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 record as the most-honored drama in television history.
"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.
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 and journalist Martha Gellhorn, Julianne Moore for her portrayal of Sarah Palin in "Game Change" and Kevin Costner for "Hatfields & McCoys."
Rising British star Benedict Cumberbatch won a bid for his contemporary "Sherlock" portrayal. "Sherlock: A Scandal in Belgravia" earned 13 bids as a "Masterpiece" movie on PBS.
"Mad Men" star Jon Hamm, who hasn't shared in his show's string of wins, will have his fifth shot at a lead actor Emmy. Bryan Cranston, the "Breaking Bad" star who denied Hamm the award three times before, was nominated again for his role as a teacher with cancer who gets embroiled in drug trafficking.
"Our show is like stinky cheese," Cranston said. "You have to develop a taste for it."
Also nominated were Steve Buscemi for "Boardwalk Empire," Michael C. Hall for "Dexter," Hugh Bonneville for "Downton Abbey" and Damian Lewis for "Homeland."
Buscemi found out he'd earned a nomination on a day he was scheduled to go to the "Boardwalk Empire" set. "I'm glad I'm working today so I get a chance to see everybody, so that the nominations are still fresh. I think it will lift everybody's spirits today," he said.
In the actress category, last year's winner Julianna Margulies of "The Good Wife" is joined by Moss, Claire Danes for "Homeland," Glenn Close for "Damages," Michelle Dockery of "Downton Abbey" and Kathy Bates of "Harry's Law."
On the comedy side, Jim Parsons of "The Big Bang Theory" got a bid and the chance for a third victory. Also nominated were Alec Baldwin of "30 Rock," Louis C.K. of "Louie," Jon Cryer of "Two and a Half Men," Don Cheadle of "House of Lies" and Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Among lead comedy actresses, McCarthy is joined by Dunham, Deschanel, Amy Poehler of "Parks and Recreation," Edie Falco of "Nurse Jackie" and Tina Fey of "30 Rock."
The ensemble cast of "Modern Family" cleaned up in the supporting comedy categories, with Ed O'Neill, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ty Burrell and Eric Stonestreet capturing four of the six slots and actresses Julie Bowen and Sofia Vergara showing the flag for the women.
Max Greenfield, who plays Schmidt on "New Girl," won a nomination for best supporting actor in a comedy and was already thinking of the awards ceremony.
"Zooey and I are coordinating outfits right now," he said. "We're trying to figure out what we're gonna wear. We obviously don't wanna wear the same thing. Can you imagine how embarrassing that would be?"
AP Entertainment Writers Jake Coyle in New York and Derrik J. Lang in Los Angeles contributed to this report.
By LYNN ELBER