By Eric Kelsey
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Although "American Horror Story: Asylum" bested HBO's fantasy epic "Game of Thrones" in picking up the most Primetime Emmy nominations on Thursday, the fright-filled FX miniseries could face another tough year at the fickle Emmys.
"It's cursed by being in the horror genre," Hollywood awards show handicapper Tom O'Neil of Goldderby.com said. "Emmy voters, like Oscar voters, are horrified of the horror genre and tend to stay away."
The torture-filled miniseries set in a nun-run mental hospital picked up the same number of nominations as its predecessor, "American Horror Story: Murder House," did last year, and "Murder House" was only able to win two Emmys - best hairstyling and best supporting actress, both in a miniseries.
It was not the only show to flop at last year's Emmys, the top awards in U.S. television. Perennial favorite "Mad Men," the depiction of the 1960s Madison Avenue advertising world, set a record for losses, walking away empty-handed after 17 nominations.
The Emmys honor a broad swath of television production, from the pinnacle prize of best drama series to more obscure ones like best sound mixing for non-fiction programming. There are 537 separate nominations and HBO alone picked up 20 percent of those.
The Time Warner cable channel's "Game of Thrones" racked up 16 nods and should run away with victories in many categories, O'Neil said.
"'Game of Thrones' will sweep those tech categories," the analyst said of its nominations in best sound editing, visual effects and single-camera picture editing for a drama series, among others.
But the handicapper, who said it has also been difficult in the past for fantasy series to break through in top categories, believes "Game of Thrones" is poised to cash in for nods in best drama series and best writing in a drama series.
"Suddenly what was unthinkable last year is possible," O'Neil said. "It can win."
One element working in "Game of Thrones" favor is the broad range of nominees put forward by voters. The series goes up against the likes of British period drama "Downton Abbey" and anti-terror thriller "Homeland," last year's top drama.
"But whereas 'Downton' may not have matched the quality of its earlier seasons this year, 'Game of Thrones' had its best and most-watched season yet, and made demonstrable inroads with actors, too," wrote The Hollywood Reporter's Scott Feinberg.
Peter Dinklage, who won best supporting actor for "Game of Thrones" in 2011, picked up his third consecutive nomination in the category, and fellow cast member Emilia Clarke scored her first Emmy nod in the best supporting actress category.
Both O'Neil and Variety's Justin Kroll said that although Academy of Television Arts and Sciences voters are often slow in warming to fantasy series, a show's popularity may ultimately win out.
ABC's top-rated fantasy drama "Lost" is one recent example as it won best drama series in 2005. "Game of Thrones," to its credit, is HBO's second-most watched TV drama in its history, behind only "The Sopranos."
"For a show with a largely international cast that is shot far outside the confines of the U.S. (Ireland, Iceland, Bulgaria etc.), it took a little time for the creative community to wrap its arms around the epic fantasy," Kroll wrote.
(Reporting by Eric Kelsey; Editing by Mary Milliken and Eric Beech)