By Lee Alan Hill
Special to TelevisionWeek
A fresh wind will be blowing, at least gently, at the 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards. And while the broadcast networks may never again dominate the nomination tally, increases in the number of nominations they received at least have given them back some dignity.
Bolstered by 15 nominations for “Desperate Housewives” and 12 for “Lost,” ABC will keep its corporate fingers crossed that it will win in several major categories. CBS is tops among broadcast networks with 59 nominations, and NBC’s 54 and Fox’s 49 give them shots at bragging rights too. Adding to the take by broadcast networks are 23 nominations for PBS programs, including five for “Broadway: The American Musical.”
“If you look at this year’s nominations, a lot of them are new,” said Dick Askin, chairman and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the organization that bestows the Prime-time Emmys. “In some categories you see a 60 percent to 80 percent change in this year’s nominees from last year’s.”
Whether the batch of new nominees represents a vibrant creative burst or is simply due to the absence of several series that dominated the Emmy nominations for years-such as “Frasier,” “Friends” and “Sex and the City”-is open to conjecture.
Premium cable channels, particularly HBO, still have Emmy clout. The pay TV giant led the pack with 93 total nominations, far ahead of runner-up CBS, despite the absence of “Sex and the City” “The Sopranos” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” which did not produce new episodes last season.
Additionally, while HBO did not have the critically acclaimed miniseries “Angels in America” on its docket this year, it still showed its strong hand in long-form TV, with “The Life and Death of Peter Sellers” and “Warm Springs” each earning the most nominations of any program (16), the miniseries “Empire Falls” receiving 10 and “Lackawanna Blues” receiving seven.
“Deadwood” earned 11 nominations for HBO, including drama series, and “Carniv%E0;le” boasts eight.
HBO’s pay TV rival, Showtime, also broke through in the series categories in a big way for the first time, with seven nominations for its “Huff.” For that series, Showtime began its awards promotional campaign early, sending screeners to academy members in February in the midst of the awards show season, gambling that potential voters would sample the DVD, not toss it aside.
Still, the expectations for the pay TV networks, particularly HBO, seemed to be greater, and the failure of its “Entourage” series to gain a comedy series nomination is sending an impression that the network’s hegemony may have peaked.
As a result, the resurgence of the broadcast networks is at least giving the impression that the field is more open, and that this is will be beneficial for both the Emmys and television.
“That the nominations in the acting categories have some new faces and some faces from shows considered to be more hip, such as ‘Scrubs’ and ‘Arrested Development,’ could well get the attention of younger viewers,” said Michael Wallach, a longtime personal manager and the author of “How to Get Arrested,” a how-to-break-in novella for actors to be published in late September.
“This makes the Emmys more inspiring to up-and-coming actors and hopefuls still at home, saying to them, ‘Hey, you have a chance too,” Mr. Wallach added. “And considering that the majority of the country’s TV households don’t subscribe to HBO and Showtime, it’s telling the wider audience, ‘Hey, this year you’re not left out.'”
Carolyn Finger, VP of research for TVTracker.com, the online television research service, concurred.
“HBO still got the most nominations,” she said. “But the increased nominations by the broadcast networks sends a message that they have responded to the competition from the premium channels and are now more open to telling a wider breadth of stories.”
All is not equal among broadcast networks. UPN received only three nominations, and The WB-despite an extensive campaign for “Gilmore Girls”-received only two, for cinematography for a multicamera series for “Reba” (Bryan Hays, director of photography) and for outstanding sound editing for a series for “Smallville.”
To put those numbers in perspective, actress Blythe Danner alone received three nominations. Ms. Danner is nominated for supporting actress in a drama (“Huff”), actress in a miniseries or movie (“Back When We Were Grownups”) and for her comedy guest appearance on an episode of “Will & Grace.”
“In the case of UPN, you can say that this is a network that has only now begun to find its identity and its Emmy chances will come,” Ms. Finger said. “In the case of The WB, I think you can say the voters are just overlooking it. I was always surprised that ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ was never nominated, because in its day it pushed the envelope.
“On the other hand,” Ms. Finger said, “While you can say ‘Jack & Bobby’ deserved some consideration this year, particularly the work of Christine Lahti, the show was canceled. You can’t fault The WB for not doing an Emmy campaign for a show it chose not to keep on the air.”
Of course, the home audience-the people CBS and ATAS hope will be watching in greater numbers this year-is presumably less interested in the competition among networks and distribution systems and more interested in which actors and programs win in the individual categories.
