elaine Stritch.
Robin Williams earned a guest actor drama series nod for his turn on "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit."
Joining Hamm with lead drama acting nods were last year's winner James Spader, "Boston Legal," Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad," Michael C. Hall, "Dexter," Hugh Laurie, "House" and Gabriel Byrne, "In Treatment."
Close's competition for lead drama actress honors includes 2007 winner Sally Field for "Brothers & Sisters," Kyra Sedgwick, "The Closer," Mariska Hargitay, "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and Holly Hunter, "Saving Grace."
Actresses nominated for best comedy series were Tina Fey of "30 Rock," the series she created; last year's honoree America Ferrera of "Ugly Betty," Christina Applegate, "Samantha Who?" and Mary-Louise Parker, "Weeds."
Nods for comedy series actors went to Tony Shalhoub for "Monk," Steve Carrell, "The Office," Lee Pace, "Pushing Daisies," Alec Baldwin, "30 Rock" and Charlie Sheen, "Two And A Half Men."
The best miniseries category that's dominated by "Adams" also includes "The Andromeda Strain," "Cranford" and "Tin Men."
Ryan Seacrest, host of top-rated series "American Idol" made the cut in the new category of best host for a reality or reality-competition show. Other nominees were Tom Bergeron of "Dancing with the Stars," Howie Mandel of "Deal or No Deal," Heidi Klum of "Project Runway" and Jeff Probst of "Surivor."
Nominees in the top categories for the 60th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards were announced at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences by Kristin Chenoweth, Neil Patrick Harris and TV academy Chairman John Shaffner.
Shaffner surprised Harris and Chenoweth at the end of the telecast by announcing each actor's supporting-actor nomination. Chenoweth, of "Pushing Daisies," stood open-jawed, while Harris, from "How I Met Your Mother," pumped his fist and said, "Nice!"
The trio then blew out candles on a birthday cake to celebrate the Emmys' 60th anniversary.
The Emmy Awards ceremony will be held Sept. 21 and broadcast on ABC. Other Emmy honors, including those for technical achievement and guest actors and actresses in series, will be given at the creative arts ceremony on Sept. 13.