Reality, Basic Cable Gleam With Emmy

Jul 21, 2003  •  Post A Comment

The Academy of Television Arts and Sciences made a last-minute decision last week to present its new reality competition Emmy Award during the 55th annual Primetime Emmy Awards telecast.
The move was one of few surprises to emerge from the Primetime Emmy nomination announcements early on the morning of July 17, which turned out to be a big day for both pay-cable service HBO-the network that has dominated the nominations in recent years-and HBO’s emerging basic cable competitors. The awards show will air Sept. 21 on Fox.
One of the few real shockers among major nominations-where even “firsts” such as the recognition of “Monk” star Tony Shalhoub in the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy category had been widely predicted-was the absence of “Law & Order” from the best drama series list. If the flagship of the NBC franchise had been nominated for Outstanding Drama again this year, it would have surpassed “Cheers” and “MASH” for most consecutive best-series nominations. Now it will go into the record books as a three-way tie; each of the three series has 11 consecutive best-series nods.
Nominees for Outstanding Drama are CBS’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” HBO’s “The Sopranos,” Fox’s “24” and NBC’s “The West Wing.”
Successful franchising of the “Law & Order” brand might be the real reason for the drama’s lack of an Emmy nomination this year. At least that’s the word from an insider in producer Dick Wolf’s camp. With “Law & Order” proliferating, Emmy voters would have, necessarily, the option of splitting their ballots among not only the flagship but its “SVU” and “Criminal Intent” siblings as well. In addition, the drama series category was considered one of this season’s most competitive, with “Sopranos” once again being eligible after a year off as well as the rise of several newcomers and sophomores.
In a statement released on the day of the nominations, “Law & Order” creator Dick Wolf said, “Everyone associated with `Law & Order’ appreciates the academy’s tremendous support for the show over the past 11 years. It is an honor to be nominated once, and to be nominated 11 times in a row is a testament to the incredible work that the writers, actors and everyone on the team has done and will hopefully continue to do for years to come.”
The statement pointed out that “on a day of disappointments, it was gratifying to see that `Law & Order,’ in its 13th season, had more than 13 million viewers during its regular airing last night,” referring to the flagship’s summer ratings performance Wednesday night.
Also noticeably absent from the nominations was oft-nominated “Frasier” star Kelsey Grammer as well as HBO’s critically acclaimed freshman drama series “The Wire.” Chris Albrecht, HBO’s chairman and CEO, pronounced himself “not disappointed” that “The Wire” wasn’t on the final Emmy list of Outstanding Dramas and wasn’t represented in other major categories.
“The work that’s on `The Wire’ is among the best on television, but I can’t say that any of the shows that are in those categories didn’t deserve to be there,” Mr. Albrecht said. “It’s standing in the wings and ready to be included in the future.”
The disparity between the critics’ accolades for “The Wire” and the show’s dearth of Emmy nominations is simply due to the fact that critics are “writing about a new show, and they’re real students of it,” he said. “It was a first-year show. It’s a serialized show. It’s an ensemble show, and those things sometimes take a little bit longer to be recognized. But we don’t take it personally.”
As predicted, nominees for Outstanding Comedy were, well, predicted. Just like last year, they are: HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” HBO’s “Sex and the City,” CBS’s “Everybody Loves Raymond,” NBC’s “Friends” and NBC’s “Will & Grace.”
The Reality of Reality
ATAS Chairman Bryce Zabel told TelevisionWeek the decision to move the reality competition category to the telecast was finalized the night before the nominations were announced. ATAS’s board of governors approved the decision following an afternoon meeting between ATAS and its four broadcast network partners on the Emmys-ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC. They agreed to launch a four-year “reality-in-prime-time” trial, Mr. Zabel said. Until that point, ATAS had maintained that the Emmys’ reality prizes all would be handed out during the nontelevised Creative Arts ceremony Sept. 13, rather than the gala event on Fox.
“In order to migrate any award into the prime-time telecast, it requires the mutual consent of the four networks that are our broadcast partners and the academy,” Mr. Zabel said. The Emmys next year will be broadcast on ABC, on CBS the following year and on NBC after that.
The reality award that will be handed out at the kudocast was renamed for this year’s awards. It previously was known as the Nonfiction (Special Class) award. The nominees are: CBS’s “The Amazing Race,” Fox’s “American Idol,” CBS’s “Survivor,” CBS’s “AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Passions: America’s Greatest Love Stories” and NBC’s “100 Years of Hope and Humor.”
The move means the reality genre has made a “breakthrough,” Bertram van Munster, executive producer and co-creator of “The Amazing Race,” said.
“Reality is here to stay,” he said. Nonetheless, Mr. van Munster expects the public will tire of the genre “if we recycle and there are too many derivatives. … That danger is there, and that’s why I, personally, and my company have held back a little in proposing anything” new in the genre.
