Basic cable is getting its day — joining Emmy vet HBO in the wired war on broadcast dominance of the small-screen kudos competish.
Longform pro TNT drew 23 Emmy Award nominations, more than any basic cabler ever (the previous high was 20 for A&E in 1999; this year A&E claimed 22 noms). FX’s “The Shield” broke into the drama series race with acting, writing and directing noms — the most noms ever for a basic cable drama series and the first time such a show drew recognition in those categories. And even MTV’s quirky “The Osbournes” picked up a nom, for nonfiction (reality).
Cable overall hit its nomination peak, as 17 cable nets, including pay and basic networks, nabbed a record 191 primetime Emmy nominations.
HBO’s and Showtime’s nom tallies were basically the same as last year, which means basic cable’s gains came right out of the hide of broadcast TV. Indeed, ABC plunged from 63 noms last year to 35 this year — with almost a third of its tally coming from one skein (“Alias”). Fox also fell, by six noms, while PBS lost five; CBS and NBC were up year-to-year.
Basic cable honchos said they’re ready, willing and revving up to continue chipping into the kudos traditionally garnered by the broadcast nets — in the same way they’ve already lured away broadcast viewers.
“We’re guided by questions of how to do something that is distinctive, high-quality and better television,” said Allen Sabinson, senior VP of programming for A&E. “With that mandate, it puts us and our basic cable competition in good standing for the future.”
“The walls are coming down,” agreed TNT exec veep-general manager Steve Koonin. “More viewers from May to June watched cable than broadcast. And you can see even more from (the noms) — the tide is turning.”
FX Networks prexy-CEO Peter Liguori said basic cable’s Emmy nom tally “speaks to the promise of basic cable, that there is a world between premium cable and broadcast in basic cable that can be fulfilled with new fresh vehicles.”
While basic cablers have drawn many noms and wins in recent years for certain forms –such as minis, movies, performing arts shows and specials — they’re now dominating some categories and even breaking new ground.
“It took time and growth to get financial resources and expertise and understanding to get there,” Sabinson said. “Now we’re seeing regular series make their way.”
“The Shield” star Michael Chiklis, a veteran broadcast thesp who earned his first nom Thursday for the FX series, added that cable is generally an “excellent breeding ground for great work right now.”
Cablers, he said, “have everything to gain and nothing to lose. They can take risks, and artists can work and are allowed to do their thing. The Big Four … unfortunately have to function by fear as they grapple onto their dwindling piece of the demo pie. So there’s a lot of second-guessing in broadcasting, lots of cooks in the kitchen.”
FX was celebrating its trio of noms (which did not include drama series). The recognition arrived in the face of stacked odds. Not only was “The Shield” a rookie series from a new programming regime at the net, skein’s 13 episodes rep about half as many as comprise a season of a traditional broadcast drama. Plus, the series featured controversial content that scared away some advertisers.
While basic cable series will continue to face rugged terrain, Liguori said FX is not likely to be alone on the trail next year.
“I think we can expect a more aggressive push in series from all of the cable competition,” he said.
And that includes FX.
“We have no intention to be a one-trick pony — although we’ll ride this pony as far as it can go,” said FX entertainment prexy Kevin Reilly.