LOS ANGELES - "Mad Men," a piercingly bleak portrait of a 1960s American anti-hero, earned a leading 17 Emmy nominations Thursday and the chance to set a new record as the most-honored drama in television history.
AMC's "Mad Men," which has won four best drama series trophies and is tied with "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and "The West Wing," received a fifth bid in the category.
"It's insane. I can't believe it," said "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner. "I can't believe we are on the air. I can't believe that people don't call AMC A&E anymore. I'm so proud of the network."
The miniseries "American Horror Story," a nightmarish saga about a haunted house, received a matching 17 awards, including an acting nod for star Connie Britton.
Other leading nominees include the elegant British-born soap opera "Downton Abbey," which earned 16 bids, and two miniseries, "Hatfields & McCoys," with 16, and "Hemingway & Gellhorn" with 15.
"Modern Family," honored as best comedy series for the past two years, was the sitcom leader with 14 bids and practically ran the table in supporting actor nods, but the category also saw an infusion of girl power.
Breakout comedies with women at their center -- in fashion after the box-office success of "Bridesmaids" -- proved alluring to Emmy voters.
"Girls," creator-star Lena Dunham's darkly comedic coming-of-age New York story, received a best comedy nod and acting, writing and directing nominations for her. Zooey Deschanel's offbeat charm in "New Girl" earned her an acting bid.
"I have had the shriekiest morning of my life," said Dunham, as she arrived on set to shoot the second season of "Girls." `'I literally feel like I got asked to the prom and engaged and told I was going to the moon all in one day. Not to be too dramatic."
"I jumped around in my bed and I ran down the hall that's in my apartment building that's not even part of my house without my pants on," she said.
"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.
Melissa McCarthy, who appeared in "Bridesmaids," has a chance to repeat last year's victory as best comedy actress winner for "Mike & Molly."
Emmy darling Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with past wins for "Seinfeld" and "New Adventures of Old Christine," earned an acting nod for "Veep," which received a best comedy nomination.
Betty White, 90, brought her brand of female empowerment to the nominations, earning two nominations -- best reality series host nod for "Betty White's Off Their Rockers" and best variety special for "Betty White's 90th Birthday: A Tribute to America's Golden Girl."
White may have banished someone else from the best reality show host category: A no-show this time was perennial winner Jeff Probst of "Survivor."
Top nominations were announced by Kerry Washington of "Scandal" and by Jimmy Kimmel, who will host the awards and who filled in Thursday for Nick Offerman of "Parks and Recreation," held up by weather-related travel delays on the East Coast.
"This is a sex dream, isn't it?" joked Kimmel, ABC's late-night host, who arrived on stage at the TV academy dressed in pajamas. "Jimmy Kimmel Live" was nominated in the variety category.
The Emmy ceremony is scheduled to air on ABC on Sept. 23.
Academy voters paid tribute to the late Kathryn Joosten, who received a supporting actress bid for her role as Wisteria Lane neighbor Karen McClusky in "Desperate Housewives." Joosten, who had won two Emmys for the role, died in June of lung cancer.
The other show's stars failed to make the Emmy cut for its eighth and final season. Hugh Laurie, whose show "House" also wrapped after eight years, didn't get a last shot at winning a trophy for his cranky Dr. House.
"American Idol," TV's top-rated talent show, was shut out of the best reality series contest, although Ryan Seacrest was nominated as host. It's biggest competition in the reality-singing category, "The Voice," did get a nod.
Competition for "Mad Men" and "Downton Abbey" includes national security drama "Homeland," prohibition-era crime saga "Boardwalk Empire," teacher-turned-drugmaker tale "Breaking Bad" and the elaborate fantasy "Game of Thrones," based on George R.R. Martin's novels.
"Downton Abbey," which has earned ratings and buzz for PBS, was named best miniseries last year but was switched to the drama category this time around. The TV academy's prime-time awards committee decided its continuing story line made it a series.
"American Horror Story" decided to move to the miniseries category after competing as a drama series in the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards.
Besides "Modern Family," `'Girls" and "Veep," comedy series nominees include "The Big Bang Theory," `'30 Rock" and "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Big-screen stars who have a shot at the small-screen trophy for their TV movie work include Clive Owen and Nicole Kidman for "Hemingway & Gellhorn," about the tumultuous romance of Ernest Hemingway