"Six Feet Under'' and "The West Wing,'' the Emmy front-runners, will be laboring under handicaps at the awards ceremony in September.
Last year, HBO's macabre funeral home drama was the top nominee with 23 but converted only one into a major award, for directing. Can "Six Feet Under'' exhume more trophies among the 16 nominations it received this year?
NBC's "The West Wing,'' which received 15 bids, is a three-time best-drama series winner. But the White House drama slipped in the ratings and in critical esteem last season - and writer-producer Aaron Sorkin's recent departure from the show could affect Emmy voting.
"People ask how does the (TV) academy think, and I have to say I have no idea,'' said Alan Ball, creator of "Six Feet Under.''
Even when it comes to nominations, he said, "I go into these things without any expectations. I think you have to.''
Competing in the best drama series category with "Six Feet Under'' and "The West Wing'' are HBO's "The Sopranos,'' Fox's "24'' and CBS' "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.''
"The Sopranos,'' back in contention after missing out on last year's awards because it didn't air during the eligibility period, received 13 nominations, as did the comedies CBS' "Everybody Loves Raymond'' and HBO's "Sex and the City.''
Other nominated comedy series were HBO's "Curb Your Enthusiasm,'' NBC's "Will & Grace'' and last year's winner, "Friends,'' also on NBC.
HBO dominated the nominations with its highest-ever total, 109. NBC was second with 77, followed by CBS with 59, Fox with 37 and ABC with 33. PBS earned 16 nominations.
"Six Feet Under'' earned lead acting bids for Peter Krause, who plays troubled undertaker Nate Fisher and Frances Conroy, who plays his mother. Cast members Rachel Griffiths and Lauren Ambrose were nominated in the supporting category, and guest-appearance nominations went to James Cromwell and Kathy Bates.
Although the character of Ruth Fisher has a plain exterior, Conroy said she enjoys drawing out the humor and sadness from a woman "who doesn't seem to be a peacock in her life.''
Conroy said she isn't concerned about the show getting shut out of most awards, like last year.
"I think the Emmys are a lovely event and everybody should just be happy to be there,'' she said.
Jennifer Aniston, the reigning best comedy series actress, was nominated again. Other nominees were Patricia Heaton of "Everybody Loves Raymond,'' Jane Kaczmarek of "Malcolm in the Middle,'' Debra Messing of "Will & Grace'' and Sarah Jessica Parker of "Sex and the City.''
Kaczmarek, taking part in the announcements Thursday, laughed and playfully dropped to the stage floor after hearing her name called.
Ray Romano will have a chance to repeat his best comedy actor award for "Everybody Loves Raymond.'' Other nominees were Matt LeBlanc of "Friends,'' Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm,'' Bernie Mac of "The Bernie Mac Show,'' Eric McCormack of "Will & Grace'' and Tony Shalhoub of "Monk.''
Shalhoub received his nomination for USA cable channel's comedy-drama in which he plays an obsessive-compulsive detective.
Besides Conroy, other actresses nominated in the drama series category: Edie Falco of "The Sopranos,'' Jennifer Garner of "Alias,'' Marg Helgenberger of "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation'' and Allison Janney of "The West Wing,'' who took home the trophy last year.
In addition to Krause, a drama series acting bid went to last year's surprise winner, Michael Chiklis of "The Shield,'' who garnered the first such honor for a basic cable show. Other nominees: James Gandolfini of "The Sopranos,'' Martin Sheen of "The West Wing'' and Kiefer Sutherland of "24.''
Chiklis, also helping announce the nominations, grinned when his name made the list.
"That's kind of like asking somebody to the prom in front of a pep rally,'' he said at the podium.
Only three miniseries made the cut, "Hitler, The Rise of Evil'' and "Napoleon,'' each with seven, and "Steven Spielberg Presents: Taken'' with six.
In the category for reality-competition programs, nominees were "The Amazing Race,'' "American Idol,'' "Survivor,'' "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Passions: America's Greatest Love Stories'' and "100 Years of Hope and Humor.''
A second reality category, for alternative programming, includes "The Osbournes,'' "Da Ali G Show,'' "Trading Spaces,'' "Antiques Roadshow'' and "Cirque Du Soleil Fire Within.''
A total of 435 nominations in 89 categories were announced by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. The Emmy Awards are scheduled to air Sept. 21 on Fox.