'Heroes' welcome

If history is any indication, bold new series are likely to fare particularly well when the HFPA announces its nominations.

It's a study in contrasts. The Aaron Sorkin-produced freshman NBC hour "Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip" hit the air in September in a blaze of glory and critical raves, only to have the honeymoon sour roughly a minute after its premiere had concluded, earning lousy ratings and negative backlash in seemingly equal measure. Weeks later, the quirky fellow NBC newcomer "Heroes" crept onto the schedule hearing nary a peep but almost instantly became a highly touted, surprisingly popular underdog success story.

Yet, both series appear poised to emerge as strong contenders when members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. announce their nominations for the Golden Globe Awards on Dec. 14. Whereas voting members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences have a penchant for honoring the tried and true at the Primetime Emmy Awards, the HFPA tends to embrace newer, edgier programs -- your demographically-needy, your ratings-poor, your inspired dramas yearning to attract breathing bodies.


"In some ways, we really are geared to finding the next hit instead of following on the heels of something someone else has already proclaimed a hit," offers Jenny Cooney Carrillo, co-chair of the HFPA's Golden Globes TV committee. "That isn't always the case, of course. You have phenomenons like (ABC's) 'Lost' that are so huge, it's obvious, and you can't avoid them. But I'd say that in a majority of cases, we've nominated people and dramas long before, or at least a year before, the Emmys have noticed them. They seem to have a habit of jumping on shows after we already championed them."

Carrillo mentions "The X-Files" and "Party of Five" as examples of drama series "on the verge of cancellation that we indirectly or directly helped keep on the air by honoring them with nominations. People forget that 'X-Files' really was floundering back when we honored it in the mid-1990s. I've heard from people involved with the show who years later have told me, 'If not for your guys, we might not have survived.'"

Carrillo adds that the HFPA also bestowed a Globes statuette on Kiefer Sutherland for the first season of Fox's "24," "which we think helped spur the whole idea of serialized dramas."

And it isn't as if that progressive mind-set ended with the 1990s, either. In January, the series nominees included the soon-to-be-canceled ABC political drama "Commander in Chief" and the robes-and-breastplates HBO historical drama "Rome," as well as Fox's first-year "Prison Break."

Will form follow again? If it does, expect to see freshman shows such as "Studio 60," "Heroes," CBS' "Jericho" and the Showtime serial-killer drama "Dexter" busting through, if not in the series category then at least in the acting lineups.

"Studio 60" showrunner Sorkin already has had a little success with the Golden Globes, having earned a series nomination for "The West Wing" in its first season (2000) and winning in the category the following year (the show earned five top drama nominations in all, winning once).

"I try not to think too much about the stuff that's out of my control, like awards," Sorkin says. "But that said, it meant a lot to me and everyone connected to 'West Wing' to get that recognition from the Hollywood Foreign Press right out of the gate. We were by no means a slam-dunk hit at that point, and it helped do for us what that organization historically seems to do best: turn critical hits into popular hits."

"Heroes" creator/executive producer Tim Kring never enjoyed that kind of success for his previous NBC hour, "Crossing Jordan," which failed to earn recognition from either the Globes or the Emmys. But Kring has higher hopes for his new baby given the buzz surrounding "Heroes" and the quality label that he believes already has been affixed to it.

"You always attempt to do something very bold and different and stand out from the crowd, and it's nice when your effort in that direction actually gets acknowledged," Kring says. "In terms of the Globes, I have to believe we've got a few things going for us on 'Heroes' that helps our chances -- like our large, multicultural cast and the fact we were able to air 11 original episodes in a row during the qualifying period.

"I mean, you never know how this stuff is going to play out, of course," Kring continues. "But any recognition would mean a huge amount to us on the show. We'll have been off the air for six weeks by the time the Globes air on Jan. 15, but then we come back on the 22nd, the following Monday. You dream about having an awards-show boost power you into the second half of your season."

Indeed, the Globes' mid-January berth makes it a perfect midseason marketing tool for dramas in need of viewer traction or simply a timely shot of affirmation.

"If a show is seen as underperforming or on the bubble, anything that gets you a little bit of positive attention makes a huge difference," Carrillo explains. "Our show comes on at a time when people are paying close heed to the numbers and are starting to make decisions."

Howard Gordon, an executive producer on "24," certainly thinks the Golden Globe attention for his show made a sizable impact on its evolution from a critics' darling to a popular mainstream hit.

"Having Kiefer win in Year 1 and the show in Year 2 drew a lot of notice our way, no question," Gordon says. "The Golden Globes really do like to put themselves out there anointing the next wave, and we benefited from that at a time when we were struggling in the ratings. In fact, there was talk internally of changing the format, and I have to believe that getting a drama series nomination our first season helped to prevent that from happening."

FX Network president and general manager John Landgraf says he, too, is grateful that the HFPA voted FX's 'The Shield" for top drama series and its star, Michael Chiklis, for best actor in a drama in 2003. He's hoping this time for another breakthrough -- a series nomination for the seriocomic firefighter hour "Rescue Me," starring Denis Leary.

"We also have a number of performers whom I'd love to see recognized," Landgraf says, "especially Denis and Forest Whitaker for 'The Shield,' who was simply phenomenal. And I have high hopes, quite frankly, because the Golden Globes are brave.

Our record with them bears that out. They honor edge and innovation and originality over perception and popularity.

"Since the Hollywood Foreign Press is a smaller organization, they can actually watch the shows they nominate and vote for and sort of be more nimble," Landgraf adds. "They have a legacy of singling out excellence, independent voices that the Emmys never recognize. And I think it makes a big difference that in the foreign territories that the HFPA's reporters cover, there's no difference between where a 'Rescue Me' or a 'Grey's Anatomy' runs. They don't have to be controlled by the broadcast or basic cable labels that too often impact the process."

That's music to the ears of Showtime president Robert Greenblatt, who is pushing the candidacy of a couple of acclaimed original dramas: "Brotherhood" and "Dexter."

"The subject matter of 'Dexter' is something that could turn some people off," Greenblatt concedes, "but we also might have thought that of 'Six Feet Under' (which Greenblatt executive produced), and that won the Golden Globe its first season.

So, you never know. And I'm really, really hopeful for Michael C. Hall on 'Dexter.' He's just been so extraordinary and so different from his character on 'Six Feet.'"