Web-streamed shows House of Cards and Arrested Development, drug drama Breaking Bad and genre hits American Horror Story and Game of Thrones are among the high-profile contenders at tonight's 65th Emmy Awards gala.

American Horror Story: Asylum, the sophomore season of the creepy series, earned a leading 17 nominations, closely followed by the bloody fantasy epic Game of Thrones with 16 nods. Sketch comedy stalwart Saturday Night Live and Liberace biopic Behind the Candelabra were next with 15 nominations each.

Neil Patrick Harris

Actor Neil Patrick Harris, seen at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards on Sept. 15, returns for his second stint as host on Sunday night. (Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press)

The breakout Netflix hit House of Cards is the first internet series to compete for the top Emmy categories. The show is vying for multiple wins, including for best drama, best dramatic actor (series lead Kevin Spacey is nominated) and best dramatic actress (for Robin Wright).

But the online newcomer faces a tough batch of rivals for the TV drama trophy: soon-to-end cable series Breaking Bad; British favourite Downton Abbey; the aforementioned Game of Thrones; political suspense thriller Homeland; and style-soaked 1960s advertising drama Mad Men.

On-demand film and TV streaming service Netflix also scored another high-profile nod with its revived series Arrested Development, which earned a best comedic actor nomination for Jason Bateman. In recent years, the U.S Academy of Television Arts and Sciences changed its rules to allow online entries to compete with cable and network programming, but this year's edition was the first to see web shows recognized in major categories.

Other series nominees include:

  • Comedy: 30 Rock; Girls; Louie; Modern Family; The Big Bang Theory; Veep.
  • Reality competition: Dancing with the Stars; Project Runway; So You Think You Can Dance; The Amazing Race; The Voice; Top Chef.
  • Miniseries or movie: American Horror Story: Asylum; Behind the Candelabra; Phil Spector; Political Animals; The Bible; Top of the Lake.
  • Variety: Jimmy Kimmel Live!; Late Night with Jimmy Fallon; Real Time with Bill Maher; Saturday Night Live; The Colbert Report; The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Several Canadians were among this year's Emmy nominees, with Toronto's Mychael Danna already a winner. He earned the trophy for outstanding music composition for a miniseries, movie or special for his score to the miniseries World Without End, a followup to The Pillars of the Earth) at last week's Creative Arts Emmys ceremony.

The evening ceremony will also include a number of extended "in memoriam" tributes to television figures who have died in the past year, including actors James Gandolfini, Jean Stapleton, Jonathan Winters, Cory Monteith and writer-producer Gary David Goldberg.

The annual celebration of American prime-time television is being broadcast live from Los Angeles beginning at 8 p.m. ET, with popular actor and three-time Emmy-winner Neil Patrick Harris returning for his second stint as host.