Adventurous voters get behind debuting series with uncertain futures

No guarantees that freshman series HFPA might notice will be around for a 2nd season

Always eager to get behind a “Lost” or “Desperate Housewives” first, the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn. has a history of championing praiseworthy new shows, often before mainstream TV watchers take notice.

In fact, in recent years, HFPA voters have supported a number of new shows that never found big auds. And this year, there are no guarantees that a flurry of freshman series that are likely to get a look from the HFPA will even be around for a season two.

Frosh contenders “Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip” and “Friday Night Lights” both received recent pickup orders from NBC, while new Peacock comedy “30 Rock” — warmly received by crix — has struggled.

Meanwhile, new ABC drama “The Nine” is also on the bubble.

A look at the Globes’ recent voting history vividly illustrates the maverick stance of its members. “Arrested Development” — which couldn’t get off Fox’s cancellation bubble during its three-year run, despite lavish critical praise — received two comedy-musical Globe noms, as well as a thesp trophy for star Jason Bateman.

Last year, Geena Davis won an actress trophy for ABC’s “Commander in Chief,” which never made it to season two.

And in 2004, Alicia Silverstone was tapped for a comedy-musical actress trophy for “Miss Match,” a series that departed its Friday-night timeslot on NBC before midseason.

This year, frosh hits “Ugly Betty” and “Heroes” lead a host of new hourlong series that are likely to garner votes.

In fact, the respective hourlong comedy and fantasy series have the potential to mimic the resounding Globes success enjoyed by ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” two years ago.

“(HFPA members) know they would look foolish if they ignored the big hits,” says TV Guide critic Matt Roush.

However, in an economic era in which a new series like the CBS heist skein “Smith” can’t

make it beyond episode three — despite drawing well over 10 million viewers a show — the subject of frosh contenders gets interesting.

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According to HFPA TV committee co-chair Jenny Cooney Carrillo, Globe voters vet series too carefully to be swayed by Nielsen ratings.

“I watch everything,” she says. “A lot of members watch a lot of television. Unlike the Emmys, we’re not forcing people to submit one episode a year to base their entire show on. … I think there’s actually a few shows this season where in the very beginning, they didn’t grab a lot of people, but if (viewers) had kept watching, they might have seen those shows get much better.”

Of course, being ahead of the curve on a critical darling like “Arrested Development” or “Felicity” — star Keri Russell won an acting Globe for the WB skein back in ’99 — is one thing, but getting behind a show that may be canceled by trophy time is quite another.

For example, despite its warm critical reception — and move to NBC’s Thursday-night lineup — “30 Rock” finished as low as sixth in its original Wednesday 8 p.m. timeslot. A verdict on its full-season fate wasn’t decided at press time.

Will that influence HFPA voters?

“No, never,” says Cooney Carrillo. “The great thing about the HFPA is we’re not critics and we’re not peers. We’re basically fans of television. … We’re voting for what we watch. I don’t think it occurs to anybody to think of it in a political way.”

Conversely, will a Globes nod influence the networks?

A nom or award probably won’t affect a show’s immediate future, because by the time the winners are announced Jan. 15 on NBC, most programs will have received their cancellation notices or full-season orders.

But the Golden Globes do lead directly into February ratings sweeps, which could play into a network’s decision to renew a given show for 2007-08.

Perhaps the most interesting show to monitor this year is prep football drama “Friday Night Lights,” which critics almost universally adore despite its Nielsen fumbles.

“If any show could use a little bit of love from the foreign press — or any press — it’s ‘Friday Night Lights,'” Roush says. “Any little event that could help bring it to the forefront is all to the good for this show.”