September 19, 2008 / 4:42 AM / 9 years ago

After Globes debacle, Emmy Awards enter spotlight

<p>File photo shows actors John Slattery (L) and Jon Hamm during the 24th Annual Television Critics Association Awards in Beverly Hills July 19, 2008. REUTERS/Gus Ruelas</p>

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - The Golden Globes were supposed to be Matthew Weiner’s coming-out party on the big awards stage. After eight years of trying to get “Mad Men” made, his acclaimed AMC show about ad executives in the 1960s won best drama series and best actor for star Jon Hamm.

But Weiner and AMC executives were huddled in a penthouse at the Chateau Marmont hotel that January evening -- and not at the Beverly Hilton -- when the Globes winners were announced.

That’s because the traditional Golden Globes ceremony had fallen victim to the Hollywood writers strike. Winners were announced during a brief news conference.

“I would’ve loved to have made a speech and thanked my wife on international television,” Weiner says. “I’ve been rehearsing that speech since I was a little boy and would’ve loved to have given it.”

Weiner and this year’s other Golden Globe winners will get a second chance at the 60th Primetime Emmy Awards Sunday, and despite the fact that the contract of another Hollywood union, the Screen Actors Guild, has expired, there will be no labor-related disruptions to TV’s biggest party of the year.

“The opportunity to have our television community get together at the Emmys is destined to resonate with show business,” TV academy chairman John Shaffner says. “With all the negativity that’s been bandied about, this is an opportunity to give everyone a sense of getting back to business as usual.”

But is it really business as usual?

The three-month writers strike clobbered the ailing broadcast TV industry and accelerated the network audience erosion.

Meanwhile, basic cable made big strides. In the final stretch of the 2007-08 season, when the broadcast networks started to recover from the strike, they were still down in the ratings by double digits year to year while basic cable was up by a similar amount.

Basic cable’s ratings upswing continued during the summer. It was supplemented by cable’s breakthrough performance at the Emmy nominations, with record hauls for several networks, 16 nominations for “Mad Men,” seven for FX’s “Damages” and the two series landing first-ever best drama nominations for basic cable series.

Just as general audiences fled to cable in the second half of the season, thanks to the lack of original programming during the writers strike, some TV academy members might have been steered to sample more cable series -- which were far less impacted by the walkout -- leading to cable’s best-ever Emmy showing.

<p>The five nominees in the category for outstanding reality/competition host (L-R) Ryan Seacrest of "American Idol", Heidi Klum of "Project Runway", Tom Bergeron of "Dancing with the Stars", Jeff Probst of "Survivor" and Howie Mandel of "Deal or No Deal", are shown in this undated publicity photo. In an unprecedented move, all five have been named hosts of the "60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards". REUTERS/Bob D'amico/ABC/Handout</p>

Charlie Collier, AMC general manager and executive vp, acknowledges that his network was fortunate that its shows were only minimally affected by the strike.

“We did lose the last two episodes of ‘Breaking Bad,’ but (creator/executive producer) Vince Gilligan was able to compensate well,” Collier says of the freshman series, which earned four nominations.

For his part, John Landgraf, FX Networks president and general manager, believes it isn’t so much the writers strike as the new selection formula implemented by the TV academy two years ago, with weight given equally to the larger voting membership and peer group panels, that has impacted the Emmy nominations.

“When you think about the fact that the broadcast networks are part of these massive organizations, and that many members of the academy are employed by them, it’s kind of shocking that shows like ‘Mad Men’ and our ‘Damages’ were recognized as much as they were,” he says.

Fans of HBO’s “The Wire” -- again rebuffed by the academy in the best drama category -- might be less impressed. But Shaffner is heartened that, after several years of widespread discontent, there is less grumbling than usual this time.

“The vibe involved much less of that ‘woulda, coulda, shoulda’ stuff,” he says. “This is probably as good as it’s ever going to get.”

Of course, there’s also the ongoing argument that the fairness pendulum may have swung entirely the other way, that cable originals have advantages over broadcast in three key areas: fewer restrictions on language, violence and nudity content (i.e., realism); a more leisurely production pace (cable seasons range from 10-16 episodes rather than broadcast’s 22-26); and the ability of a cable network to pour more resources into marketing and promoting its shows by virtue of the fact it has fewer of them.

But ask cable programmers about it and they’re not likely to boast about any creative or logistical benefits they have over their network brethren. “We only get about half the series budget that a network does and have to program to a much smaller niche,” one basic cable series producer stresses. “So believe me, it isn’t like we’re gloating over here on Easy Street. We still fight an uphill battle in a lot of ways.”

Airing the night before the official start of the season, the Emmy ceremony could be more important than ever as a promotional platform. But the dominance of low-rated cable series and the very limited presence of popular broadcast series such as “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Lost” and “Desperate Housewives” threaten to send the show’s ratings even lower.

Last year’s ceremony attracted 13.1 million viewers, the smallest audience for the Emmycast since 1990.

Reuters/Hollywood Reporter

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