Emmys: It may be the year cable matches broadcast

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Emmy season dawns this year amidst clouds. The industry is still reeling from the three-month work stoppage precipitated by the WGA strike and is already flinching in anticipation of a possible SAG strike this summer.

In light of a shortened TV season and a loss of billions to the industry, tempered enthusiasm for the Sept. 21 Emmy Awards would make sense.

Yet they're being greeted like long-lost comrades, with an earnest new cheerleader on the scene -- the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences' chairman and CEO John Shaffner.

"The audience is coming back to scripted television!" he exults. "It seems like viewers missed it during the strike. The quality in primetime has never been better. It's so amazing and great that it seems unfair to have to hold a contest."

Perhaps. But here comes the 60th annual Primetime Emmy season, starting with the announcement of nominations (on July 17) and leading up to the dispersal of the statuettes (on Sept. 13 and 21) in recognition of excellence during the 2007-08 TV season (at least, what there was of it).

Of course, from November through the beginning of February, pens were down and nearly all scripted series and longform production shuttered. About a third of this year's season was lost to the labor dispute. Many shows struggled to complete 13 or 14 of their ordered episodes, rather than the typical allotment of 22 or more.

But despite the abbreviated, compromised and chaotic television campaign, the Emmys will carry on as if the strike never happened.

There will be no tweaking of eligibility rules to accommodate the production shortfall. A series must still present six original episodes during the qualifying period (June 1, 2007, to May 31, 2008) to meet the criteria, which John Leverence, the TV academy's senior vp awards, maintains won't exclude the overwhelming majority of Emmy-worthy programs. If a show's season finale brings the episode count for the season to six episodes, it could help make the Emmy cut. Otherwise, you're out of luck.

This year, broadcast may be out of luck regardless, as 2008 is shaping up to be the year that "Cable Ate the Emmys," or at least became an equal player. Several cable series eligible for Emmy consideration for the first time are receiving early Emmy buzz, and with long-dormant HBO back in the running for longform, expect a near clean sweep of those categories.

"It really is just an amazing time for cable," says James Duff, the creator and executive producer of TNT's "The Closer. "TV can do drama that's as deftly plotted and thematically united as anything the movies are doing. It demonstrates what can happen when a studio trusts the storyteller."

Elsewhere, the reality/competition category is primed for a shakeup. If CBS' "The Amazing Race" wins a sixth statuette in a row, it would set a record for a single series in a single category at the Emmys. Viewers will also see a new category this year on the ABC telecast: reality or reality/competition series host. Perhaps the likes of Tyra Banks, Ryan Seacrest, Heidi Klum and Regis Philbin had been feeling a bit ignored.

And on TV, nobody likes to be ignored.

On the next page is a detailed handicapping of the major comedy and drama series, reality and longform races.



COMEDY SERIES

FAVORITES: "30 Rock" (NBC), "The Office" (NBC), "Entourage" (HBO), "Ugly Betty" (ABC), "Pushing Daisies" (ABC), "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (HBO), "Two and a Half Men" (CBS)

For a genre that's supposedly dead, primetime comedy is showing an awful lot of life these days. With the exception of HBO's "Extras," all of the major contenders for comedy category supremacy at the Emmys are back this time, meaning that it is possible -- if highly unlikely -- that we'll see a carbon copy of the '07 lineup of "Ugly Betty," "Two and a Half Men" (CBS), "Entourage," "The Office" and winner "30 Rock."

Memorably, during her acceptance, "30 Rock" writer-producer-star Tina Fey thanked the show's "dozens and dozens of viewers" for tuning in.

"I think we might even be up to three dozen now," Fey notes. "It's a struggle to get an audience, but we're still fighting."

Eligible again this year after a year off, "Curb Your Enthusiasm" will be seeking its fifth nom in the category and its first win. Also competing to crack the list are a pair of ABC freshmen, the critics' darling "Pushing Daisies" and the hit "Samantha Who?" with star Christina Applegate. And the Showtime pair "Weeds" and the first-year "Californication" will be looking to become the first non-HBO cable shows to bust through with nods in the comedy lineup.

"Viewers want to make friends with the characters on a show, and I think we've managed to do that," CBS' "How I Met Your Mother" creator/exec producer Carter Bays says. "I guess the larger question would be if we've made enough friends in the TV academy."

DRAMA SERIES

FAVORITES: "Mad Men" (AMC), "Damages" (FX), "House" (Fox), "Dexter" (Showtime), "Friday Night Lights" (NBC), "Brothers & Sisters" (ABC), "In Treatment" (HBO)

Emmy history is either about to be made, or denied -- again. If the TV academy has taught us anything, it's that we should never try to guess where its voting members' collective heads are.

But here goes one prediction: Cable series are going to land at least three of the five and possibly four of the five nomination slots. The most likely of those are first-year hit "Mad Men," which already won the Golden Globe in January for top drama series;

"Damages," the engrossing legal drama that earned a Globe nom; "Dexter," the serial killer hour starring Michael C. Hall; and serialized therapy strip "In Treatment." Bubbling right beneath those are Showtime's "The Tudors" and "The Closer."

