"Mad Men," AMC's saga of ad exec Don Draper and 1960s America, has won four best drama series trophies to tie with "Hill Street Blues," "L.A. Law" and "The West Wing." A fifth nomination at Thursday morning's announcement ceremony would give it a shot at the record.
Newcomers "Girls" and "New Girl" are vying for honors in the comedy series categories.
The nominations by the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences were to be announced by late-night host Jimmy Kimmel and Kerry Washington of "Scandal."
Kimmel, who will host the Sept. 23 Emmy ceremony on ABC, is stepping in for Nick Offerman of "Parks and Recreation," who was delayed on the East Coast by weather problems.
Besides "Mad Men," other front-runners for one of the six best drama slots include "Homeland," "Breaking Bad," "The Good Wife," "Game of Thrones," "Boardwalk Empire" and "Downton Abbey."
PBS' "Downton Abbey," the elegant British-born soap opera that was named best miniseries last year for its first season, switched categories this time.
ABC's "Modern Family," honored as best comedy series for two consecutive years, likely will get a shot at extending its streak and earning more Emmy gold for its stars, including past winners Julie Bowen, Ty Burrell and Eric Stonestreet.
Although actually winning trophies may be shooting for the moon, "Girls," created by and starring Lena Dunham, and "New Girl," with Zooey Deschanel, are good bets for nominations.
"Girls" is HBO's "current spin on 'Sex and the City,' which was a strong past Emmy favorite," said Tom O'Neil, editor of award website Gold Derby. "Lena Dunham is the toast of Hollywood today, so expect her new show to do swell."
Fox's "New Girl," a critical success that's earned respectable ratings, also could reap bids, O'Neil said.
"Girls" is a darkly comedic coming-of-age story, while "New Girl" uses Deschanel's offbeat charm in a more standard sitcom format.
The two are part of a wave of female-centric comedies that hit TV in the wake of the box-office success of "Bridesmaids." Also in the mix is the CBS freshman hit "2 Broke Girls," but its raunchier tone may affect its Emmy prospects.
Some lead actors hope to repeat their Emmy triumphs from last year, including winners Julianna Margulies of "The Good Wife," Melissa McCarthy of "Mike & Molly" and Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory." Bryan Cranston, whose "Breaking Bad" drama aired outside the competition window for the 2011 awards, is back and could add to his three trophies for the role of teacher-turned-drug-maker.
Emmy voters have a chance to sound a last hurrah for "House" and star Hugh Laurie and for "Desperate Housewives" and its ensemble cast. Both shows wrapped their eight-year runs last season, their sizzle and ratings lower than in their salad days.
Some contenders may be jaded. "The Amazing Race" has won in the reality competition category eight times and undoubtedly will have a shot at a ninth victory. "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" has won nine times, and Jeff Probst has dominated the reality host category with four wins for "Survivor."
Among movies and miniseries, the field likely will include "Game Change," a dramatized version of the 2008 McCain-Palin campaign, "Hatfields & McCoys" and "Sherlock."
Also in the hunt is "American Horror Story," which pulled a reverse "Downton Abbey" move: It competed as a drama series in the Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild awards, then rebranded itself as a miniseries for the Emmys.