Battlefield toughens for HBO soldiers

HBO continues to maintain yellow-jersey status with the only repeat nominations in the made-for race, but the basic cablers appear to be catching up.

The ever-honored HBO has won five of the last six statuettes for its original productions and was all but competing against itself in 2001 and ’02, when it locked up four of the five nominations. This year, the odds are still in its favor, with the multiple noms for “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” and “Longford” providing momentum.

Yet chinks in the armor are beginning to show, with the topicality and moral complexity for which the net is revered conspicuously muted — “Wounded Knee” veers dangerously close to history class dogmatism at times, and “Longford” tackles the aftermath of a 40-year-old British murder case unfamiliar to most U.S. viewers.

TNT and Lifetime both have a shot to usurp HBO’s hegemony, with “The Ron Clark Story” and “Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy,” respectively, repping some of the best work the cablers have produced in recent years. “Inside the Twin Towers,” Discovery’s compendium of interviews and re-enactments of 9/11 eyewitness accounts, also received mostly glowing notices.

The big four networks continue their nomless streak in the category, with 2000 the last year any had a movie in the running. (ABC won that year for “Tuesdays With Morrie.”)

Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee
Network: HBO
Executive producers: Tom Thayer, Dick Wolf
Total viewers (premiere): 1.82 million
Highlight: The philosophical negotiation between Sitting Bull (August Schellenberg) and an American colonel (Shaun Johnston) that cuts to the heart of the conflict.
Why it may win: Adaptation of the canonical Lakota chronicle leads all nominated programs with 17 nods.
Maybe not: Many critics found the execution plodding and uninspired.

Inside the Twin Towers
Network: Discovery
Executive producers: Richard Dale, Bill Howard, Denys Blakeway
Total viewers (premiere): 2.32 million
Highlight: A survivor heartbreakingly describes himself as cowardly for escaping while leaving a wounded man in one of the towers.
Why it may win: Resisting political commentary and bogus uplift, the quasi-docu captured the chaos and terror of the day in personal terms.
Maybe not: If A&E’s acclaimed “Flight 93″ couldn’t clinch the category last year, odds look shaky for Discovery’s lower-profile 9/11 project.

Longford
Network: HBO
Executive producers: Andy Harries, Peter Morgan
Total viewers (premiere): 575,000
Highlight: The titular lord and activist (Jim Broadbent) has his faith shaken and reputation destroyed when Myra Hindley (Samantha Morton), whose cause he has taken up, admits her part in Britain’s infamous Moors murders.
Why it may win: Scribe and exec producer Morgan is enjoying the hottest of hot streaks, with the products of his pen also picking up Oscar and Tony noms earlier this year.
Maybe not: Neither of those earlier noms led to wins for the productions in question.

The Ron Clark Story
Network: TNT
Executive producers: Jody Brockway, Howard Burkons, Brenda Friend, Adam Gilad, Sunta Izzicupo, Paul Jackson, Frances Croke Page
Total viewers (premiere): 6.82 million
Highlight: Verbal sparring between Matthew Perry’s inner-city teacher and Hannah Hodson’s antagonistic pupil.
Why it may win: Achieves a degree of verisimilitude that lifts it above many “idealistic teacher inspires troubled teens” cliches.
Maybe not: True story or no, “Ron Clark” still trods well-worn ground.

Why I Wore Lipstick to My Mastectomy
Network: Lifetime
Executive producer: Jack Grossbart, Linda Kent, Robert O. Green
Total viewers (premiere): 2.06 million
Highlight: Geralyn Lucas (Sarah Chalke) goes shopping for her first post-op bra, an emotionally devastating moment rendered all the more poignant by its unexpected humor.
Why it may win: In contrast to Lifetime’s patented brand of gauzy MOWs, story of a young breast cancer survivor was honest, unsentimental and defiantly funny.
Maybe not: Might have flown too far below the radar for most voters.

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