HBO Sets Record For Emmy Noms

Jul 23, 2004  •  Post A Comment

In a year predicted to be predictable, the list of Emmy nominations announced last week still managed to offer a few surprise firsts: The first time cable scored more nominations than broadcast, the first time two freshman shows (“Arrested Development” and “Joan of Arcadia”) landed in best series categories, the first time any network has received a ridiculous 124 nominations.

HBO earned nearly twice the number of nominations bestowed on second-place NBC on the strength of AIDS crisis miniseries “Angels in America” and veteran mob drama “The Sopranos,” which together accounted for about a third of the network’s total honors.

Straining to reflect the scope of the nominations, HBO Chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht said, “We’re very happy for all the terrifically talented people who work in all these categories in every area of production to receive this acknowledgement from their peers.”

For “Angels” executive producer Cary Brokaw, the nominations represented a climactic payoff after 14 years of trying to bring the project to life. “I’m definitely having a very good day,” he said. “I’m particularly thrilled all of our principal actors were recognized.”

Still, one HBO show was noticeably snubbed from the uppermost echelons of Emmy-dom: The neo-Western “Deadwood,” which managed to tie “Sex and the City” for 11 nominations, failed to gain the expected recognition for best drama series or best actor (for the superlatively profane Ian McShane).

“I think it’s tough with first-year shows,” Mr. Albrecht said. “It’s a competitive category, but just because something didn’t get nominated doesn’t mean it’s not a great show. Hopefully we’ll see it in there next year.”

Series creator David Milch was similarly circumspect. “It’s very gratifying and obviously I wish the show had been nominated, but these things have a natural history,” he said.

“Deadwood” wasn’t the only heavyweight contender to be snubbed in the top categories. The final seasons of “Friends” and “Frasier” failed to earn best series nominations, along with perpetual underdog “Scrubs.”

Less noticed by critics, but equally surprising, was that basic cable favorites “The Shield,” “Monk” and “Nip/Tuck” failed to crack the top series categories after their successful infiltration of the Golden Globes. Likewise, “The Shield” star Michael Chiklis and “Nip/Tuck” actors Julian McMahon and Joely Richardson, who were considered front-runners for the acting slots, were shut out. Only “Monk” star Tony Shalhoub managed to break broadcast and HBO’s Emmy top-shelf lock with a best actor nomination.

“Sometimes you have to take the bitter with the sweet,” said FX spokesman John Solberg. “People need to be mindful this is still relatively new territory. For basic cable to even be in the ballgame is quite an accomplishment.”

But try telling that to Abbe Raven, executive VP and general manager of A&E, which garnered 24 nominations-more than The WB, UPN, TNT, Bravo and USA Networks combined. Granted, most of the nods were in technical categories for one-shot productions, but it’s still an impressive feat on basic cable.

“We are way ahead of the pack,” she said. “To me this says if doing quality and excellence in programming is what you’re after, it can be had in basic cable. This shows we can be a leader in key areas: documentaries, dramas and performance programming.”

On the network side, most of the series nominations were seemingly handed down from previous years despite having ho-hum seasons. Nominations went to “24,” “Will & Grace,” “CSI” and even “The West Wing”-which Emmy voters refused to abandon even though creator Aaron Sorkin has gone, and television critics and a sizable chunk of viewers have given up on the show. “Arrested Development” and “Joan of Arcadia” made the scene, the former being almost a lock given the amount of critical shoving behind the show.

Meanwhile, network dependence on reality programming means the outstanding reality category is becoming increasingly meaningful despite its brief history. “Amazing Race,” “Survivor,” “American Idol,” “The Apprentice” and “Last Comic Standing” were chosen.

“Ultimately I think it’s good for the genre,” said Fox reality executive Mike Darnell of the category. “It’s getting more respect and being taken more seriously.”

As for cable’s other premium service, Showtime also had a record-breaking year with 18 nominations, albeit for mostly modest categories. Some of the most meaningful nominations for Showtime Entertainment President Robert Greenblatt were those he garnered for his executive produced PBS drama “American Family,” which earned three nominations but faces an uncertain future.

“It’s nice to have statues on our mantelpiece, but sometimes it can even help shows get over the hurdle,” Mr. Greenblatt said.

Whether broadcast’s declining ratings share and HBO’s increasingly embarrassing annual Emmys romp will cause a sea change at broadcast networks remains to be seen. Granted, HBO’s modest slate and enormous resources make for a formidable programmer. But Robert Kubey, director of the Center for Media Studies at Rutgers University and author of “Creating Television,” said broadcast networks will eventually have to change their creative model to remain competitive.

“There’s a trend we see with this great number of nominations once again received by HBO that the standard commercial networks are having a great deal of trouble competing,” Mr. Kubey said. “I don’t think they’ve learned the lesson HBO has about giving creators a tremendous amount of freedom to create the programs they want to.”

There’s always next year. #