Emmys maintain cable momentum

Broadcast fare unable to take advantage of rule change

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Emmy rule changes that could have allowed broadcasters to fend off competition from cable did little to stop its momentum.

The broadcast/cable comparison isn't about pride. The idea behind expanding from five to six nominees in key categories was aimed at making room for more shows that are widely seen, which would give more potential viewers a rooting interest.

Although the change had some impact in the comedy categories, it does not appear to have worked as hoped for the high-profile outstanding drama series category, where four of six nominees are from basic or premium cable outlets.

John Leverence, senior vp awards at the TV academy, noted that the broadcasters held on to 59% of the total nominations in the 14 "premier drama and comedy categories," including outstanding program and lead, supporting and guest-acting honors. That's down slightly from last year.

The reality is that many highly rated shows "that tend to drive a lot of viewers toward (the Emmy Awards) show," Leverence said, citing such series as "CSI" and "Criminal Minds," are not included on the list of nominees.

The effort to pump up the ratings for this year's ceremony is particularly important because this will be the last Emmy broadcast before a new contract is negotiated. Although there will be one more telecast in fall 2010 under the current eight-year deal, the contract requires negotiations for a new agreement to take place next summer.

The academy has made it clear that it would prefer to keep the major broadcast networks airing the show, but how much rights go for -- or whether some combination of cable or even online might be involved -- remains to be seen.

Premium cable outlets HBO and Showtime did well in this year's nominations, but spokesmen for both nets made clear they have no current plans to bid for rights to the Emmys. In 2002, HBO did put an offer on the table, which included opening up its signal to every viewer for free that night, but that doesn't appear likely to happen in the next round.

"We're unbelievably supportive of the Emmys, but the clear preference seem to be to continue on broadcast," said Michael Lombardo, president of the programming group and West Coast operations at HBO. "If there was a plan that made sense for us to be included, we would love to talk about it, but we're not sitting here contemplating an end run on the Emmy program."

Bob Greenblatt, president of entertainment at Showtime Networks, which scored a record 29 noms this year (up from 21 last year), said he doesn't think Showtime would go after the broadcast. "I think the actual Emmy show is a lot less interesting than the shows that are nominated," he said.

However, that doesn't mean cable outlets won't continue to dominate categories like outstanding drama series, which used to belong almost exclusively to broadcasters.

The most-nominated network among drama series this year was AMC, which had two of the six best series nominations with "Breaking Bad" and last year's winner, "Mad Men."

"A branded environment has been a real advantage for cable," said Charlie Collier, president and GM of AMC. "We know what we want our brands to mean, and we have really selected and nurtured projects that shoot directly for our brand."

The basic and premium cablers not only have more money and time for development, but they also have the advantage of being able to do a full season with fewer episodes, noted David Shore, creator and exec producer of Fox's "House," one of only two broadcast drama series nominees (along with ABC's "Lost").

"It's easier to do television when you are only doing 13 (episodes)," Shore said, "and they are doing good television."

Shore added that the high rate of failure among broadcast shows is because of the pressure to perform quickly. "It's very difficult to nurture a show when millions and millions of dollars ride on it," he said.

Will Scheffer, co-executive producer of the HBO series "Big Love," which received its first drama series nomination, said his show would never have gotten on the air at a broadcast network. "It had to be on cable, and I'd say it had to be on HBO in particular," he said. "It's not just the care that goes into making this kind of drama, or the subject matter, but there is a different approach to putting this together, which is more cinematic."

HBO president Richard Plepler shrugged off the idea that cable nets have an advantage because they can spend more time and money on a show, "At the end of the day," he said, "it's still about what you put on the air."