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Emmy campaign pricey, cost image building.

September's Emmy Awards showed that series television remains the final battleground between broadcasting and cable, particularly as far as HBO is concerned.

While a recent study suggested that Emmy victories don't help drive ratings--a point HBO chairman-CEO Chris Albrecht is quick to point out--HBO does use awards and critical acclaim to drive subscriptions.

"The Emmy push is very important to them because it's about image building and branding and that's their mantra," says an insider. "They spend an extraordinary amount of money every year."

With miniseries "Band of Brothers" and made-for-TV movie "The Gathering Storm" taking top honors in their respective categories, it marked the third time in five seasons an HBO mini had turned the trick, and the ninth time in 10 years an HBO made-for won. In fact, the feevee has practically cornered the Emmy market in the made-for category since 1993, placing at least three of the five nominees in all but two years, including four of five in each of the last two years.

But it's a different story when it comes to series.

"The Larry Sanders Show," nominated every year as best sitcom from 1994-98, never won. "Sex and the City" finally broke through last year, in its third season, but couldn't defend its title this year against "Friends."

David vs. Goliath

In the drama category, an HBO skein has never taken the top trophy, including three-time nominee "The Sopranos," and this year's critical darling "Six Feet Under," which was nommed 23 times but won just one lonely Prime Time Emmy for Alan Ball as director (to go along with its five creative nods).

In other words, HBO may be the king of one-offs, but Tony Soprano can't off the competition. So what's up?

"HBO makes a huge impression on the industry, and in movies and minis everyone agrees the best work is being done on cable," says TV Guide critic Matt Roush. "In series, though, there's always that tension between newcomers and old favorites. When it comes time to vote for best show, this is a broadcast network town, and people tend to vote for their peers, and not the lucky few who work for HBO."

New York Times TV critic Julie Salamon notes a not-so-subtle feeling of resentment toward HBO come Emmy time because of friendlier production schedules (a typical season for "Sopranos" tops out at 13 episodes, while NBC's "The West Wing" comes in at 22) and the greater artistic freedom afforded a pay channel that doesn't have to answer to content-code warriors.

Creative advantage

Or as Aaron Sorkin, originator of NBC's "The West Wing," put it, citing a creative handicap on broadcast television even as he was clutching "West Wing's" third-straight Emmy for drama series: "In cable, they have opportunities we don't. It forces you to be a little more creative."

HBO's Albrecht disputes a perceived creative advantage.

"It's hard for voters not to be affected by the barrage of complaining the broadcast networks do about so-called benefits or advantages HBO has," Albrecht says. "We're just trying to sell TV subscriptions, and we have to make good TV series to do that. That's a benefit to the industry, not the curse of it."

According to Salamon, shows such as "Sex and the City," "Larry Sanders" and "The Sopranos" have been, year in and year out, the best on TV, with or without their artistic latitude.

"I was reviewing some tapes of `Larry Sanders' that will play on (basic cabler) Bravo that have been edited for vulgarity," Salamon says. "It's a smart, funny show both censored and uncensored."

Can't go all the way

Still, most critics hold that perhaps the greatest handicap working against shows that push the envelope is the tendency for Emmy voters to be willing to nominate such series, but to become more conservative when it comes time to dish out the hardware.

Critics also agree that Emmy voters tend to reward series that have had long-running success.

HBO's 4-year-old "Sopranos," nommed in Emmy's drama category in each of its first three seasons--and having already won two acting Emmys apiece for stars James Gandolfini and Edie Falco, as well as series awards from the Golden Globes, American Film Institute and the Television Critics Assn. to go along with a pair of Peabodys--fills the bill as the kind of long-running success whose time has come to by recognized by copping the top Emmy.

`Six' lands noms

But a quirk in the production schedule left the show without a fresh episode to nominate during the June 1, 2001, to May 31, 2002, eligibility period. Instead, HBO newcomer "Six Feet Under" scored the cabler's usual rash of nominations in the category and, typical for an Emmy newbie, didn't get to take home much primetime hardware.

While many critics feel "Six Feet Under" was the trendiest drama on TV this season, it still came up short. Still, Roush feels HBO's day as drama king isn't far off.

"It's going to happen either this year or next," Roush says. "There's no way `The Sopranos' will finish its run without winning the award."

CAPTURING EMMY GLORY (1997-2002)

BAND OF BROTHERS

Miniseries

Directing for a miniseries, movie or special (David Frankel, Tom Hanks, David Leland, Richard Loncraine, David Nutter, Phil Alden Robinson, Mikael Saloman, Tony To)

BETTE MIDLER: DIVA LAS VEGAS

Performance in a variety or music special

CHILDREN IN WAR

Nonfiction special

CHRIS ROCK: BRING THE PAIN

Variety, music or comedy special

CONSPIRACY

Lead actor in a miniseries or movie (Kenneth Branagh)

Writing for a miniseries, movie or special (Loring Mandel)

THE CORNER

Miniseries or movie

DENNIS MILLER LIVE

Variety or music series

Writing for a variety or music program (Eddie Feldmann, Dennis Miller, David Feldman, Leah Krinsky, Jim Hanna, David Weiss, Jose Arroyo)

DON KING: ONLY IN AMERICA

Made for television movie

Writing in a miniseries or movie (Kario Salem)

EDDIE IZZARD: DRESSED TO KILL

Performance in a variety or music program

Writing in a variety or music program (Eddie Izzard)

FROM THE EARTH TO THE MOON

Miniseries

THE GATHERING STORM

Made for television movie

Lead actor in a made for television movie (Albert Finney)

Lead actress in a miniseries or movie (Vanessa Redgrave)

Writing for a miniseries, movie or dramatic special (Larry Ramin, Hugh Whitemore)

GOTTI

Lead actor in a miniseries or movie (Armand Assante)

INTRODUCING DOROTHY DANDRIDGE

Lead actress in a miniseries or movie (Halle Berry)

JOHN LEGUIZAMO'S FREAK

Performance in a variety or music program

Writing in a variety or music program (Tom Agna, Vernon Chatman, Louis CK, Lance Crouther, Greg Greenberg, Ali LeRoi, Steve O'Donnell, Chris Rock, Frank Sebastian, Chuck Sklar)

THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW

Directing in a comedy series (Todd Holland, "Flip")

Writing for a comedy series (Richard Day, Alex Gregory, Peter Huyck, "Putting the `Gay' Back in Litigation")

A LESSON BEFORE DYING

Made for television movie

Writing for a miniseries or movie (Ann Peacock)

MISS EVERS' BOYS

Made for television movie

Lead actress in a miniseries or movie (Alfre Woodard)

TRACY TAKES ON

Variety or music program

THUG LIFE IN D.C. (AMERICA UNDERCOVER)

Nonfiction special

SEX AND THE CITY

Directing for a comedy series (Michael Patrick King)

Comedy series

SIX FEET UNDER

Directing in a drama series (Alan Ball, "Pilot")

THE SOPRANOS

Lead actor in a drama series (James Gandolfini - 2001-02)

Lead actress in a drama series (Edie Falco - 2001, 1999)

Writing in a drama series (Robin Green, Mitchell Burgess, "Employee of the Month")

Writing in a drama series (James Manos Jr., "College"

WINCHELL

Actor in a miniseries or movie (Stanley Tucci)

WIT

Made for television movie

Directing for a miniseries or movie (Mike Nichols)
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Author:Edelstein, Bill
Publication:Variety
Date:Nov 4, 2002
Words:1268
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