It's possible to foresee a list populated by "Mad Men," "Damages," "Dexter," "Friday Night Lights" and "Brothers & Sisters," with "In Treatment" and ABC's "Grey's Anatomy" also looking to shove their way into the party.

The idea of his series earning a drama series nomination blows away Matthew Weiner, creator/exec producer of "Mad Men" and already a double winner in the category (2004 and 2007) as a supervising producer and executive producer on "The Sopranos."

"This show already has exceeded all of my expectations," Weiner admits. "On 'Mad Men' we did exactly what we wanted to do, and everyone let me do it. We had an amazing cast and crew and a phenomenally supportive studio -- and an overwhelming response from viewers. To get all of that and awards attention too almost doesn't seem fair. But I'll take it."



LONGFORM

FAVORITES (Movies): "A Raisin in the Sun" (ABC), "Recount" (HBO), "Bernard and Doris" (HBO), "As You Like It" (HBO), "The Fever" (HBO), "Pu-239" (HBO), "Masterpiece: My Boy Jack" (PBS), "Mitch Albom's For One More Day" (ABC), "An American Crime" (Showtime), "Pictures of Hollis Woods" (CBS), "Ruffian" (ESPN/ABC)

FAVORITES (Miniseries): "John Adams" (HBO), "The Company" (TNT), "Five Days" (HBO), "Masterpiece: Cranford" (PBS), "Masterpiece: Jekyll" (PBS), "Comanche Moon" (CBS), "The Bronx Is Burning" (ESPN), "Masterpiece: Sense and Sensibility" (PBS)

They don't make nearly as many of these longform projects as they used to, of course, but those that do get done are more often than not top-drawer. This remains especially true at HBO, whose dominance in the made-for-TV movie category at the Emmys remains astonishing. With the win by "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" in 2007, the Time Warner pay cabler has earned the Emmy in 12 of the past 14 years -- losing only in 2000 to ABC's "Tuesdays With Morrie" and in 2003 to TNT's "Door to Door."

HBO might seem to be the overwhelming favorite again, with its handful of top contenders -- including the election saga "Recount" (premiering Sunday), "Bernard and Doris," the Shakespeare play "As You Like It," Vanessa Redgrave's "The Fever" and the nuke tragedy "Pu-239" -- but ABC has its best shot at coming away with the trophy since 2000 with its splendid remake of "A Raisin in the Sun," starring Sean "Diddy" Combs and Phylicia Rashad.

As for miniseries, does anyone seriously believe that HBO's much-praised "John Adams" has a chance of losing? The primary question would seem to be which minis will be nominated alongside it. And while the number of nominees has slipped in recent years to three annually, those that do get nods are typically of exceptional quality. The most distinguished contenders this year are the dynamic British-produced thriller "Five Days," the star-studded "Company" and the "Masterpiece" entry "Cranford."

MOVIE/MINISERIES ACTING

FAVORITES (Lead Actor): Paul Giamatti, "John Adams" (HBO); Kevin Spacey, "Recount" (HBO); Tom Wilkinson, "Recount" (HBO); Sean "Diddy" Combs, "A Raisin in the Sun" (ABC); Ralph Fiennes, "Bernard and Doris" (HBO); Simon Woods, "Cranford" (PBS); Chris O'Donnell, "The Company" (TNT); David Oweloyo, "Five Days" (HBO); David Haig, "Masterpiece: My Boy Jack" (PBS); Daniel Radcliffe, "Masterpiece: My Boy Jack" (PBS); Paddy Considine, "Pu-239" (HBO); Michael Imperioli, "Mitch Albom's For One More Day" (ABC)

FAVORITES (Lead Actress): Laura Linney, "John Adams" (HBO); Bryce Dallas Howard, "As You Like It" (HBO); Susan Sarandon, "Bernard and Doris" (HBO); Judi Dench, "Masterpiece: Cranford" (PBS); Vanessa Redgrave, "The Fever" (HBO); Phylicia Rashad, "A Raisin in the Sun" (ABC); Kim Cattrall, "Masterpiece: My Boy Jack" (PBS); Catherine Keener, "An American Crime" (Showtime); Ellen Page, "An American Crime" (Showtime); Hattie Morahan, "Masterpiece: Sense and Sensibility" (PBS); Janet McTeer, "Masterpiece: Sense and Sensibility" (PBS); Emily Watson, "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" (Lifetime); Sissy Spacek, "Pictures of Hollis Woods" (CBS)

Among the potential nominees for lead actor in a telepic or miniseries sit three Oscar nominees (Giamatti, Wilkinson and Fiennes) and one winner (Spacey). Not too shabby. But how do you bet against the second U.S. president?

