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For several years now, pay-cable nets HBO and Showtime have created some tough Emmy competition for the broadcast networks, and Six Feet Under's 23 nominations Thursday proved it once again.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral home: Emmy voters finally noticed basic cable.

For the uninitiated, those are usually the networks floating between channel 10 and 120. And from FX's The Shield to MTV's The Osbournes (and E!'s own True Hollywood Story, natch), some of the most-talked-about shows on basic cable got their due from the Academy Thursday.

Then there was TNT, which set a basic-cable-network record Thursday by scoring 23 Emmy nominations, including honors for productions like James Dean and The Mists of Avalon. A&E (which held the previous record of 20 nominations), picked up 22 this time out, including nods for Outstanding Miniseries (Shackleton) and its long-running Biography series.

All told, 17 cable networks grabbed nominations Thursday.

The biggest coup, however, appears to have come from the FX network's controversial cop drama, The Shield, which jumped into the major races with nominations for Outstanding Lead Actor (Michael Chiklis), as well as for writing and directing.

"Cable and basic cable are just a breeding ground for good work--they have nothing to lose and everything to gain," Chiklis told the New York Times. "When you have that kind of devil-may-care attitude it nurtures the work, as opposed to networks, where the work is sometimes driven by fear and safety and holding onto their collective pieces of the demographic pie."

Meanwhile, a handful of dead-and-buried shows received some posthumous honors from the Television Academy Thursday. Fox's Andy Richter Controls the Universe scored a nomination for Outstanding Writing, the blink-and-you-missed-it CBS sci-fi thriller Wolf Lake picked up two nominations (for Main Title Design and Main Title Theme Music) and--believe it or not--NBC's reviled sitcom Emeril nabbed a nomination, for Outstanding Art Direction for a Multi-Camera Series. (Of course, it makes sense that someone should receive an award for putting lipstick on a pig.)

Fox's dearly departed Ally McBeal scored a nomination for Outstanding Cinematography and The X-Files nabbed one for Outstanding Music Composition. ABC's martyred Politically Incorrect received a nod for Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series and the network's gone-but-not-forgotten Once and Again picked up a nomination for Outstanding Casting.

And finally, in double-trophy news, Best Supporting Oscar winner Jim Broadbent has one more chance to dust off the tuxedo: He's nominated for a supporting actor Emmy for HBO's Path to War.

Meanwhile, plans are already underway for the Emmy ceremony, to be produced by Gary Smith and air on NBC September 22 from the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles. Sources also tell E! News Live that late-night goofball Conan O'Brien has signed on to host the 54th annual awards show.

Neither NBC nor the Academy would confirm the news. But once it's official, O'Brien will follow in the footsteps of Ellen DeGeneres, who hosted last year's twice-canceled ceremony for CBS, and Garry Shandling, who hosted in 2000.