The reality nod given on the telecast is what is known as an “area” award, so multiple winners-or no winners-could be named. The nominees are not actually in competition with one another, rather Emmy voters will determine whether those shows are of Emmy Award quality on their own. However, that could change as early as next year’s awards show. Mr. Zabel suspects that making reality a competitive category will be on of the agenda when the awards committee meets ahead of next year’s awards.
“There’s a constant evaluation of what’s on TV and what kind of awards you’re giving,” said Mr. Zabel, who is not running for re-election and will end his run as chairman in October.
“We have to acknowledge that in addition to honoring television we’re in the business of putting on a TV show,” he added. “So we need to reach out to people who watch TV, and a lot people who watch TV are watching reality.”
Cable Connection
Cable overall, both basic and premium, continued its assault on the golden statuette. The most-nominated series this year is HBO’s “Six Feet Under,” with 16 nods, including one for Outstanding Drama. HBO’s “Sex and the City” and CBS’s “Everybody Loves Raymond” were the most nominated comedy series, with 13 nominations each.
While less than a third of U.S. TV households subscribe to HBO, the pay-TV network received 109 nominations, the most in the cable network’s history. Mr. Zabel said he saw it coming.
“As technology changes inside our homes, the consumer of television is more and more seeing television as whatever they can access through the screen,” Mr. Zabel said. “The average viewer at home doesn’t necessarily distinguish between cable and broadcast.”
While HBO received more nominations this year (109) than ever before, it was just shy of the Emmy record for a network take overall. NBC holds the record for number of nominations (114 in 1998) since 1987, when cable became eligible to compete for the awards. And with 77 noms, NBC this year is far behind HBO; the gap also is shy of a record. The biggest spread between the top and second-place network finishers stands at the record set in 1995, when HBO, at 41, followed NBC and CBS, which tied at 91.
Indeed, the rise of basic cable is “phenomenal,” said Mr. Shalhoub, whose credits before basic cable’s hour-long “Monk,” for which he won a Golden Globe last year, include past broadcast shows “Wings” and “Stark Raving Mad.” “The whole landscape of TV has been shifting in the last few years, hasn’t it,
with the onslaught of HBO and Showtime and now FX? … It sort of levels the playing field.”
Mr. Shalhoub was the first basic cable star to be nominated in the lead actor in a Comedy series category. Joining Mr. Shalhoub in the Outstanding Actor in a Comedy category were Larry David (HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), Bernie Mac (Fox’s “The Bernie Mac Show”), Matt LeBlanc (“Friends”), Eric McCormack (“Will & Grace”) and Ray Romano (“Raymond”). Six actors were nominated in the category because there was a tie for fifth place among nominations.
So why did Mr. Shalhoub get nominated?
“I think they felt sorry for me,” Mr. Shalhoub told TelevisionWeek, speaking very much in character as the obsessive-compulsive detective Adrian Monk. Emmy voters “always respond to people who have a disorder or some kind of infirmity or handicap.
“I’m not above taking a sympathy vote,” he added.
Mr. Shalhoub prepares for the character simply by waking up in the morning, he joked. “It’s not so much a matter of doing things,” he explained on a more serious note, “It’s really more a matter of not filtering or controlling impulses.”
No matter who wins the category, HBO’s Mr. Albrecht will be looking for the on-camera reaction of Larry David, whom he said is in real life a “lot like” his character, “Larry David,” on HBO’s “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” “I’m going to be looking … to watch how uncomfortable he is when they call out his name in the Best Actor in a Comedy category,” Mr. Albrecht said.
Michael Chiklis, the first basic cable star to win the lead actor in a drama series nod with his victory last year for his role on FX’s “The Shield,” was nominated again.
Other indications that basic cable, once maligned, has found new respect and Emmy heat: Two of the three miniseries nominees-Sci Fi’s “Steven Spielberg Presents Taken” and A&E’s “Napoleon”-were telecast by basic cable. The third miniseries nominee was CBS’s “Hitler: The Rise of Evil.”
Perhaps nowhere is the ascent of basic cable better highlighted this year than at USA Network and Sci Fi Channel, which together received 15 nods, compared with the network group’s single nomination last year, a technical nom for former Sci Fi series “Farscape.”
Sci Fi’s epic miniseries “Taken” received multiple nods, as did its made-for-television movie “Frank Herbert’s Children of Dune.” USA also snagged a nomination for James Woods performance in its “Rudy” television movie.
“It’s kind of a great about-face for us to go from … being down at the bottom of the list to being at the top of the list for basic cable,” said Michael Jackson, chairman of the Universal Television Group.
While FX’s “The Shield” takes the cop show into language and other graphic territory that broadcast television can’t match, USA’s “Monk,” about a neurotically timid cop, “doesn’t need to curse,” Mr. Jackson said. “In fact, it would kind of be a betrayal of what it is.”
For a complete list of nominations, go to www.tvweek.com.