LOS ANGELES - When fictional columnist Carrie Bradshaw helped HBO grab its first series Emmy award in 2001 for comedy "Sex and the City," the premium cable network's main competition came from broadcast networks CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox.
Today, the field fighting for Emmy glory includes contenders from the past few years like basic cable channels AMC and FX, but also the much talked-about rookie, the video streaming service Netflix. And then there's a resurgent PBS, the US public television channel.
Nowhere is the revolution in how people watch television more apparent than when the TV industry gathers on Sunday for its annual prime time Emmy awards ceremony.
Among the contenders for the night's top drama trophy are AMC's "Breaking Bad" and "Mad Men," Showtime's "Homeland," Netflix's "House of Cards," and PBS's British period drama "Downton Abbey."
And, of course, HBO. The network has earned the most nominations for 13 straight years, and will compete for best drama on Sunday with its medieval fantasy series "Game of Thrones."
In all, HBO collected 108 nominations this year, its highest total since 2004, and more than twice as many as its closest competitors, CBS and NBC with 53 each. The nods include best comedy nominations for HBO's "Veep" and "Girls."
"'Breaking Bad' and Netflix might not exist like they do without HBO having led the way in showing that really smart adult dramas could draw an audience," "Breaking Bad" producer Tom Schnauz told Reuters.
HBO landed its first series Emmy award for outstanding comedy in 2001 for its ground-breaking, female-led show "Sex and the City," starring Sarah Jessica Parker as fictional New York journalist Carrie Bradshaw.
This year, basic cable networks AMC and 21st Century Fox's FX are strong Emmy contenders. FX's horror mini-series "American Horror Story: Asylum" led all shows with 17 nods, and will face off with HBO's Liberace biopic "Behind the Candelabra," starring Michael Douglas, in the miniseries/movie category.
Despite the growing number of critically acclaimed series across multiple networks, producers of shows at channels competing with HBO still see it as the leading provider of original content.
"AMC is a real competitor to HBO, but HBO still has the programming," "Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner told Reuters. "Mad Men," an Emmy darling in years past, is nominated in 12 categories this year, including best drama series.
As the industry evolved, HBO built ties with top Hollywood actors, producers and writers, and consistently churned out award-winning series, movies and documentaries.
"They have a two-decade-deep pipeline of development and artists' relationships, and a reputation for taking risks," said Modi Wiczyk, co-chief executive of Media Rights Capital, an independent studio that has produced shows for HBO, Netflix, CBS and ABC.