The leadership at the Academy of TV Arts and Sciences must be breathing a sigh of relief after last week’s Primetime Emmy nominations. As the awards show’s future hangs in the balance, the Academy probably couldn’t have asked for a much better list of nominees.
It offers a compelling underdog story – dismissed Tonight Show host Conan O’Brien getting 4 noms for his 7-month stint on the NBC show – as well as plenty of intrigue: will O’Brien be a presenter on the broadcast which airs on NBC, what he would say if he wins.
But most importantly, the list is brimming with big, buzzworthy shows. With the possible exception of The Big Bang Theory, which surprisingly missed the cut for best comedy series (but landed another lead actor nom for star Jim Parsons), the shows that have dominated pop culture for the past year: Glee, Lost, Modern Family, Dexter, True Blood and Mad Men, all earned best series nominations and all, with the exception of True Blood, also scored multiple acting noms. (The list of top nominees also includes the biggest reality series on TV, including American Idol and Dancing with the Stars)
I hear talks between the TV Academy and the Big 4 broadcast networks that hold the rights to the Primetime Emmy telecast have not started in earnest. The current eight-year “wheel” deal is up at the Aug. 29 telecast, which also will mark the end of the 4 networks’ exclusive window to negotiate a new pact. The nets had indicated they would balk at a license fee increase (each network now spends over $10 million on the ceremony, including licensee fee, production and marketing). But, with this year’s nominees, the TV Academy has a stronger case to seek a rate hike than it has had in years.
Each of the 4 broadcast networks have at least one scripted series that is a big contender and will probably win at least one award: Fox has Glee with 19 nominations, the most for any series this year, host NBC has 30 Rock with 15, ABC has Modern Family with 14 and Lost with 12 and CBS has The Good Wife with 9. What’s more, with the exception of 30 Rock, they are all popular shows that attract wide audiences, something the broadcast networks had complained about in previous years when the field of nominees had been dominated by less-known cable series. What’s more, even on the cable side popular shows seem to have the upper hand this year, with the highest-rated series on HBO and Showtime, crowd pleasers True Blood and Dexter, respectively, making the cut in the best drama series category.
Overall, the top portion of the list of series with multiple nominations is dominated by broadcast shows this year, with 7 broadcast and only 1 cable (Mad Men) series scoring 9 or more nominations. Broadcast also made advances in all major series categories vs. last year: best comedy series, in which 67% of the nominees are broadcast shows, up from 57% last year; best drama series: 33%, up from 29%; best comedy actor and actress: 67%, up from 50%; and best drama actor: 50%, up from 33%.
As for the long-form categories, there is no getting around it – they are a showcase for cable, primarily for HBO, the dominant player in the field. But when you have Oscar winners Al Pacino, Jeff Bridges and Judi Dench as lead actor nominees and fellow Oscar winners Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks as producers of the most nominated program this year, HBO’s mini The Pacific, those categories are more palpable for the broadcast nets carrying the Emmys ad they seriously contribute to the ceremony’s star wattage.
There have been some industry insiders who have suggested that the 4-network wheel system might be too archaic and it might be better if one network takes over the awards show and “owns it” the way ABC has the Oscars, NBC has the Golden Globes and CBS has the Grammys. Such a move, which was tried once in the past with Fox, would certainly allow the host network to be more invested in the show and nurture it better. But the Emmys are such an odd duck compared to the other major awards shows since they focus entirely on TV that the network carrying it would de facto be airing free advertisement for its direct competitors. I feel like, as imperfect as it is, the wheel system might be the way to go on the broadcast side. Or the Emmys could finally go the cable route after almost defecting to HBO eight years ago.