Acad cuddles up with basic cable

FX, USA, Lifetime, Sci Fi among contenders

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HOLLYWOOD — Premium cabler HBO continues to tower over the Emmy competish, but basic cable nets are steadily proving themselves contenders in the competitive scripted world.

Overall noms may be down for basic cable — 78 vs. 87 in 2002 — but this year Emmy voters spread the love among many more nets. Following last year’s breakthrough win by FX’s “The Shield,” several more cablers are inching their way toward top-tier prizes.

Among the hopeful: FX’s frosh laffer “Lucky” could get lucky with a writing win; Tony Shalhoub may score what would be USA’s first Emmy in years; Lifetime could take its first Emmy in the made-for department; and TNT and Sci Fi will duke it out against the pay cable competish in the mini and telepic categories.

Nets have yet to elbow their way into the key outstanding drama and comedy categories, but growing cablers are loosening the broadcast-HBO stranglehold on original series.

USA prexy Doug Herzog noted his is just one of several nets making headway. Coming off an empty-handed 2002, the general entertainment cabler put up its Emmy fists this year, wrestling five nominations for signature skein “Monk” and a pair of original telepics.

“After years of having nothing to write home about, we feel good that the quality of our original shows is on par with what’s on broadcast and pay TV,” Herzog said. “With series like ‘Monk,’ ‘The Dead Zone’ and certainly ‘The Shield’ on FX, you really see basic cable standing shoulder to shoulder with everyone else.”

FX’s “less is more” programming, coupled with an aggressive marketing strategy, helped the cabler score a first-ever basic cable comedy writing nom for rookie skein “Lucky” (possibly helping it to a season two commitment) and a second consecutive nom for “The Shield” star Michael Chiklis.

Other cablers to land key noms for original series include the Disney Channel, which racked up a couple (up from zero) for its chick-centered skeins “Lizzie McGuire” and “Disney’s Kim Possible.” MTV’s Osbourne clan also swore out another nom for reality series, a category in which it won last year.

Basic cable also continued to increase its presence in the minis and telefilm categories.

“Every broadcast network has a movie department, but cable unequivocally owns the longform product,” said Steve Koonin, exec VP and chief operating officer of TBS and TNT.

TNT further established itself as longform champ, nabbing 12 of its 14 noms for William H. Macy starrer “Door to Door” to become the most nominated basic cabler this year. TNT also dominated 2002’s telefilm categories: “James Dean” took 11, “The Mists of Avalon” nine.

The Sci Fi channel was on the receiving end of plenty of Emmy love, securing 10 nominations thanks largely to the ambitious 20-hour mini “Steven Spielberg Presents Taken.”

DreamWorks TV prexy Daryl Frank pronounced the cable front a freer creative environment, noting that “Taken” was developed specifically for Sci Fi.

“We couldn’t have explored this subject at this length on broadcast,” he said. “And it’s easier for cable to make events out of these types of programs because they don’t have to program 22 hours of original material.”

Added FX prexy-CEO Peter Liguori: “There is such a convergence of quality at this point that I have to say that I believe viewers don’t make a distinction between the quality of what’s on broadcast and what’s on cable.”

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