The TV Academy needs the excitement as it is just starting its negotiating window with the 4 big broadcast networks for the rights to the Primetime Emmy telecast, which are up after this year’s show. It won’t be easy. ATAS probably watched with concern how sister New York TV academy NATAS lost NBC as a rotating host for the Daytime Emmy Awards five years ago and then last year couldn’t renew its deal with ABC and CBS for the show, which aired on the CW before returning to CBS this year but on a time-buy basis. And that’s for awards dominated by broadcast programs (albeit some of them losing popularity, like soaps.)
The broadcasters’ main problem with the Primetime Emmy Awards is that they have evolved into a showcase for smaller critically acclaimed cable series and movies few viewers are familiar with, thus the lower ratings for the telecast and its diminished value as a promotional platform for the broadcast nets that pay for it.
I think the cover of this year’s 240-page For Your Consideration issue of Emmy Magazine was symbolic. It has Fox’s Glee, a broadcast breakout commercial and critical hit, on the cover. However, it is not a solid cover but a barn door to an ad for HBO’s much-lauded miniseries The Pacific underneath. Besides the odd juxtaposition of teenagers worlds apart – in 2000s high school and on 1940s battlefields – it also displays the reality of the Primetime Emmy Awards in the past few years: broadcast shows get the popularity vote, but when it comes down to awards, cable seems to be the underlying favorite. And that won’t sit well on the negotiating table between the TV Academy and the broadcast networks.
In an attempt to revert the trend, last year the TV Academy expanded the top series categories from five to six (7 with ties) with the intention to get more mainstream shows in the mix. But in the first nomination cycle under the rule change, it did little to stem the ascend of cable, especially on the drama side.
Last year, only 2 out of the 7 best drama series nominees, or 29%, were broadcast shows. In comedy, broadcast landed 4 out of the 7 noms, or 57%. Compare that to the year before – 3 out of 6, or 50% of the best drama series nominees, were broadcast series, as well as 3 out of 5, or 60%, of the comedy contenders. When it comes to drama series stars, the cable dominance was even more striking last year: Only 2 out of 6 drama actors and actresses nominated were from broadcast shows: Hugh Laurie, Simon Baker, Sally Field and Mariska Hargitay. In comedy, the ratio was approximately 50/50 between broadcast and cable.
There are signs broadcasters may be turning the tide this year. The freshman series with the most buzz this past season are on broadcast, Glee and ABC’s Modern Family. And when the TCA Awards nominations came out a week ago, the outstanding new program category was completely dominated by broadcast shows for the first time in a long while: Glee, Modern Family, CBS’ The Good Wife and NBC’s Parenthood made the cut, along with FX’s Justified. For comparison, last year the field featured 3 cable series and only two broadcast shows, Fringe and The Mentalist.
Broadcasters could use an edge in the series fields because they’ve long conceded the long-form categories to cable. That has been a thorny issue between the broadcast networks and the TV Academy as the broadcasters view those categories, which take up almost a third of the teleacast, as an hourlong advertisement for cable. The TV Academy tried to limit the presence of the movie and miniseries categories in live telecast last year by voting to pre-tape most of them but the plan was scrapped after an outcry by the community. For now, there are no changes planned for this year’s ceremony either.
So, just like in the Emmy Magazine cover ad, HBO’s The Pacific will be lurking to outpace broadcast’s top shows as the most nominated program this year. And I bet it won’t do too shabby at the August Emmy ceremony either.