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Britannia Rules The Awards

This year’s International Emmy Awards, to be presented by actor Roger Moore on Nov. 25 at the New York Hilton, will feature an English accent much like the host’s.

The awards are given by the International Council of the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Of the 18 programs nominated in six categories, 14 are English-language, including all of the nominees in three categories: arts documentary, popular arts, and programs for children and young people. The other categories are drama, documentary, and performing arts.

The nominees include “Naked Hollywood: Funny for Money,” an episode of t he BBC’s critically acclaimed documentary that spotlights American screenwriters. Berwick Universal Pictures’ “Damned in the USA,” another U.K.-produced docu about the U.S., was also nominated in the arts-documentary category.

The CBC comedy “The Kids in the Hall ” shown in the U.S. on HBO, squares off against Thames Television’s “The Curse of Mr. Bean” and another U.K. comedy, Channel 4 Television’s “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” in the popular-arts category.

The English dominance isn’t new – English-language shows have won 11 of the last 12 International Emmys.

Officials at the council, which presents the awards, say they have long been troubled by this situation, but haven’t found a way to address it without compromising the reputation of the International Emmys.

“It’s bothered all of us from the beginning,” says Larry Gershman, chairman of the council’s awards committee. “We’ve wondered whether there’s a foreign-language bias. But at the end of the day, it comes down to the fact that the British produce wonderful programming. There’s no reason to apologize for that.”

Shows produced in the U.K. accounted for 10 of the 18 nominations. Three Australian programs were nominated, as well as two from Canada and one each from France, Spain and Germany.

This year’s there are four non-English-language nominees:

* Westdeutscher Rundfunk’s “The End of Innocence,” a German World War II drama notable because its cast and crew contained Germans from the east and west working together just after the unification.

* Television Espanola’s “El Caso 112,” a documentary that sets out to find the identity of an unknown woman who died anonymously and was buried by the Spanish government.

* “Chasseurs des Tenebres,” a French documentary about treasure hunters who scour southern Thailand seeking bird nests that are believed to hold a rare elixir of youth.

* Rhombus Media’s “Le Dortoir,” a French-lingo Canadian dance production set in a convent dormitory.

The awards ceremony is being produced by Joseph Cates and sold by Warner Bros. It will be broadcast by Italian web RAI.

Last year’s show, also produced by Cates, marked the first time that the International Emmys were awarded in a glitzy, televised gala. That show aired in 20 countries, and the council hopes to surpass that number this year. The ’91 show has already been sold in the U.S. to the Arts & Entertainment channel, and to Germany (ARD), Canada (CTV) and Australia (ABC), says Gillian Rose, the council’s program manager.

The financial benefits of being nominated for or winning an International Emmy are, say TV executives, hard to measure. Certainly the fact that viewers in the U.S. are unfamiliar with the awards diminish their commercial value in the world’s most lucrative broadcast market.

And most of the more accessible programs – those nominated in the popular-arts category, for example – have already been sold internationally long before they are nominated.

“I’m interested myself [in seeing what the impact will be],” says Joe Forristal, producer of CBC’s “The Kids in the Hall.” “It certainly could make a difference down the road as far as being picked up for another season.”

Adds Roger Miron, sales director for Thames Intl. Television, “An International Emmy does not in itself sell a show, but from a sales point of view, it gives you another hook to use with people.”

Sitting in judgment

This year’s entries – 242 from 24 nations – were judged in New York and Los Angeles by U.S.-based TV executives, distributors, buyers, producers, writers and directors. To ensure that programs are not judged on production values alone, judges are instructed to consider the concept behind a show as well as the execution.

New regional award?

Richard Carlton, executive director of the International Council, says he and other council members have been giving some thought to developing a new regional award – which would not be an Emmy – to recognize programs from smaller TV markets.

But he cautions that the council is wary of setting up an award system that might brand some markets as inferior.

“We are very cognizant of the fact that trying to homogenize the entire world into one category for drama may not in fact be the best way,” Carlton points out.

“There may be a way to regionalize the awards,” he adds. “We’re working on it.”

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