Smitten with Britain

Blighty tube entries invade I-Emmy kudos

The British were once again big winners at the Intl. Emmy Awards, nabbing six of nine programming awards at the 34th edition held Monday in Gotham.

Brits retained their command in a year when other countries’ entries, from Brazil as well as from continental Europe, showed considerable style and competitiveness.

The BBC bested another British entry from Granada and two from Brazil to take the top nod for drama with its time-traveling cop show “Life on Mars”; the Beeb also beat out strong rivals in the comedy category with its “Borat”-like spoof on British culture and political correctness, “Little Britain.”

“Nuit noire,” a French telepic about an incident during the Algerian War, nabbed the top prize for TV movie or miniseries.

The gala event, organized by the Intl. Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, celebrates the best in foreign TV programming.

There were 36 nominees from nine countries in nine categories. Aside from the always highly visible Brits, Brazil and Germany each fielded a record five nominees in various categories. HBO Ole, the Latino offshoot of the American paybox, was involved as a co-producer in two of the Brazilian entries, “Mandrake” and “Filhos do Carnaval.”

Meanwhile, veteran Brit actor Ray Winstone took home the actor prize for his performance as a long-suffering private eye in “Vincent,” while Moroccan-born but Dutch-bred actress Maryam Hassouni nabbed the actress trophy for her role as a Palestinian terrorist in Dutch telepic “Offers.”

China and France also fielded entries in the actor categories, which were introduced a couple of years ago to add more glitz to the proceedings.

Katie Couric, Susan Sarandon, Christiane Amanpour, Rosie Perez, Roger Bart, Julianne Nicholson and Lorenzo Lamas were among those who presented the I-Emmy statuettes to the winners.

The proceedings, which will be broadcast in many foreign territories, were hosted by comedian-talkshow host Graham Norton. A record 1,200 guests attended.

Norton did provide some spirited jokes about everyone from Madonna to Donald Rumsfeld as well as the inevitable TomKat knocks — all without the aid of the teleprompter, which mysteriously malfunctioned.

There were three rounds of judging over a period of six months, with participation from more than 500 judges in 35 countries, I-Academy prexy-CEO Bruce Paisner said.

Much effort on the part of the Academy has gone into making the I-Emmys more open to non-English-speaking countries and member broadcasters. In recent editions, the Danes have fared particularly well in the drama category, while the French and Germans have done well in documentary and arts categories.

Still, this go-round the Brits were apparently hard to beat. (A marathon screening event, called the World TV Festival, unspooled Saturday and Sunday in Gotham to showcase the various nominees.)

Next year, the I-Academy is mandating that the four finalists in each category come from different regions of the world, a stricture that may help widen the appeal and the chances for countries beyond Europe.

In other presentations during the two-hour gala at the Hilton, the Founders Award was presented to Steven Spielberg for his long and distinguished career in television. Spielberg was interviewed at an I-Academy-sponsored lunch Monday in which the director talked about his career in television, which began in 1969 with an episode of “Night Gallery” that starred Joan Crawford.

Of Spielberg and the rationale for the award, Paisner said that the director “forced us to pay attention to the condition of the world.”

Couric, who presented the trophy, said she was most impressed with the humanity and compassion of Spielberg’s work without ever being preachy.

Spielberg, who received the night’s only standing ovation, said he was part and parcel of the TV generation, being a boomer and having grown up, literally, with pieces of TV sets around him. (His dad repaired them professionally.)

Even his movies — even those that don’t make money, he said — eventually end up on TV and on TV abroad — where they do make money, he quipped.

The Directorate Award went to Central Media Enterprises and to the station group’s founder, Ronald Lauder, for pioneering the development of independent television broadcasting in Central and Eastern Europe.

Time Warner chairman-CEO Dick Parsons, who presented the award to Lauder, said that “doing good and doing well” came together in the entrepreneur who took risks in the former communist region and made money at it.

“My friend Ron Lauder changed both the face and the feel of TV abroad,” Parsons said.

Lauder spoke movingly of the moment he found himself in Budapest in 1989 when the Walls came down. From then on he was caught up in the challenge of galvanizing commercial TV in the region.

The Intl. Children’s Day of Broadcasting Award, co-presented yearly with Unicef, went to Teleradio Moldova, from the republic of Moldova, for its program “Let’s Play.” That nod was bestowed by Unicef ambassador Sarandon. The other nominees were from Bangladesh, Colombia, Gambia, Spain and Syria.

Founded in 1969, the I-Academy is the largest organization of global broadcasters, with 500 members from 70 countries and 400 companies.

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