The cable nets of NBC Universal had already been on a hot streak before the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences announced the Emmy Award nominations Thursday morning.
But with 28 noms across NBC U’s three nets, the selection proved that the trio of Bravo, USA and Sci Fi Channel have come into their own under topper Jeff Gaspin.
The number of mentions is double what the group landed last year and reps, with an average of nearly 10 per net, one of the best slugging percentages across the cable dial.
“We targeted genres that we thought we’d get attention with,” said Gaspin, referring to properties like USA’s “The Starter Wife.” And on the first-ever nom for Bravo’s “Top Chef,” in its third season, he said, “Sometimes it takes a couple seasons before people are aware of a show.”
The surprise force behind the unit’s success was indeed “Wife,” the limited series starring Debra Messing that landed on Emmy’s miniseries list and scored 10 noms, more than a third of the group’s cache.
The Emmy success makes the possibility of a future “Starter” original series or another limited series more pressing. Exec veep of programming Jeff Wachtel has already been in discussions with Messing and writers Josann McGibbon and Sara Parriott over if, and how, to continue the franchise.
The audience seems to be there; execs’ central concern is how to develop the story of an incensed ex-wife beyond the source material. “The question is how you take the success of an event and turn it into something that will work on an ongoing basis,” Wachtel said.
Quandary was reflected in the attitude of the scribes on Thursday. Parriott said, “There have been winds for this as a regular series, and maybe this will push it over,” but McGibbon countered, “On the other hand, this was a perfect experience, so why ruin it?”
Wachtel said that even if it didn’t happen with “Starter,” net liked how a limited series help launch its summer schedule and could try it with another property. A decision, he said, would come in the next few weeks.
Bravo, too, had stellar news Thursday morning, picking up nine noms, including two of the five in the reality competition category, for “Project Runway” and “Chef.”
Mention is the third for “Runway,” which won’t be on the air until the fourth quarter and will not likely get the maximum benefit from the buzz. But the nom for “Chef,” its first, validates Bravo’s effort to break out the series as a “Runway”-size hit.
“Everybody thinks Bravo is super-risky and super-cutting edge, said topper Lauren Zalaznick. “But I see it as an exceptionally traditional network that just approaches things with an especially curious attitude.”
At Sci Fi, the big score came from critical fave “Battlestar Galactica,” which drew four of the channel’s seven nominations, including writing for a drama series and directing for a drama series, the first non-craft noms it has earned. Noms could give net a boost as it launches its next big skein, an update on the Flash Gordon character.
Elsewhere in cable, a number of other nets also outdid previous bests.
Comedy Central landed 12 mentions, up from its previous high of eight last year. It nabbed the first ever for its roast, as well as the expected gaggle for “The Daily Show With Jon Stewart,” “The Colbert Report” and “South Park.”
AMC, on the eve of the preem of its big-bet “Mad Men,” picked up a whopping 18, most for oater mini “Broken Trail.”
And Discovery continued its own rise to dominance in serious nonfiction programming, as nature nonscripted series “Planet Earth” and 9/11 telepic “Inside the Twin Towers” helped the net land 16 noms.
(Stuart Levine in Hollywood contributed to this report.)