Cloris Leachman, Joan Cusack

Cloris Leachman appeared in almost every Raising Hope last season, while Joan Cusack could be seen in virtually every episode of Shameless. And yet, both scored Emmy nominations Thursday in the guest star category.

Here's the loophole: Leachman and Cusack were billed as "special guest stars" on their respective series this season, even though they technically had just as much air time as a regular. (As TV Guide Magazine reported last month, Leachman will be promoted to a full-fledged regular next season.) 

That gave both actresses the ability to choose whether they would compete as supporting actresses or as guest stars. Perhaps sensing less competition in the guest star category, both submitted their names there. (Several other recurring actors, such as Big Love's Bruce Dern and Mad Men's Robert Morse, also landed guest star nominations.)

"If somebody has a guest star billing, we consider them to be a guest," says TV Academy awards senior vice president John Leverance. "We simply give due deference to the contractual language of any performer."

That wasn't always the case, Leverance says. The guest star categories used to be limited to single episodes, and later expanded to a limited, three-episode arc. But it became too complicated for the Academy to determine who was a guest and who was a regular — and at that point, the organization decided to let the actors and actresses determine where they'd like to submit their names.

That's also why some actors submit themselves in the supporting categories, particularly if they're part of an ensemble, and why other supporting actors and actresses sometimes go bold and decide to compete in the best actor and actress fields.

"I get calls all the time from agents and lawyers about to sign their clients to a show wondering what their Emmy-eligible titles should be," Leverance says. "There's a lot of consciousness to the fact that titles are the gateway to Emmy eligibility."

Here are several more curiosities that have emerged out of this year's Emmy nominations:

RECORDS WERE MEANT TO BE BROKEN: Saturday Night Live landed 16 nominations this year, a new record for a variety program. SNL has been eligible for Emmys since 1976 but has seen its nomination tally leap in recent years, now that its regular performers and guest hosts are eligible to compete in the series performer categories alongside sitcom stars. As a result, SNL has now extended its dominance as the most-nominated program in Emmy history. The show earned 16 nominations this year, bringing its total to 142 (ahead of second-place ER, at 124). Also this year, American Idol landed 10 nominations, the most of any nonfiction program in Emmy history (tied with Dancing with the Stars, which landed 10 noms in 2009).

COCO'S COMMERCIAL: Never mind going up against Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert or Jon Stewart. Conan O'Brien's toughest competition may be two babies, a polar bear and the Old Spice Guy. O'Brien's recent ad for American Express landed a nomination for outstanding commercial — where it faces off against Nissan Leaf's "Polar Bear" spot, the Old Spice Body Wash ad "Questions," and two ads featuring infants, McDonald's "Baby" and Subaru's "Baby Driver". It makes the variety/comedy/music category, where TBS' Conan goes up against the likes of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, look like child's play.

MULTI-HYPHENATE: While Louis C.K. scored a surprise nomination in the outstanding comedy actor category (for FX's Louie) and landed another one for outstanding comedy writing, perhaps his third nomination is even more unusual. The comedian is nominated in the "outstanding picture editing for a special (single or multi-camera)" category, for serving as the editor on his Epix special Louis C.K.: Hilarious. (If that's not enough, Louis C.K.: Hilarious also earned the comedian a fourth nom, for outstanding writing for a variety, comedy or music special.)

PERIOD PAYS OFF: TV's sudden love affair with historic dramas has paid off for costume designers and hairstylists who specialize in the genre. Four of the five nominees for outstanding series costumes are set in earlier times: Boardwalk Empire, The Borgias, Game of Thrones and Mad Men. The fifth nominee? Glee. In the outstanding hairstyling for a single-camera series category, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones and Mad Men face off — against, once again, the very contemporary Glee.

PILOT COMMANDERS: As usual, pilot episodes dominated the outstanding directing and writing categories in drama. Martin Scorsese's work as the director of Boardwalk Empire's pilot will face off against the pilot to Game of Thrones (directed by Tim Van Patten) and The Killing (Patty Jenkins).

HAVE IT BOTH WAYS: Scorsese not only landed a drama series nomination for directing Boardwalk Empire, but he's also nominated (along with Kent Jones) in the non-fiction directing category — for his work on the PBS American Masters special A Letter to Elia/Reflecting on Kazan.

QUIT YOUR DAY JOB: Rival music directors Paul Shaffer (Late Show with David Letterman) and Ricky Minor (The Tonight Show with Jay Leno) battle it out every night — and they'll compete this year in Emmy's outstanding music direction category. But in an unusual twist, neither musician is representing their day (or, um, night) job. Shaffer is nominated as music director for Fuse's coverage of the 2011 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, while Minor will compete in the category as music director of the NBC special An Evening of Stars: Tribute to Chaka Khan.

EMMYS IN SYNC: Is there anything Justin Timberlake can't do? The singer/actor/MySpace executive scored two Emmy nominations in the original music and lyrics category for two separate Saturday Night Live tunes, as well as an additional nomination in the outstanding guest actor in a comedy competition, for his hosting gig on the late-night sketch show.

POSTHUMOUSLY: Film producer Laura Ziskin (Pretty Woman) earned a nomination in the outstanding nonfiction special category for Stand up to Cancer, the latest in her series of specials aimed at finding a cure. Ziskin died of breast cancer last month at the age of 61.

NETWORK SNUBS: The CW, which has long been ignored by the TV Academy, earned a single nomination this year: for Nikita, which is competing in the outstanding sound editing category. That's up from zero last year. But to add insult to injury, the Academy press release lumped the CW in with the cable networks, even though it's actually a broadcast network. Meanwhile, for all the talk of cable's dominance at the Emmys, several of cable's most-watched networks came away with a miniscule nomination haul. USA Network landed just one nod, while TNT and TBS received three each. A miniscule networks like ReelzChannel, which landed 10 noms thanks to The Kennedys, dwarfed them all.

WHO IS HECTOR RAMIREZ? The longtime camera operator, who has been chalking up Emmy nominations for 22 years, continues his streak as the most-nominated individual in Emmy history, at 64 and counting. Ramirez earned three more nominations this year in the "outstanding technical direction, camera work, video control for a miniseries, movie or special" category, for the 83rd Annual Academy Awards, the 53rd Annual Grammy Awards and The Kennedy Center Honors. He also received another nom in the category's series counterpart, for Dancing with the Stars.

IT'S NICE TO BE THE BOSS: He's not just the head of the TV Academy, he's also a nominee. John Shaffner, who serves as CEO of the organization (and was seen Thursday morning on the nominations telecast, introducing Melissa McCarthy and Joshua Jackson), is also a highly regarded set designer (everything from Friends to Conan). This year he earned two nominations in art direction for a multi-camera series, for his work on The Big Bang Theory and Mike & Molly.

FAMILY GUY'S GAMBLE: Family Guy's decision to roll the dice and submit itself again in the comedy categories — instead of animation — didn't quite pay off. Not only did the show miss getting a nomination in the outstanding animation program category (while spin-off The Cleveland Show did), the show's voice talent, including creator Seth MacFarlane, was also snubbed in the outstanding voice-over category (which they were eligible for). Family Guy still landed four nominations, including three in the music categories and one for sound mixing.

Subscribe to TV Guide Magazine now!