Longform posse wild about Westerns

Genre moseys through competition with HBO's 'Heart,' AMC's 'Trail'

Academy voters were drawn to two Western-themed longform projects, with the HBO telefilm "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" and AMC's miniseries "Broken Trail" topping the list of nominees Thursday.

Voters tend to favor the epic period pieces when it comes to the longform categories, and this year was no exception. "Bury My Heart" nabbed 17 nominations, while "Broken Trail" garnered 16.

However, Walter Hill, director and producer of "Broken Trail," said the Emmy recognition for both programs could indicate a resurgence in the Western genre.

"I think there's an appetite for things of this size and with a relevance to the past," he said. "Basically, we don't get a lot of it. Essentially, the medium is dominated by modern dramas — I'm not saying it shouldn't be, that's when and where we live — but how we got here is also an interesting question and tells us a bit about who we are."

"Trail" stars Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church as cowboys running 500 horses from Oregon to Wyoming who cross paths with a lowlife trafficker and five innocent Chinese girls he's delivering to a life of prostitution.

Dick Wolf, executive producer of "Bury My Heart," noted that it took six years to get the HBO telefilm made. "Heart," based on the 1970 book by Dee Alexander Brown, centers on the impact that the U.S.' westward expansion had on American Indian culture and the economic, political and social pressures that motivated it. The telefilm, which stars Aidan Quinn, Anna Paquin, Adam Beach and August Schellenberg, premiered in May on HBO.

"It's something that had been considered unfilmable for 36 years … because the book is basically a documented history of every Indian/white confrontation through 40 years, and literally the way we were able to do it was to take essentially the last chapter of the book" and primarily focus on the Battle of Little Bighorn, he said.

For his part, Wolf isn't so sure about a resurgence in the Western genre. "I don't know if it's going to start a trend, especially if it takes six years to get them done," he said. "So I don't know if there will be a tsunami of stories."

For "Trail," the Emmy recognition caps off a great year for the miniseries — AMC's first original longform program — which broke basic-cable viewership records when it debuted in June 2006 to nearly 10 million viewers. For AMC, this year also marks a record for most total Emmy noms (18) in a single year.

"We made a decision going into creating original programming to go for quality, for projects that were intelligent and distinct, and we wanted to play in a game where we had a chance of winning," said Rob Sorcher, executive vp original programming, packaging and production at AMC. " 'Trail' represents that. It's a genre that AMC is really strong in."

Sorcher said "Trail" resonated with viewers for several reasons.

"There was a tremendous amount of thought and care (that went) into making this," he said. "We're really making movies for television; we're not making television movies."

Next up, AMC is hoping for success with its first original drama series, "Mad Men," which debuted at 10 p.m. Thursday.
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