Perhaps you don't. It just depends on whether or not "John Adams" runs the table with its potential to emulate the record 11-Emmy megasuccess of HBO's "Angels in America" in 2004. Giamatti, nonetheless, has to be seen as the favorite, but Spacey and Wilkinson (for "Recount"), Fiennes (for "Bernard and Doris") and Combs (for the much-praised "A Raisin in the Sun") also are exceptionally strong contenders for a nomination.

The heavy buzz on Linney for her performance as Abigail Adams in "John Adams" leaves her as the actress to beat, though it should also be mentioned that her chief competition -- Sarandon, Dench, Redgrave, Spacek and Watson -- have 25 Oscar nominations and four wins between them (with only Watson failing to win among that group). Of course, Linney has three Academy Award nods herself, while Keener (two noms) and Page (a single nom) also have Oscar connections.

So, yes, this is quite the category indeed. But it will still probably require an act of Congress to stop Linney from earning her third Emmy in as many tries.



REALITY/NONFICTION

FAVORITES (Reality/Competition Program): "American Idol" (Fox), "The Amazing Race" (CBS), "The Biggest Loser" (NBC), "Dancing With the Stars" (ABC), "Project Runway" (Bravo), "Top Chef" (Bravo), "America's Next Top Model" (The CW), "Survivor" (CBS), "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" (Fox), "So You Think You Can Dance" (Fox)

FAVORITES (Reality Program): "Antiques Roadshow" (PBS), "Carrier" (PBS), "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" (Showtime), "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (ABC), "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List" (Bravo), "The Dog Whisperer With Cesar Millan" (National Geographic Channel), "Intervention" (A&E), "How to Look Good Naked" (Lifetime)

FAVORITES (Reality and Reality/Competition Program Host): Tyra Banks, "America's Next Top Model" (The CW); Ryan Seacrest, "American Idol" (Fox); Heidi Klum, "Project Runway" (Bravo); Padma Lakshmi, "Top Chef" (Bravo); Penn Jillette and Teller, "Penn & Teller: Bullshit!" (Showtime); Tom Bergeron and Samantha Harris, "Dancing With the Stars" (ABC); Phil Keoghan, "The Amazing Race" (CBS); Regis Philbin, "Million Dollar Password" (CBS); Ty Pennington, "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" (ABC); Jeff Foxworthy, "Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?" (Fox); Jeff Probst, "Survivor" (CBS); Kathy Griffin, "Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List" (Bravo); Howie Mandel, "Deal or No Deal" (NBC); Carson Kressley, "How to Look Good Naked" (Lifetime)

FAVORITES (Nonfiction Series): "The War" (PBS), "American Masters" (PBS), "Deadliest Catch" (Discovery Channel), "The Jewish Americans" (PBS), "This American Life" (Showtime), "Biography" (A&E), "Inside the Actors Studio" (Bravo), "Cold Case Files" (A&E)

This isn't really a fair fight anymore. It seems clear that the academy voters have it in their head that as long as "The Amazing Race" is around, it must win the Emmy for top reality/competition series. It's happened now for five consecutive years, and it's a tough bet against a sixth time.

Naturally, this sits rather badly with the folks behind, say, "American Idol," which has lost five consecutive times in the category. There has even been talk about the show trying to switch categories to variety, music and comedy series. But the odds are it simply will lose again, barring a huge break from the recent past.

Should a series upset "Amazing Race," it's more likely to be "Dancing With the Stars" than "Idol," since being a pop culture phenomenon isn't seen as sufficient reason to land an Emmy statuette. There's a further likelihood of repeat nominees, possibly in each of the five slots (meaning "Race," "Idol," "Dancing" and the Bravo pair "Project Runway" and "Top Chef"). There is also a possibility for "The Biggest Loser" to bust through, feel-good entry that it is.

Another long shot possibility: "Project Runway," given that it was in April honored with the prestigious Peabody Award, which it will take home in a ceremony on June 16 in New York. Not so shabby for a program about fashion.

"We didn't even know we were up for it," admits Jane Lipsitz, an executive producer on "Runway" and one of the two principals (along with Dan Cutforth) of the production company Magical Elves. "When you win something that your parents get all weepy about, you know you've reached a pretty high level. It's a great honor, really and truly."

Last year in the outstanding reality program category, Kathy Griffin and her "My Life on the D-List" series pulled off what was seen as a major upset -- followed straightaway by the bawdy comedian giving a wildly politically incorrect acceptance speech.

Griffin remains unrepentant. "I guess I screwed myself out of presenting at the Emmys this year," she says. "But that's OK. I'm used to this. When you work for Bravo, you really learn a lot about what it's like to be the underdog."

This year breaks new ground for the reality categories, with the maiden Emmy voyage for a new category honoring a reality or reality/competition program host, to be handed out during the telecast.

"It's a category that the board of governors felt was worthy of being formulated as a way to draw greater interest to the telecast," notes the TV academy's Leverence. "We could be seeing a lot of people who have become stars to the larger audience."

Finally, the nonfiction series lineup is expected to be paced by World War II presentation "The War," from acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns, which goes in as a heavy favorite to cart off the big prize.
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