New Emmy Category Levels the Playing Field

Category nominees praise it as a "better fit" for their shows

Anthony Bourdain CNN

The Primetime Emmy nominations included the usual suspects, but also some new faces and a brand new Emmy category — the Informational Series or Special.

The five nominees inaugurating the category are “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” (CNN), “Brain Games” (NGC), “Inside the Actors Studio” (Bravo), “Oprah’s Master Class” (OWN) and “Stand Up to Cancer” (Tenth Planet).

The new category was welcomed by all the nominees as “a better fit” for their specialized programming, with several of the shows receiving their first nods.

“The nomination and new category are pretty significant for us,” says Jonathan Sinclair, exec producer of “Oprah’s Master Class,” noting that it marks OWN’s first series to receive a Primetime Emmy nom. Now in its third season, the show’s nominated season features such guests as Tom Brokaw, Cindy Crawford, Alicia Keys and Stevie Nicks sharing life lessons with Winfrey.

“It’s uplifting and inspiring, and seemed a natural fit with this new category, although initially we weren’t sure it could sustain 42 minutes,” he admits. “But our first episode with Jay Z went great, and we’ve just built on it since then.”

CNN’s highly rated new series, “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” garnered four Primetime Emmy nominations in its inaugural season, and it also marks the first time CNN has been honored with a Primetime Emmy nod. “It’s a big deal for us,” says exec producer Lydia Tenaglia, founder of Zero Point Zero Production, which has produced programs with Bourdain for more than a decade. “And I think we got nominated because it’s a fantastic show with incredible staying power that’s been up-and-running for a very long time, if you go back to ‘A Cook’s Tour,’ his first series 13 years ago. It’s just gotten bigger and more complex and richer.”

National Geographic’s “Brain Games” also received its first nom — for its second season.

“Like the other shows, we’re not reality or documentary, so the fact they felt the need to create this new category is a testament to the sheer volume and quality of the work being done in this area now,” says show creator and exec producer Jerry Kolber.

Bravo’s “Inside the Actors Studio,” hosted by executive producer James Lipton, is the granddaddy of the bunch, with its nomination in the new category marking the show’s 16th Primetime Emmy nomination. “I believe we’re the fifth most-nominated show ever — but we’ve never won,” says Lipton. “Why? Because every year we’ve been put in the same category as documentaries, and every year they win — which they should. But our show’s a true series. We shoot it in one night, whereas documentaries like ‘American Masters’ will shoot for two years, with budgets of maybe $10 million.”

Lipton says he’s been appealing to the Academy for years, saying, “either all those documentaries don’t belong in that category, because they’re not really a series, or we don’t belong there. So I felt it was incorrect to have us competing with those shows.”

All agreed that the creation of the category finally addressed a growing — and increasingly popular — sector in programming that combines information with entertainment.

“We had been up several years in a row for the reality category,” says Tenaglia, “which often made us scratch our heads, because a show like ‘No Reservations’ wasn’t a very good apples-to-apples comparison, and was quite different from the other nominees in content and intent. There was a bit of a discrepancy there. So when the Emmy people told us about the new category, it immediately seemed like a far better fit for us, so we decided to move categories.”

Sinclair agrees. “It’s a reflection of where we’re seeing a lot of the shows and content going now. I’ve been with Oprah for almost 20 years, and it’s just second nature to us that we’d inform as well as entertain and enlighten. But clearly there’s now more and more content being produced around that concept, and with the same objectives, so obviously the Academy saw fit to recognize and honor that. I think it’s basically a reflection of what people want to see.”

Lipton emphasizes that point: “It’s leveled the playing field, and now we’re at last comparing similar shows. Win or lose, we’re now competing with our peers.”