HBO’s broad strokes

Cabler scores with its eclectic slate

Fresh off its largest Emmy nomination haul yet, HBO could argue that it’s now the only net that lives up to the “broad” in broadcaster.

Where the Big Six reaped the majority of their rewards for series efforts, more than half of HBO’s overall Emmy noms came from movies, specs and docs, which vaulted the net to another year on top.

HBO will no doubt be shopping for a bigger trophy case this year — having upped 2003’s record-setting tally by 15 for a jaw-dropping 124 nominations.

Back when the broadcast webs still boasted full-fledged longform slates, the battle between HBO and the Big 4 was more competitive. But ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox have basically ceded the movie and mini categories to the cablers.

Brandishing its all-encompassing clout, television’s creme de la creme racked up 66 noms in non-series categories. Cabler landed a staggering 44 for its scripted longforms and 22 for variety specials, docs and children’s programming.

“The job of HBO is to put together a multifaceted network that people want to pay for. That means offering everything from documentaries to series to variety specials. So our business model is pretty strong in a diverse number of areas,” HBO chairman-CEO Chris Albrecht said. “These kind of results show us we’re on the right track.”

With recent attention and accolades directed at skeins like “The Sopranos,” “Sex and the City” and “Six Feet Under,” 2004 harkens back to an HBO that traditionally owed its Emmy gold to its successful longform and unscripted programming team.

The star-powered films “Angels in America,” “And Starring Pancho Villa As Himself,” “Something the Lord Made” and “Iron Jawed Angels” dominated the top categories. And standup comedy specials from Chris Rock and Ellen DeGeneres netted four noms for the cabler, a feat that has the topper ramping up the number of comedy hours for the coming year.

A trio of docs — “Born Rich,” “Three Sisters: Searching For A Cure” and “Jockey” — scored recognition, and the second edition of “Project Greenlight” and the kids series “Happy To Be Nappy and Other Stories of Me” found homes in the reality and children’s programming areas, respectively.

Albrecht said the network’s strategy was simple: “Hang out with talented people.

“It’s not so much about HBO as it is about the people who choose to come and work here,” he said. “For so many of our shows to get all these below-the-line nominations — shows that didn’t get the big nominations — says something about the across-the-board talent we have.”

First-year entries “Deadwood” and “Carnivale” may not have scored in the top series or acting categories, both were paid tribute in the many of the technical areas — which the cabler says speaks to the overall quality of its shows versus network fare. HBO collaborators agree it’s all in the details.

“HBO offers incredibly high standards of production and complete freedom of expression, and for the entertainment industry a wonderful willingness to try scary things,” said “Angels” screenwriter Tony Kushner, who is developing another pair of projects with the cabler. “This was an expensive production that took over a year and a half just to shoot, and they lavished an enormous amount of attention and hard work on the project. I’m nuts about them.”

HBO Films president Colin Callendar said the defining line between its efforts are the pains taken by HBO to enlist the top technicians in behind-the-camera roles.

“If you look at the caliber of artists working on not just films, but all of our programs, they are leaders in their professions,” he said. “In addition to compelling stories, that’s a big way we’re able to make our projects distinctive and different from others. It’s not actually just a question of how much we spend on things.”

As for the rivals who are looking forward to “Sopranos'” swan song and a reduced Emmy count for HBO, voters seem open to whatever HBO has waiting in the wings. Already showing legs are rookies “Deadwood,” which grabbed several acting and writing nods among its 11, and “Carnivale,” with seven total nods.

Albrecht said he is even holding out hope that yet-to-be-recognized critical darling “The Wire” will one day glean the good graces of Emmy voters.

“I think tough gritty shows, ‘Sopranos’ aside, have a problem. This is a subjective award and you have to keep it that in mind,” exec said. “You look at ‘West Wing,’ which had an extremely weak year, and you remember that it’s subjective.”

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