Turns out, Emmy voters do in fact have a pulse.

Nominations for the 2002 Emmy Awards were announced Thursday morning in Los Angeles, and the consensus in Hollywood was that TV's highest honor finally got it right. After years of being asleep at the wheel, "It's as if Academy members watched TV this season," raved TV Guide critic Matt Roush. "New blood has been transfused into the Emmy process."

He's not kidding. Among the freshman shows packing a huge Emmy punch: HBO's Six Feet Under (23 nominations), ABC's Alias (11 nods), Fox's 24 (10 nods) and FX's The Shield (three nods). In fact, in the best drama series category, NBC's Law & Order and The West Wing were the only vets making the cut. (The three remaining slots went to CBS's CSI, 24 and Six Feet Under.)

"It was the most radical overhaul of the nominations that we've seen in years," marveled Emmy expert Tom O'Neil, host of awards website GoldDerby.com. "Usually the Emmy nominations are like TV reruns — the same-old, same-old. This year, we saw them throw out the old guard — like ER and Frasier — and bring in the nicest surprises that weren't Nielsen favorites. Nobody knew they were watching Alias."

"Voters seemed to have taken notice that last year was an extraordinary year for new shows," says Roush. "It's just really refreshing."

The most visible symbol of Emmy's miraculous turnaround: The three nominations for FX's freshman cop show The Shield, including one for for lead actor Michael Chiklis. "The FX network has never had any Emmy nominations, and now it gets one for lead actor in a drama," O'Neil points out. "This is very dramatic because it was probably the most profound evidence we have today of the message that Emmy voters wanted to send: This is not about Nielsens. We are a TV award truly tuned in to what... is the best on TV."

And as it turns out, many of TV's most respected programs continue to call HBO home. Powered by Six Feet Under's juggernaut, the cable net notched a field-best 93 nominations. Also doing the network proud: acclaimed miniseries Band of Brothers (19 nods) and The Gathering Storm (nine nods), as well as last year's comedy victor, Sex and the City (10 nods). "The Academy again showed its incredible allegiance to HBO," says Roush. How else to explain the surprise comedy nod for Larry David's Curb Your Enthusiasm? "Clearly, the happiest person today has got be Larry David," says O'Neil. "Curb Your Enthusiasm was not on any expert's list."

One HBO performer probably not uncorking the champagne: Sex's underappreciated Kristin Davis, the only member of the show's cast not recognized with a nomination. Laughs O'Neil: "She's got little voodoo dolls of her co-stars at home right now."

HBO wasn't the only network with reason to celebrate. Thanks to strong showings by The West Wing, Will & Grace and Friends, NBC was tops among the six broadcast networks with 89 total nominations. The decision by the cast of Friends to promote themselves to the lead acting slots paid off with nods for Jennifer Aniston (the comedy actress frontrunner), Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc. "It was a bold move that knocked [W&G's] Eric McCormack [last year's winner] and Frankie Muniz from Malcolm in the Middle off the lead actor list," says O'Neil. For his part, Roush is pulling for LeBlanc. "He's been in the background for so many years, sort of taken for granted," he says. "For him to get nominated is wonderful."

But what would Emmy season be without a few glaring omissions. Among them: Friends star David Schwimmer, the entire cast of NBC's Scrubs, Gilmore Girl Lauren Graham, 24's supporting players, NYPD Blue's Dennis Franz and Charlotte Ross, and, of course, perennial also-ran Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which moved to UPN last season and still can't get arrested. "Buffy's only noms were for hairstyle, makeup and music direction," sighs O'Neil. "Last year it didn't get any, so I guess this is better than none."

Tell that to the show's creator, Joss Whedon, whose acclaimed musical episode "Once More With Feeling" was virtually snubbed. (The fact that it was left off the original ballot in the writing category couldn't have helped.) "The musical episode was not nominated for directing, writing or music and lyrics," says O'Neil. "That's shocking." Roush adds that Buffy should consider switching networks yet again. "If Buffy aired on HBO, it would be a frontrunner."

Speaking of frontrunners, MTV's The Osbournes would seem to have a lock on best reality show honors. "I think it was inevitable that they had to acknowledge it," admits O'Neil of the show's nomination. "It's such a significant thing on the tube this year."

But other aspiring reality stars shouldn't get the idea that landing your own show automatically translates into Emmy glory. Warns O'Neil: "Anna Nicole Smith should not start preparing her acceptance speech."

The 54th annual Primetime Emmy Awards will be telecast live Sept. 22 on NBC.