Commentary: Emmy prognosticator has a line on awards

Robert Licuria maintains elaborate showbiz Web site

If the name Robert Licuria doesn’t immediately ring a bell, you are automatically forgiven. In order for the handle to mean anything, you first need to be plugged into the world of Hollywood awards prognostication, which Licuria is. He maintains what might be the most elaborate and comprehensive showbiz kudos Web site this side of the Envelope.

It’s called Awards Heaven, and this time of year it exists as an essential roundup of contenders for honors in the major Primetime Emmy Awards categories.

None of this is particularly distinct, of course. There are plenty of guys out there who fill up their hours — and no doubt some aching internal need — by showcasing their forecast skills and savvy in cyberspace. It places them on the map as members of the Hollywood pundit community, however dubious the connection.

But Licuria is hardly your run-of-the-mill Web nerd. Instead, he is a 30-year-old attorney, married and with his first child due to arrive in October, who lives and works in Sydney, Australia. That would be the same Australia that’s positioned on the other side of the world, about 7,468 miles removed from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences headquarters in North Hollywood.

There is reason to believe that this engaging Aussie barrister who likes to call everyone “mate” has a measure of influence over the Emmy nomination process based on his site, which is colorful, well-constructed, sleek and packed with highly educated predictions about who might emerge as finalists for the 60th annual Primetime Emmys in everything from top drama and comedy series to lead actor/actress in comedies and dramas to reality/competition series and numerous others.

Again, let’s recap here for a moment, people. This is a seemingly quite sane lawyer in Australia who has logged no time in Hollywood and gauges how the awards will play out strictly as a hobby, taking up “about 10% of my time,” Licuria says over the phone last week during his Thursday lunch hour in Sydney (17 hours ahead of Los Angeles).

Why does Licuria do it? Even he doesn’t fully understand. But he’s been keeping close track of this stuff for seven years as the only bloke who gives two hoots about the Emmys in the land Down Under, and he sees no reason to stop now.

“I suppose it is a bit strange to do this, actually,” Licuria says. “Part of it is just that I love American television and have always been fascinated about what goes on in the United States. I’ve got a lot of family in New York. I find guessing the Emmys to be a wonderful diversion from court work and drafting heavy legal documents. We all have our fetishes, don’t we?”

Indeed we do. It’s just that Licuria’s particular fixation speaks to the extraordinary reach of the Internet, which has squeezed the globe into the equivalent of a single tiny neighborhood. Although he averages only a few hundred visits a day to his site, Licuria has drawn professionals in the showbiz community asking him for his Emmy picks.

“It’s crazy, isn’t it? My predictions actually get noticed a little bit now,” Licuria says with a measure of bemusement. “Would I have the same influence as someone in L.A.? It’s hard to imagine, but maybe, you know? Because of the Internet, it no longer really matters where you are, just that you know what you’re talking about.”

Oh yes, there’s that. How can Licuria really know what’s going here while laboring as a lawyer in Australia? Well, he insists that he sees nearly every quality primetime series that we see. Australia gets all of them, albeit sometimes weeks or months later. And HBO’s “In Treatment” still hasn’t quite made it yet to these shores.

“My wife and I both are fanatics for American TV,” he says. “And I mean, people who come here don’t realize just how much American culture is Australian culture as well. We’re very similar. But that said, I doubt there are a whole lot of people in Sydney like me.”

Perhaps that’s true. But thanks to cyberspace, it’s clear that Sydney and Burbank have effectively merged, anyway. And at least one Sydney legal type has proved that when it comes to Emmy predictions, the computer keyboard has rendered irrelevant the hemisphere in which one happens to reside.