LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Two period dramas set roughly 200 years apart in American history -- "Mad Men" and and "John Adams" -- will make a run for the Emmy record books as U.S. television's highest honors are handed out on Sunday.
"Mad Men," the critically acclaimed new AMC series set in New York's advertising industry at the cusp of the 1960s social revolution, is heavily favored to become the first show from a cable network other than HBO to win the Emmy for best drama.
Meanwhile, HBO's seven-part story of the nation's second president, "John Adams," is likely to tie or surpass the record for most wins by a miniseries, 11, set in 2004 by HBO's adaptation of the Pulitzer Prize-winning play "Angels in America."
Emmy voters already have made some history by bestowing a record 17 nominations on NBC's self-parody of network TV, "30 Rock," the most for a comedy series in single year.
And they are widely expected to repeat history by crowning "30 Rock" TV's best comedy for a second straight year.
Showbiz awards pundit Tom O'Neil, whose online poll of TV critics and Emmy watchers forecasts winners, said "30 Rock" has proven "irresistible" to members of the Academy of Television of Arts and Sciences because "it's just a brilliant sendup of their own business."
The difference this year, O'Neil said, is that "30 Rock" may bring its two stars, Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin, along for the ride. Baldwin is regarded a virtual shoo-in as best comedy actor for his role as a venal, egotistical network executive.
But Fey, who created, produces and stars in the series as a harried TV show-runner, faces stiff competition from Christina Applegate, the young amnesiac on ABC's new sitcom "Samantha Who?," and from last year's winner, America Ferrera, the plucky heroine of another ABC show, "Ugly Betty."
Not to be counted out in the race for best comedy actress is "Seinfeld" veteran Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who is making a run for her second Emmy as a lovelorn single mom on the CBS sitcom "The New Adventures of Old Christine."
The contest for best actor in a drama is likewise a toss-up. "Boston Legal" star James Spader is favored to clinch his fourth trophy for playing the gifted but ethically shady attorney Alan Shore, a role he originated on the precursor ABC series "The Practice."
However, he faces a tough challenge this year from "Mad Men" star Jon Hamm, who plays a suave advertising executive with a dark past, and Hugh Laurie, the cranky but brilliant doctor on the Fox medical hit "House."
Some critics say Bryan Cranston, a past comedy nominee as a goofy dad on the Fox sitcom "Malcolm in the Middle," poses a dark-horse threat in the drama race for playing a meth-making high school teacher on the new AMC show "Breaking Bad."
The outcome of the race for best actress in a drama is regarded as more certain, with most Emmy pundits ranking five-time Oscar nominee Glenn Close a sure bet for her role as a ruthless trial lawyer on the new FX series "Damages."
Her co-star, "Cheers" veteran Ted Danson, also is given strong odds to be named best supporting actor in a drama.
The contest for supporting actor in a comedy is seen as harder to call, with Neil Patrick Harris of the CBS sitcom "How I Met Your Mother" squaring off against last year's winner, Jeremy Piven, the Hollywood agent on HBO's "Entourage."
The night's biggest single winner is expected to be HBO's "John Adams," the hands-down favorite for best miniseries. And the prize for best actor in that category is likely to go to its star, Paul Giamatti, the paunchy movie performer best known for playing the sad-sack wine enthusiast in "Sideways."
Editing by Eric Walsh