For the second year in a row, AMC made television history, earning more Emmy nominations Thursday than any other basic cable network. AMC, known mostly as a repository of old Hollywood movies, broke its own record of 20 nominations with 23 this year.
But even more notable is that both of its original dramas, "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad," managed to secure nominations for outstanding drama, pushing the network past such competitors as USA, FX and TNT, which air some of the most popular series in basic cable.
"We've been saying for a few years that we wanted to be the place where stories matter more than anywhere else," said AMC's president and general manager, Charlie Collier. "It really starts with the creators of the show, and we have been able to create an environment where the best authors on TV are coming to AMC and thriving, and we feel great about that."
"Mad Men," which last year became the first basic cable show to win an Emmy for top series, received 16 nominations, including a second nod for actor Jon Hamm and supporting players John Slattery and Elisabeth Moss. "Breaking Bad," the sophomore series about a teacher who turns to dealing crystal meth to pay for his cancer treatments, earned five nominations. AMC also earned two nominations for its talk show "Storymakers."
Considering that he thought his show would never get made and that its first season was shortened to seven episodes because of the writers strike, "Breaking Bad" creator Vince Gilligan said he was doubly proud of the recognition.
Two of the show's actors were nominated: Bryan Cranston, who took home the trophy last year for his turn as the complex and desperate teacher Walt White, and Aaron Paul, who plays Jesse Pinkman, the unfortunate former student Walt enlists to turn an RV into a mobile home meth lab.
"It was such a crazy idea when I came up with it," Gilligan said. "I thought maybe I'd turn it into a movie. First, [Sony Pictures Television] signed on, and they were a little nervous, but in an excited way. And then AMC came along -- before 'Mad Men' was on the air -- and they went after it with such gusto and intelligence. I still can't believe it."
Paul said he was "freaking out" about his nomination and was proud that the show made the list.
"Everyone involved in this show, we all know that this is such a special part of TV history," said Paul, who also has a recurring role on HBO's "Big Love," which was nominated for best drama as well. "I just love this series, and I love the way that the viewers are all pulling for [Jesse]. It means a lot to me."
In fact, by the end of the second season, many viewers felt more compassion for Jesse than for Walt, which Cranston completely understands.
"Walt was seduced by the power that this new life gave him," Cranston said. "To his credit, he had no idea this was going to happen. It hit him broadside, this feeling that for the first time in his life he's powerful and intimidating. That's where the show is successful -- that you don't have to root for Walt to be compelled to watch him."
Some of "Mad Men's" nominations went to creator Matthew Weiner, who is competing against himself in the writing category four times. His only competitor is the "Lost" executive producing team of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.
"As a professional writer, I've been racking my brain trying to find something negative about the situation, and I can't," Weiner said.