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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Will the "Mad Men" of U.S. television score a second Emmy best drama victory and can anyone stop comic actress Tina Fey and "30 Rock"?
The U.S. television industry bestows its highest honors on Sunday at the 61st Prime Time Emmy Awards in a ceremony hosted by actor Neil Patrick Harris that is expected to be dominated by two very different shows.
NBC's self-parody of network TV, "30 Rock", goes into Sunday with a leading 22 nominations, including best comedy, best comic actress for Fey -- its star and creator -- and best comedy actor for Alec Baldwin, who all won Emmys last year.
"Mad Men", the AMC series set in the 1960s advertising industry, has 16 nominations and is favored to repeat its win last year, when it became the first series from a cable network other than HBO to win the Emmy for best drama.
"I think we will definitely see repeats of the best drama and comedy winners of last year, and we risk seeing repeats of all of the top winners for the first time in Emmy history," said Tom O'Neil of awards web site www.theenvelope.com.
"There's going to be a lot of outcry if that happens and unjustifiably so, because if these shows deserve to win, they should. But people want fresh new things," he said.
The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences expanded the number of nominees this year in a bid to acknowledge the range of offerings on more than 120 network and cable channels available to American viewers.
The move brought in fresh faces like Fox's irreverent cartoon series "Family Guy," HBO's polygamy drama "Big Love" and actor Jim Parsons of the CBS comedy "The Big Bang Theory".
But O'Neil said Glenn Close looked unstoppable in her bid to repeat her best drama actress win for the FX legal series "Damages" despite challenges from Elisabeth Moss ("Mad Men), Sally Field ("Brothers & Sisters"), Kyra Sedgwick in "The Closer", Mariska Hargitay in crowd-pleaser "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" and Holly Hunter in "Saving Grace."
The race looks tighter for best drama actor, with Hugh Laurie's grouchy doctor in the Fox medical series "House" posing the strongest challenge to last year's surprise winner Bryan Cranston, who plays a drug-dealing teacher in AMC's "Breaking Bad".
"Many (Emmy) voters may ... keep in mind that Hugh Laurie is way overdue for an Emmy win, and this year might be the perfect time to do so," said Rob Licuria of www.awardsheaven.net.
Jon Hamm's dapper ad executive on "Mad Men," "In Treatment" therapist Gabriel Byrne, Michael C. Hall's serial killer in "Dexter," and Australian Simon Baker of "The Mentalist" are also in the running for best actor in a drama.
There could also be surprises in the best variety or comedy category, which has been dominated in recent years by Jon Stewart's "The Daily Show" on Comedy Central
Industry watchers said Emmy voters may tip their hat this year to NBC's "Saturday Night Live," which more than doubled its audiences last fall with its presidential campaign skits.
In the technical portion of the Emmys last week, Fey picked up a trophy for her uncanny impersonations of ex-Republican vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, while singer Justin Timberlake was honored for playing various characters on "SNL".
Reality competition shows have had their own category for six years, but the Emmy has gone each time to "The Amazing Race" on CBS. Rivals this year include "American Idol," "Dancing with the Stars," "Top Chef" and "Project Runway."
HBO is a unit of Time Warner Inc. ABC is owned by the Walt Disney Co; NBC is a division of the NBC Universal unit of General Electric Co; Fox and FX are part of News Corp. CBS is part of CBS Corp; AMC is owned by Cablevision Systems Corp.
Editing by Xavier Briand