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Confessions of a TV critic

It is confession time. I often dread going to parties. Not because I am antisocial. My close friends are amused because I will talk to just about anybody who doesn’t know me, exhibiting my outer Larry David by complaining about my daily annoyances.

But party time is different. That’s when people who meet me for the first time invariably ask things like: Don’t you just love “Game of Thrones”? Didn’t you think last week’s episode of “Justified” was fantastic? Don’t you think “Breaking Bad” is the best series on TV?

I usually give a vague answer to avoid revealing one of the secrets of being a television critic: We don’t watch everything.

That was even more the case with me during my three-year sabbatical from this newspaper when I only watched what I enjoyed watching.

The truth is TV critics often just watch the first few episodes of series and then decide whether they are hooked, or if the series is going to get a large enough audience to make watching an obligation.

We can’t watch everything. It isn’t the same as being a movie critic, when you can just about see everything because there aren’t that many movies openings annually.

There are roughly 1,000 TV channels available. Even if you watch 24/7 there is no way to see a tenth of a series, especially if watching local TV news and national sports are big parts of the job.

Which brings me back to “Game of Thrones.” My youngest son and my older brother love it. It is one of the shows I’m often asked about at parties.

I tried watching the pilot three times. I had no idea what was going on. I was told by “Throne” fans they don’t know, either. They love it anyway. I got confused in the pilot when I thought a brother and a sister were having sex with each other. I was told it would all make sense later.

I watched this season’s controversial episode when most of the characters people apparently loved got ambushed. I figured out what was happening with the help of my son so I can now fake some “Thrones” party conversation.

I haven’t seen one episode of “Justified” because it began when I was on vacation and headed for sabbatical. But I have friends who swear by it – and swear when Emmy voters ignore it.

I enjoyed the first two seasons of “Breaking Bad” and then got turned off by all the violence, so I’m not the best person to ask about Bryan Cranston at parties.

But ask me anything about “Mad Men,” “The Newsroom,” “Homeland,” “The Good Wife,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” “Downton Abbey” and “House of Cards.” I have seen every episode, which means I don’t have to fake anything about them in conversations at parties.

This is my long prelude to discussing the Emmy nominations that were announced last week and reminded me how far broadcast television has fallen. Basic cable, pay-cable and Netflix dominated.

It also reminded me that until 16 years ago, the cable industry gave out its own awards, the cable ACE (Award for Cable Excellence), because its shows couldn’t compete with broadcast network series.

Now you wonder if the broadcast networks want to break away from the current competition with pay-cable, cable and online series and have their own awards to reward such popular but ignored series as “NCIS,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “CSI” that get so little respect that I no longer feel obligated to watch.

I can almost hear many viewers – especially ones that still overwhelmingly watch prime shows on broadcast TV – looking at the Emmy nominations and asking, “What is that show about?” or “Who is that actor?”

Not one broadcast network drama or male actor in a network drama was nominated. A few female leads, Kerry Washington of ABC’s “Scandal” and Connie Britton of ABC’s “Nashville,” were nominated and some popular network comedies and comedy actors and actresses were rewarded.

But overall, the nominations of the excellent “House of Cards” on Netflix, HBO’s “Game of Thrones,” Showtime’s incredibly tense “Homeland,” AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and faltering “Mad Men,” and FX’s “American Horror Story” speak to the beneficial content, language and financial rules that basic cable and pay-cable live by.

It isn’t a fair fight for the broadcast networks.

I don’t have many quibbles with the nominations, though I am stunned by a few things.

The 15 nominations received by the HBO film “Behind the Candelabra,” about the life of Liberace, startled me because the movie’s slow pace almost made it unwatchable. However, I wasn’t surprised by the nominations of stars Michael Douglas and Matt Damon. They were just about sure things.

The best drama nomination for “Mad Men” – which lost me and many critics this season – was a little surprising. I wasn’t surprised that Jon Hamm of “Mad Men” was nominated and was pleased to see Jeff Daniels of HBO’s “The Newsroom” rewarded in the same acting category for a series that got little Emmy love. Interestingly, its title sequence, which has been changed, was nominated. And Jane Fonda, who had little to do last season, also was nominated.

I also was happy to see all the nominations for PBS’ “Downton Abbey,” which I accidentally became a fan of over the 2012 holidays.

I also was glad to see Buffalo native Christine Baranski nominated as supporting actress for her role model turn in “The Good Wife.” She is the only actress in a broadcast network series in that category.

I didn’t watch much of the final season of NBC’s “The Office,” which didn’t get much Emmy love. But I watched the classic series finale, for which Greg Daniels deservedly got a comedy writing nomination.

The ageless “Saturday Night Live” justifiably got 15 nominations, while the aging David Letterman and Jay Leno’s late-night shows weren’t nominated. The ABC show headlined by Jimmy Kimmel and the NBC show headlined by Jimmy Fallon – who soon will be competing with each other – were nominated.

It was amusing to see Jerry Seinfeld get a nomination in the short format, nonfiction program category for his online series “Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee.” A Canadian critic told me it is the only series he watches regularly. I expect it won’t be long before I am asked at a party what I think about it.