HFPA ahead of its time in TV votes

HFPA voters march to the beat of their own drummers when it comes to voting for TV shows.

In September, when Emmy voters anointed AMC's "Mad Men" with an outstanding drama series trophy and Bryan Cranston and Glenn Close with top acting prizes for, respectively, AMC's "Breaking Bad" and FX's "Damages," a considerable amount of back-patting ensued. At last, cable had broken through and gotten the recognition it so long deserved from TV's arbiters of taste.

But over at the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the "sudden" cable surge was met with a shrug. The HFPA's Golden Globe Awards have been there, done that for years.

In fact, as the Globes gears up for its 66th annual kudofest on Jan. 11, 2009, in a live NBC telecast from the Beverly Hilton, the HFPA can look back to 2002 as the year the surge began for cable shows. In that year, seven of 11 nominations for cable programs won Globes; the following year, 10 winners came out of 11 nominations. Earlier this year, cable took home 10 Globes.

Which means as far as the Globes are concerned, it's the Emmys that are behind the curve.

"(Those early wins) underscore how we historically go for the best shows and the best people, no matter where they are," says Jenny Cooney Carrillo, chair of the HFPA television committee and a writer for TV Week Australia and TV Guide New Zealand. "We like to be the first to recognize shows that deserve it. More and more of those happen to come from cable."

For all of cable's potential dominance, this year is shaping up to be the most wide-open race for Globes TV categories in years, Carrillo says. The WGA strike rendered many HFPA favorites ineligible due to a lack of qualifying episodes.

"That same strike also reduced the number of new shows competing for the same spots," Carrillo adds. "It'll be interesting to see who survives among the new and the old."

Among the freshman hours likely to get serious contention for the top drama series lineup when nominations are announced Dec. 11 are CBS' "The Mentalist" and Fox's "Fringe," plus HBO's "True Blood," TNT's "Raising the Bar," FX biker hour "Sons of Anarchy" and "Breaking Bad."

First-year comedies vying for Globes glory include HBO's "Summer Heights High" as well as Brit imports "Little Britain USA" (also HBO) and Showtime's racy "Secret Diary of a Call Girl." "Britain" and "Call Girl" may see a boost thanks to their British pedigrees, as traditionally shows and stars with a U.K. connection fare exceedingly well with the HFPA.

That said, as Richard Licata, Showtime's executive vp corporate communications observes, there really is no predicting whom, and what, the HFPA will choose.

"Voters tend to be champions of new product, but not always," Licata says. "They can surprise you. And as old as the demographic is perceived, they're ironically hip. They were the first to recognize Tony Shalhoub on (USA's) 'Monk,' and (Showtime's) 'Californication' and 'Weeds,' and 'Mad Men.' The HFPA really loves television. They watch all of the episodes before making their decision."

While the Golden Globes are sometimes seen as a January precursor to the Emmy choices the following September, that has proven the exception in the best drama and comedy/musical categories the past five years. Only twice during that time have the two awards shows demonstrated same-year category solidarity -- in 2006, with ABC's "Lost," and earlier this year with "Mad Men."

This year also brought Globe-Emmy symmetry in two of the acting categories, with "Damages" star Glenn Close and "30 Rock's" (NBC) Tina Fey sweeping both.

More often, however, the Globes travel to the beat of their own drummer, boldly eschewing mainstream tradition by honoring shows like FX's "The Shield" and "Nip/Tuck" and comedies including the original British edition of "The Office," ABC's "Desperate Housewives" (twice) and, last year, HBO's Ricky Gervais entry "Extras."

"It was a big deal for us to win that Golden Globe for the show, and another for (lead actor) Michael Chiklis, back in 2003," says "Shield" creator/exec producer Shawn Ryan, who hopes to land on the HFPA radar again for his series' final season. "This group has a history of being at the forefront in acknowledging shows worthy of attention, and we're hoping that could help get us looked at."

The challenge for "Shield" is the usual logjam of drama contenders, including 2008 nominees "Grey's Anatomy" (ABC), Fox's "House," Showtime's "The Tudors" and reigning champ "Mad Men," as well as TNT's "The Closer" and "Saving Grace," Showtime's "Dexter," ABC's "Brothers & Sisters" and "Lost," and HBO's "In Treatment" and "The Wire."

As for comedies, the field is paced by"Californication," HBO's "Entourage," ABC's "Pushing Daisies" and two-time Emmy champ "30 Rock," all of which earned noms earlier this year. They will be competing for spots with ABC's "Ugly Betty," "Samantha Who?" and "Desperate Housewives," Fox's "Family Guy," and CBS' "Two and a Half Men" and "How I Met Your Mother."

Meanwhile, some of the favorites for the series acting categories include "30 Rock's" Fey and Alec Baldwin -- both previous winners for the show -- as well as two-time victor David Duchovny for "Californication," Hamm for "Mad Men," two-time winner Hugh Laurie for "House," Michael C. Hall for "Dexter," 2007 winner Kyra Sedgwick for "The Closer," Katey Sagal for "Sons of Anarchy," Anna Paquin for "True Blood" and "The Mentalist's" Simon Baker.

"Dexter" exec producer Sara Colleton, for one, would love to see Hall get recognized after two straight Globe noms for the show without a win. "The level of Michael's acting is just so high," she notes. "He goes from warm and inviting to sinister with such ease that it amazes us all."

The TV longform lineups figure to be dominated by a little HBO miniseries called "John Adams," which took home 13 Emmys in September. While the HFPA takes such satisfaction in distancing itself from its TV academy contemporaries, some overlap is simply unavoidable.

"We like to think those people follow in our footsteps rather than vice versa," Carrillo says. "Not that we really pay attention to any of that."