Having found their auds, TV frosh now seek kudos

Popular shows eager to find their awards footing

Trying to set trends rather than follow them, the Golden Globes often spotlight freshmen TV series. And more often than not, those new skeins are ratings challenged and could use a nomination to keep them afloat.

This year, however, newbies receiving much of the buzz aren’t looking for ratings help. Instead, they’re leading the pack.

Possibly signaling an end to the reality glut, scripted hit “Desperate Housewives” has shot out of the gate a ratings giant and made ABC a major player in the Nielsen race.

Funny thing is, Touchstone TV has submitted “Housewives” as a comedy for the Globes and not a drama as many see it.

While there are certainly comedic elements to the skein — think Felicity Huffman pulling her twins out of the swimming pool or leaving them on the side of the road — the arc of the plot concerns a dead neighbor. Nothing that would elicit belly laughs.

The decisionmakers who entered “Housewives” as a comedy include exec producer Mark Cherry and Stephen McPherson, president of ABC Entertainment.

“Housewives” has not set a precedent. Certainly a case can be made for an hourlong show to be entered as a comedy.

“Ally McBeal” won for TV comedy in 1998, after being on the air for just four months. Plus, just to prove how much the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. voters were spellbound by the series, Calista Flockhart took home actress honors as well.

“We’re straddling both drama and comedy and being a hybrid show, we can choose which category we want to put it in,” says Charissa Gilmore, media relations VP at Touchstone TV. “As the show becomes more dramatic, maybe we’ll shift gears.

“That being said, we’ve already won in that 25 million already have tuned in. But it would be nice to get that recognition for the cast and crew.”

It’s probably a smart move as the drama race is certain to be tight. Last year the Globes nominated two cable skeins in that category — FX’s “Nip/Tuck” and HBO’s “Six Feet Under” — and awarded “24” the winner.

It’s tough to figure out what the HFPA will be looking for this year on the drama side. One thing’s for sure, though, is that the chances of “24” triumphing again are slim.

Unlike the Emmys, which has a history of repeating itself, the Globes usually choose someone new every year. Prior to the win for “24,” “The Shield,” “Six Feet Under” and “The West Wing” took home the drama crown, with no show ever repeating.

When speaking of newcomers, ABC’s “Lost” and CBS spinoff “CSI: NY” are the major stories on the drama side this season. And with the HFPA’s afinity for choosing rookies, both of those series are definitely in play with voters.

Between those two, “Lost” may have the advantage. The HFPA hasn’t hid its affection for the past works of “Lost” creator J.J. Abrams.

“Felicity,” the Keri Rusell-starrer about a college student in Gotham, was tabbed for a best drama nod in its first season and Russell, a virtual unknown at that point, took home best actress honors.

Then came “Alias,” which debuted in 2001 and garnered a best drama series nom in its first year of eligibility while star Jennifer Garner went on to land three noms, including one win.

For this year, HFPA voter and TV co-chair Jenny Cooney-Carillo says it wouldn’t be surprising to see more shows come from the cable world, including HBO’s “Deadwood,” Denis Leary starrer “Rescue Me” and Showtime’s newest entry, “Huff.”

“This is definitely the hardest year for the drama competition,” she says. “There are about 15 shows and actors you could nominate.”

While these are on cable, Cooney-Carillo also cites “Housewives” and ABC’s triumph “Lost” as reason to believe the wired world isn’t about to dominate the awards circuit.

“Those shows have proven that broadcast is not out of the game yet,” she says. “All in all, it’s good for TV watchers.”

Cooney-Carillo admits FX’s “Rescue Me” could also fall into the hybrid category and the HFPA is happy to talk to studios undecided about where to submit their programs. Or, in some cases, switch them from one to another if they deem fit.

“If we think they’re in the wrong category, we can overrule them,” she says.

In more traditional comedy terms, HBO’s “Entourage” and NBC’s “Friends” spinoff, “Joey,” will get a hard look by voters. They’ll be trying to unseat British import “The Office,” which won last year.

HFPA members feel a sense of pride when a show they champion, such as “Arrested Development,” goes on to win an Emmy. Both the most recent Globes nom and Emmy win for “Arrested” factored in the decision by Fox to keep the critically beloved comedy on the air.

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