Handicapping those competitions may, according to some pundits who follow these matters, become even more of a quasi-science.
“You can’t handicap the Emmys like you do the Oscars,” said Tom O’Neil, who has written numerous books on entertainment industry awards and whose Web site, Goldderby.com, disseminates news and speculation about those honors.
“With the Emmys, you have to know what episodes the producers or actors or other nominees have been submitted to be judged,” Mr. O’Neil continued. “The judges suspend popularity when they do their jobs and really do assess the work. That’s our experience following this in depth for 12 years.”
According to Mr. O’Neil, the judging panels-which have been at home for the past three years and larger than they were previously, appear to have some tendencies that often play out in the voting.
His study suggests that, for example, an actor is more likely to win-even in a comedy category-if the episodes submitted for judging contain work that expresses a “full emotional range, has an important ‘money scene’ and creates some sympathy for the character within the story.”
Mr. O’Neil, who said he advised Sarah Jessica Parker, who last year finally won for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series after five nominations, to submit the final episode of “Sex and the City.” Before that, he noted, Ms. Parker had submitted episodes in which her work was mostly comedic or included scenes in which her actions could be seen as bitchy.
“The bitch factor does not work,” Mr. O’Neil added. “That may be one reason why Susan Lucci lost all those years in the daytime Emmys. Her character is the bitch of the show [“All My Children”]. It may also be why Eva Longoria and Nicollette Sheridan were overlooked for ‘Desperate Housewives’ this year. Their characters are often perceived as being a tart or a bitch, which makes the audience feel there is not an ongoing wide emotional range happening.”
“Desperate Housewives” did place three of its stars in the lead actress in a comedy series category-Marcia Cross, Felicity Huffman and Teri Hatcher, who won the Golden Globe for her work earlier this year. The first-year series also is contending for comedy series, a category that often favors one-hour shows over half-hour shows.
Handicapping may be difficult when it comes to the Emmys, but book is being made.
The early lines on BetWWTs.com, the gambling Web site, set “Housewives” as a 3:5 favorite to win comedy series honors over “Will & Grace” at 4:1, and that Teri Hatcher was the favorite to win as comedy ser
ies actress (4:5) over her castmates Felicity Huffman (4:1) and Marcia Cross (5:1).
Jason Bateman of Fox’s “Arrested Development” is favored for comedy actor (8:5), James Spader of “Boston Legal” as drama actor (8:5), and Glenn Close as actress in a drama (1:1) for her season on FX’s “The Shield.”
“The Shield” was one of several veteran series that seems to have fallen from favor. While Ms. Close and the venerable CCH Pounder (supporting actress in a drama series) were nominated, both the show and Michael Chiklis, its Emmy-winning lead, were overlooked.
Similarly, “The West Wing,” which has dominated drama series categories for the past five years, received a nod as best series, but not for most of its players, including Alison Janney, who has won Emmys four of the past five seasons.
“CSI” also did not receive a nomination as best drama series, although it has contended in two of its four previous seasons.
On the other hand, “Everybody Loves Raymond” received 13 nominations and “Will & Grace” 15. In the case of “Raymond,” some perceive this as part of the farewell to the show, which just closed out its nine-year run.
As for “Will & Grace,” Mr. O’Neil believes it still is in there swinging for Emmys even after some believe its creativity has peaked, “Because there’s a huge gay population in the TV industry who give it a loyalty vote-and I say this as a gay man.”
“I have no idea what the message is of all this,” Mr. Askin said. “No matter what anyone tells you, you can’t decipher what 12,000 people (the ATAS voting membership) will do on an ongoing basis.”
Also of interest to Emmy watchers this year is the case of Angela Lansbury. Ms. Lansbury has never won an Emmy during an illustrious career that in TV alone dates back more than 55 years.
This year she earned her 18th nomination-all received since 1983-for her guest work in an episode of “Law & Order: SVU/Trial by Jury.” If she loses, Ms. Lansbury will tie Susan Lucci for the most nominations without winning an Emmy. Ms. Lucci won hers on the 19th try.
The 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards
Creative Arts Awards
When: Sept. 11
Where: Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles
Auspices: Academy of Television Arts & Sciences
Primetime Emmys Telecast
When: Sept. 18, 8-11 p.m. (ET; tape-delayed outside of Eastern time zone)
Where: Shrine Auditorium
Executive producer: Ken Ehrlich
Auspices: Academy of Television Arts & Sciences
Host: TBA (at press time)