Category conundrum

Lines are blurred when it comes to eligibility

When its comes to Emmy categories, there’s no such thing as black and white.

Some were annoyed, but nobody was surprised that ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” snagged 15 noms in the comedy race Thursday. Producer Touchstone Television made it clear in the runup to the Golden Globes that it planned to submit the skein in the laffer categories (Daily Variety, Nov. 17, 2004).

But the season’s breakout skein wasn’t the only program to blur category lines — or in another case, come out of nowhere — in the name of Emmy.

BBC America fave “The Office,” which was conspicuously absent from competish last year, will get its first shot at Emmy this season — but in the TV movie category. Creator-star Ricky Gervais’ two-hour finale to the series, “The Office Special,” is up for outstanding TV movie and longform writing.

“We aired the special in its entirety and well after the second season had ended,” said a spokeswoman for BBC America. “Ricky always conceived of it as a movie, so we submitted it as such and the Academy accepted it.”

“The Office” fell one episode short of Emmy consideration last year when it submitted one of the six second-season episodes into the International Emmys competish.

Then there’s the definition of a miniseries, a topic called into question in 2002 when HBO’s 12-hour epic “From the Earth to the Moon” was submitted in the category.

This year some rivals of USA Network are griping that the first season of “The 4400” was originally billed as a regular series — at least from a ratings standpoint.

Last summer, cabler claimed that the premiere of the five-episode sci-fi series, which drew 7.4 million viewers, was basic cable’s best-ever series bow. But when it came time to submitting for Emmy, a USA spokesman said with a six-hour running time, “We had to play to our strengths.”

“‘The 4400’ was scheduled once a week like a regular series. Miniseries are usually scheduled sequentially. It’s certainly a gray area,” he said. “Our positioning of the show as a weekly series was universally accepted last summer. But it also qualifies as a miniseries and we have to play our cards where they are strongest.”

In the cabler’s defense, the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences does not cap on the number of episodes a miniseries can have. And in order to submit into the comedy or drama series categories, a program is required to have a minimum of six episodes.

Then there’s the surprise coup of Showtime’s little-seen frosh drama “Huff,” starring Hank Azaria as a middle-aged psychologist who’s reached a breaking point in his life. No one could avoid the $50 million marketing campaign the paybox launched on the show’s behalf, but few viewers tuned in to the first-run episodes.

Show’s finale peaked with viewers — albeit a modest 462,000 of them — prompting the cabler to work overtime when it came time to promote the show for awards season.

Execs sent out the entire 13-episode first season to all Academy members in January. The result? Showtime’s first-ever nod in the lead drama series actor category (for Azaria), as well as noms for supporting players Blythe Danner and Oliver Platt. Show also grabbed a directing nom for the final episode and a guest actress nod for Swoosie Kurtz.

Showtime communications chief Richard Licatta, who engineered the cabler’s Emmy campaign, acknowledged the fact that “Huff” “didn’t have a viewership profile” and said that mailing out the whole season “was a gamble.”

Not surprisingly, Licatta’s boss was happy about the results.

“I bow down at the altar of Licatta,” said Showtime entertainment prexy Robert Greenblatt. “He’s done this for a number of places last year, and he came to me last December and said (‘Huff’) had a great shot” of snagging Emmy noms.

“It’s hard to get noticed in this really crowded drama environment,” Greenblatt added.

As for “Housewives,” creator Marc Cherry said he can “understand some writers’ frustration” with the show being submitted as a comedy. He defends Touchstone’s call, however, saying his show is hard to categorize.

“We’re very much our own thing,” he said. “There isn’t a category that’s suited to dramedies, and a lot of what people think is heavy drama is really intended as black comedy.”

Cherry chalked it all up to the “weird nature” of competitions like the Emmys.

“It’s not fair,” he agrees. “But it’s an award show. Who said it was going to be fair?”

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report).

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