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Stars Shine in Area of Nonfiction

Nature, Politics Also Prove Popular Topics as Series, Special Nominees Tell True Stories

Fascination with the private lives and public careers of the famous and infamous is a major factor among the nominees in the nonfiction categories, where A&E's "Biography" is pitted against Bravo's "Inside the Actors Studio." Half the nods for nonfiction series and nonfiction special went to programs about movies and celebrities. The other nominees were those that explored nature and hot political topics.

Bravo Executive VP of Programming and Production Frances Berwick is particularly pleased by "Inside the Actors Studio's" 11th consecutive nomination, noting the show's host, James Lipton, received a Lifetime Achievement Award earlier this year from the National Television Academy. She credits Mr. Lipton with much of the success of the series.

"It's an incredibly simple and unique format," she said. "The format has not changed over the years. It's one person interviewing one person for somewhere between three and four hours. It's a very intense and intimate conversation in front of a fairly large audience. We tape at Pace University in a big auditorium, and it's an educational process for the students since it's a course they have to attend. Yet it's probably the most personal and real side of an artist that you can get."

Ms. Berwick says the spontaneity adds to the show's allure. "None of it is rehearsed," she said. "I think many of them come on the show and think they know what they're going to say in advance to certain questions. But then I really think they enjoy the process so much that they end up revealing more about their process and their craft and personal things."

Ms. Berwick said this year's submissions for consideration by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences were carefully chosen. "We submitted Dustin Hoffman, who, incredibly, we had never had on the show. We loved that episode. We also submitted the Diana Ross two-hour special."

Rob Sharenow, senior VP of nonfiction and alternative programming at A&E, said the selection of the featured celebrity is also a key to success for the network's "Biography."

"Choosing the subject is the most important piece of the puzzle," he said. "We always try to find the people who will generate the greatest viewer interest and have the most fascinating stories. This year we submitted [for academy members' consideration] the biography of Johnny Depp, who is the perfect combination of an A-list insider, a serious actor, a heartthrob and a truly quirky individual."

Unlike "Inside the Actors Studio," which has a format that has remained constant over the years, Mr. Sharenow says "Biography" has changed. "The format of 'Biography' is constantly evolving, and there's great variety in the style of storytelling depending on the subject," he said. "For example, much of our biography of Gene Simmons was shot fly-on-the-wall style, capturing Gene in his natural environments. The show was such a creative success that it served as the launching pad for our series 'Gene Simmons: Family Jewels.'"

Even though "Biography" is about famous people, Mr. Sharenow says the show's success can be attributed to the way people empathize with what they see in each episode. "The show has a strange alchemy that combines the extraordinary with the relatable," he said. "On some level, viewers like to be transported and inspired by stories of people who have led big lives and achieved greatness or infamy. On the other hand, there is something very satisfying about learning about the more ordinary struggles of these same people, to know that underneath it all they are human."

Mr. Sharenow said A&E has high hopes for "Biography's" branding and ability to nurture A&E's other properties. "The biggest news about the 'Biography' series is that it can now be found exclusively on the Biography Channel," he said. "It's rare to find a series franchise so strong that it can provide the foundation for an entire network. This year we've got 110 new hours of the series planned, including Beyonce, Sacha Baron Cohen and Jon Stewart."

Also nominated for the nonfiction series Emmy are "American Masters," PBS' ongoing series of programs examining the lives, works and creative processes of the nation's outstanding cultural artists; and two Discovery Channel shows: "Deadliest Catch" follows eight crab-fishing vessels as their captains and crew struggle against treacherous weather conditions doing one of the deadliest -- and most lucrative -- jobs in the world, while "Planet Earth" is the result of its filmmakers' journey to the ends of the earth to capture the essence of the planet, spending 2,000 days in the field living for weeks or months at a time in remote locations.

NONFICTION SPECIAL NOMINEES

  • "Ghosts of Abu Ghraib" (HBO) Filmmaker Rory Kennedy looks beyond the headlines in this documentary to investigate the psychological and political context in which torture occurred at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq.

  • "AFI's 100 Years ... 100 Cheers: America's Most Inspiring Movies" (CBS)
    A jury of 1,500 film artists, critics and historians selects the most inspiring movies of all time.

  • "Blood Diamonds" (History Channel)
    The human cost of the illicit global diamond trade is examined in this documentary.

  • "Brando" (TCM)
    The documentary features never-before-seen footage and in-depth interviews with co-stars and Hollywood contemporaries of the late Marlon Brando.

  • "Star Wars: The Legacy Revealed" (History Channel)
    The two-hour special makes the argument that the emotional impact of George Lucas' "Star Wars" saga remains as strong as ever.

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