HBO's the don

EntertainmentTelevisionTelevision IndustryHBO (tv network)Crime, Law and JusticeArts and Culture

Home Box Office separated itself from the pack and raced away with the most nominations by far, including four out of 10 best-series contenders, as candidates for the 55th annual nighttime Emmy Awards were unveiled Thursday.

Coupled with its longtime domination of TV movie categories, the pay channel's inroads in the series balloting led to a lopsided tally of 109 nominations, versus 77 for second-place NBC. In recent years the scorecard aspect of the event has largely been a two-horse race between them.

This year, HBO had some extra firepower waiting in the wings. "The Sopranos" — left out of the running last year because it didn't air during the June-through-May eligibility period — rejoined the ranks of best drama nominees, along with "Six Feet Under" (the most-nominated program for the second straight year), Fox's thriller "24," CBS' top-rated "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation," and NBC's three-time winner "The West Wing."

In perhaps the year's most notable omission, that means NBC's durable crime show "Law & Order" was deprived of a record 12th consecutive outstanding series nomination, left to share its milestone of 11 with two sitcoms, "MASH" and "Cheers."

HBO's total didn't approach the record 148 nominations NBC amassed in 1986 — the year before cable became eligible for Emmy consideration; still, HBO's total this year marked a new plateau for cable and surpassed all other cable networks combined. Last year, HBO and NBC garnered 93 and 89 Emmy bids, respectively, as each ultimately won 24.

Collecting and campaigning for awards is part of HBO's marketing strategy, helping build its prestige and foster the perception that people should subscribe.

HBO Chairman Chris Albrecht said the "third-party validation" from critics and awards "is great for us, because it substantiates what we tell people they get when they buy us."

Still, he said, "our plan isn't to go out and get Emmys. It's our plan to do interesting and provocative work."

That's why, in hindsight, HBO's widely reported unsuccessful bid to gain exclusive TV rights to the Emmys last fall couldn't have worked out better for the channel. Although the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences rejected the offer for fear of alienating broadcasters, the telecast will attract more viewers on Fox — which is received by far more homes — and thus provide free promotion for HBO. One competing executive half-jokingly called the Emmys "a three-hour commercial" for the pay service.

Fox will televise the awards Sept. 21 from the Shrine Auditorium, under the eight-year broadcast deal, in which the show rotates among the four major broadcast networks.

The academy has also wrestled with incorporating new genres, though taming the wilds of "reality TV" has proved a tall order. The eclectic "outstanding nonfiction program" matches PBS' "Antiques Roadshow" against the likes of MTV's "The Osbournes" and HBO's "Da Ali G Show," while "American Idol" lands in the "reality/competition" category with "Survivor," "The Amazing Race," and two specials — the American Film Institute's "100 Years 100 Passions" and NBC's Bob Hope tribute "100 Years of Hope and Humor."

Bertram van Munster, producer of "Amazing Race," said he had "no idea" how those shows wound up in the same bracket but called them all "extremely respectable," while expressing some surprise that hit dating shows — such as "Joe Millionaire" and "The Bachelor" — were overlooked.

As for comedy, HBO's "Sex and the City" (which won the award two years ago) and "Curb Your Enthusiasm" face off against NBC's defending champ "Friends," heading into its swan-song season, as well as 2000 recipient "Will & Grace" and CBS' four-time bridesmaid "Everybody Loves Raymond."

In dramas, despite a rocky year that saw ratings drop precipitously and series creator Aaron Sorkin leave the program at season's end, "The West Wing's" 15 nominations trailed only "Six Feet" among all programs, followed by 13 apiece for "Sopranos," "Sex and the City" and "Raymond."

Those totals reflect just how competitive the nominations have become, particularly with a glut of quality dramas. Both "West Wing" and "Six Feet Under" registered more than 20 nominations last year, while acclaimed first-year series such as NBC's "Boomtown" and HBO's "The Wire" couldn't break through the logjam of established programs this time.

In acting categories, an aggressive marketing campaign helped another newcomer from basic cable earn a seat at the table, as "The Shield's" Michael Chiklis did last year. Tony Shalhoub was nominated as best actor in a comedy for USA Network's "Monk," a quirky hourlong series about a "defective detective" with obsessive-compulsive disorder. He's included with another newcomer, Larry David, playing his only slightly less obsessive self in the improvised "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and four previous nominees: ; Bernie Mac, for his eponymous Fox sitcom; "Friends' " Matt LeBlanc; and the last two winners, "Raymond's" Ray Romano and Eric McCormack of "Will & Grace." The presence of six nominees indicates there was a tie, although the academy does not reveal vote totals.

Most other leading candidates amounted to the usual suspects as well, with Patricia Heaton ("Raymond"), Jennifer Aniston ("Friends"), Debra Messing ("Will & Grace"), Jane Kaczmarek ("Malcolm in the Middle"), and "Sex's" Sarah Jessica Parker mirroring last year's field. In fact, Aniston, double winner Heaton and Parker have claimed the last four statuettes.

Similarly, James Gandolfini and Edie Falco — both two-time winners for "Sopranos' " — are back in the drama mix, along with "West Wing's" multiple Emmy winner Allison Janney and Martin Sheen. They're joined by "Six Feet's" Peter Krause and Frances Conroy, "CSI's" Marg Helgenberger, "Alias" star Jennifer Garner, "24's" Kiefer Sutherland, and Chiklis, a surprise winner for his corrupt cop in FX's "The Shield."

The major networks were again shut out of the TV movie category, as HBO added to its overall total by capturing bids for "Normal," "My House in Umbria" and "Live From Baghdad." The remaining slots went to basic cable networks TNT for "Door to Door" — whose dozen nominations included nods to William H. Macy as both star and co-writer — and Lifetime's fact-based "Homeless to Harvard: The Liz Murray Story."

CBS did break through with its controversial miniseries "Hitler: The Rise of Evil," whose producer was fired after angering network officials with an interview citing parallels between prewar Germany and the current U.S Another biographical epic, A&E's "Napoleon," and Sci Fi Channel's 20-hour, Steven Spielberg-produced project about alien abduction, "Taken," round out that field.

By contrast, a few onetime Emmy darlings have become only minor players. "Frasier," which broke "The Mary Tyler Moore Show's" record by earning its 30th Emmy last year, received a mere handful of nominations — although they included supporting actors John Mahoney (his second) and David Hyde Pierce (his 10th).

"ER," the third-most-nominated program in history, earned just four (two for guest stars Sally Field and Don Cheadle), while "NYPD Blue" — whose 27 nominations in 1994 remain a record — and "The Practice" garnered one between them, for guest Alfre Woodard in the latter.

The competition encompasses more than 430 nominees. As usual, the Emmys will be presented in two parts, with awards in technical areas such as editing and sound to be handed out Sept. 13, followed by the main telecast devoted principally to actors and programs. Peer-group judging panels will select the winners next month.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
Comments
Loading