In Depth

Adalian Column: Enough Emmy Excuses

If Emmy voters had a message for the broadcast networks this year, it was this: No more excuses.

The breakthroughs by basic cable’s AMC and FX—along with strong showings by ad-supported networks such as TNT, USA, Bravo, Sci Fi and A&E—demonstrated that you can make a creative splash even when operating under the constraints of commercial television.

For more than a decade, the big networks have whined that HBO’s success at the Emmys was powered largely by its ability to spend lavishly on series production. When that didn’t work, they took refuge in the fact that HBO didn’t answer to advertisers and thus could put on whatever it wanted, Procter & Gamble be damned.

And yet FX didn’t break the bank to make “Damages,” at least compared to the cost of producing a “Grey’s Anatomy” or a “CSI.” AMC still airs commercials in between smoke-filled scenes of “Mad Men.”

To be sure, cable still has some major advantages over broadcasters when it comes to Emmy competition. Most of its series produce just 13 episodes per season (or fewer), compared to the 22-plus on the big nets. And cable’s dual-revenue stream makes it easier to support gems like “Mad Men” or “Damages,” even when they attract minuscule audiences.

But network executives wondering why they don’t get the same Emmy love they used to need to stop blaming the Emmy voting system and instead take a long, hard look at the way they develop and nurture new shows.

With the exception of ABC, which has been a creative beacon under Steve McPherson, the broadcast networks have consistently chosen comfort over creativity when cranking out dramas in recent years.

The “CSI” and “Law & Order” franchises may be well-executed, and vital to a balanced prime-time diet. But CBS’ and NBC’s reliance on such safe choices—and Fox’s so far unsuccessful attempts to get in on their game (R.I.P., “K-Ville”)—has sent viewers hungry for challenging fare fleeing to cable.

Even when non-ABC networks come up with good shows, they rarely know what to do with them.

CBS double-pumps Canadian crime import “Flashpoint” but doesn’t offer the same support to the superior “Swingtown.” NBC has banished promising newcomer “Life” to Friday nights and exiled “Friday Night Lights” to DirecTV.

It shouldn’t be shocking, then, that this year NBC—the network of “ER,” “The West Wing,” “Hill Street Blues” and “St. Elsewhere”—has not a single show nominated for best drama. It’s the first time it has been shut out of the category since 1965.

What’s NBC’s excuse for that?

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Emmy, as usual, got a lot of things wrong.

— “Lost” is widely regarded as one of the best series of the past two decades. While it was nice to see the show back in the drama series race, the lack of writing or directing nominations is stunning.

—Emmy voters didn’t seem to be really paying attention to reality TV this year. How else to explain the absence of “Survivor” in the reality competition race following a “Fans vs. Favorites” season that Salon.com (and quite a few other critics) called the show’s best season ever?

—In another sign that older voters dominate the Academy, The CW once again was essentially shut out. Given the network’s miserable ratings, it’s not a shock that voters might not be aware of its shows. But “Aliens in America,” “Everybody Hates Chris,” the costumes and makeup for “Gossip Girl” and Tyra Banks’ hosting chops on “America’s Next Top Model” should have been enough to get the network more than two piddly nominations.

—The failure to nominate “How I Met Your Mother” for comedy series wasn’t a surprise, since it didn’t even make the TV Academy’s top 10 list released earlier this month. But nominations for both HBO’s “Entourage” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm” prove that sometimes voters can be a little too much in love with premium cable.

—On the comedy front, it would have been nice to see some love for “The Big Bang Theory,” which regularly aims for a much higher quality of comedy than Chuck Lorre’s other comedy, the Emmy-nominated “Two and a Half Men.”