Cable television was awarded its first prime-time Emmy Award Wednesday--its first two, in fact.
In a surprise announcement that undercut some of the drama from the two Emmy ceremonies scheduled for this weekend, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences released the names of winners in eight categories that are judged differently than others.
"Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam," a documentary on HBO that juxtaposed dramatic readings of soldiers' letters against footage of the war, was named best informational special of the 1987-88 season.
The cable program also was cited in the category of outstanding individual achievement in informational programming for the writing by Bill Couturie and Richard Dewhurst. Couturie co-produced "Dear America" with Thomas Bird.
These were the first prime-time Emmys won by cable programs in the 40-year-old awards competition because this is the first year that cable has been eligible. Previously it was deemed not to be available to enough of the country to justify inclusion with programs shown on over-the-air television.
(They were not cable's first Emmys, however: ESPN won a Sports Emmy last July.)
Two PBS programs were named best informational series: "Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow" and "Nature."
Like "Dear America," "Buster Keaton" was a double winner as writers (and co-producers) Kevin Brownlow and David Gill collected Emmys in the same individual achievement category for which Couturie and Dewhurst won.
The awards announced Wednesday were in what the TV academy calls its "area" categories, in which the nominees are judged by a peer panel against a standard of excellence rather than in competition with one another, so that there may be one winner, multiple winners or no winner.
The academy said it had decided to release the results prior to the official ceremonies "to avoid situations where envelopes might be opened during ceremonies with no 'area' winners awarded."
The winners will pick up their statuettes on Saturday during non-televised ceremonies at the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for the craft categories. Winners of the writing, directing, producing and performing categories will be announced Sunday in ceremonies that will be televised on Fox Broadcasting.
Other winners Wednesday were:
Individual Achievement--Classical Music/Dance Programming: Kirk Browning, director, "The Metropolitan Opera Presents: Turandot," PBS.
Individual Achievement--Special Events Programming: Marc Palius, lighting director, and Olin Younger, lighting consultant, "The 15th Annual American Music Awards," ABC.
Variety-Music Events Programming: "The 60th Annual Academy Awards," ABC.
Graphic Design and Title Sequences: Liz Friedman, "Strong Poison," PBS.
Special Visual Effects: Will Vinton, Mark Gustafson, David Altshul, "Moonlighting," ABC.