The initial audience for HBO’s “One Nation Under Dog: Stories of Fear, Loss & Betrayal” was barely 100,000 viewers — about the number of people that watch a show like NBC’s “The Voice” in Detroit.

Similarly, while millions take in the Primetime Emmys each year, only hundreds on May 9 will attend Television Academy Honors, the annual salute by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences to programs that promote social change.

For each, however, there’s a payoff that extends far beyond the initial ceremony.

“One Nation,” one of eight specials and series tapped for TV Academy Honors this year, has enjoyed a durable run on HBO since its June 18 premiere, passing 2 million in channel viewership (alongside additional viewings via DVD and other sources). That still might still seem small potatoes, but it illustrates how the story of a program’s success isn’t told with the initial viewing.

“When I began in this business, we looked at premiere ratings,” says HBO Documentary Films prexy Sheila Nevins. “We were sort of playing the network game, even though as a pay TV network we have multiple airings.

“We don’t look at that anymore. We look at the sum total at the end of a period. You get the sense that the subscriber is using your product, though not at the same time, not on the same platform and not necessarily when you decide they should see it.”

The nod from the TV Academy Honors (now in its sixth year) stamps the three-part documentary’s legacy as one of the most significant programs of the year, even if, as Nevins says, the Emmys grab more attention.

“We live in an era of bold-faced names, and bold-faced names tend to take the (Emmy),” Nevins says. “It’s hard to win big prizes for shows like that. These are lower-case people (in One Nation).

We understand we’re not selling anything here except the human experience.”

As the years pass and its gallery of awardees grows, it won’t be surprising to see the TV Academy Honors gain more recognition as well.

“We’re so grateful,” says Nevins, “and so honored.”

“Parenthood” Marches On

Showing that some good deeds do go unpunished, NBC’s “Parenthood” not only provided compelling, meaningful television in 2012-13, it drew steady ratings to earn a fifth-season renewal from the Peacock with an increased episode order.

Averaging about 5 million in same-night viewing last season, including 5.7 million for its last episode of
calendar 2012, Parenthood will come back next season for a 22-episode run – seven more than before.

Having tackled the tough topic of a child with Asperger’s syndrome from its first episodes, “Parenthood”
took on the additional challenge of Monica Potter’s character battling cancer. In each case, the show avoids melodrama.

Wrote Jace Lacob of the Daily Beast: “Where ‘Parenthood’ consistently succeeds is in making the small and mundane as important—and indeed powerful—as the large, life-and-death issues that face each of us in our
own lives.”