TV’s most prestigious award brings fame and honor, but its benefits for cable operators are less tangible. By Peter Caranicas As cable looks to Aug. 27 at Shrine Auditorium, it’s hard to imagine the industry’s history with the Emmys is not even 20 years old (see sidebar, "Cable’s Short History With the Emmys"). Since winning its first statuette in 1988, cable’s Emmy victories have grown steadily. Alongside the HBO juggernaut, which has gathered hundreds of nominations, most of the major cable programmers have toted hardware from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences and have actively promoted their Emmy noms and wins to operators, advertisers and consumers. Everyone agrees that cable’s high Emmys profile has raised the industry’s visibility with the public and Hollywood’s creative community. But it’s less clear that the Emmys have increased cable ratings. It’s also debatable whether Emmys have improved the lot of cable operators. For example, most observers feel there’s no way to prove that the awards have helped operators sign more subscribers. For Steve Koonin, EVP and COO of TNT and TBS, "the biggest benefit of the Emmys to a network is that they signal to the creative community positive attributes about that network." In fact, Frances Berwick, EVP, programming and production, Bravo, believes their influence on the creative community is the primary benefit. Emmys "help bring new concepts and more talent to a network," she says. As for its influence on viewers, says Koonin, the Emmy "signals there’s something positive out there that needs to be checked out." TNT stands to gain a lot this year, with Kyra Sedgwick up for best lead actress in a drama series for The Closer, and with Into the West contending for an Emmy as top miniseries as well as receiving 15 nominations in tech categories. Overall, TNT was nominated for 17 Emmys. "It’s a breakthrough year for TNT" in terms of originals, CTAM chief Char Beales says. "We saw what that kind of breakthrough can do when Tony Shalhoub won for Monk [for the first time in 2003]. The show really broke out and put USA Network on the map." Bob DeBitetto, EVP and general manager, A&E, is also a big believer in the Emmys. "It raises a network’s visibility, helps reinforce brand awareness and has a halo effect on all of a network’s programming," he says. Still, he cautions "there is no direct, formulaic relationship between Emmys and ratings, especially if the awards are for movies or special events as opposed to continuing series." A&E could also be a beneficiary this year. It received multiple nominations for the 9/11 drama Flight 93, and could score with the doc Combat Diary: The Marines of Lima Company, the network’s Biography franchise and a Paul McCartney concert from St. Petersburg, Russia. NO WAY TO MEASURE A HALO Comedy Central also has done well at the Emmys. South Park has been nominated for "outstanding animated program less than one hour" five times and won that award last year. The Daily Show With Jon Stewart has been nominated for 15 Emmys and has copped seven statuettes. The recently launched The Colbert Report is up for four awards this year. There’s no real way to precisely measure the influence of the Emmys, acknowledges Michele Ganeless, Comedy Central’s EVP and general manager. "But the attention a show gets after an Emmy win provides benefits for the channel that carries it," she says. "The more cable programming is recognized for its creative excellence, the more the entire industry benefits." But Ganeless also admits to a lack of evidence of a direct relationship between Emmy wins and ratings lifts. She cites Fox’s canceled Arrested Development as an example of a show that received multiple Emmy noms and wins but never built a significant following. TALENT MAGNETS HBO, with deep connections to the Hollywood community and deep pockets, has collected the lion’s share of cable’s accolades since the early days of the ACE Awards. More recently the Time Warner unit has given even the large broadcast networks a run for their money with Sex and the City and The Sopranos. "It is great when those who choose HBO as their home have their work praised," HBO chairman and CEO Chris Albrecht says. "We try to give [the creative community] a place where they can do their best work and follow their vision…The fact that they were able to do that work here probably does make us attractive to others in the creative community." But while there’s consensus that Emmys enhance cable’s public profile and solidify its Hollywood ties, little is said of the awards’ influence on networks’ relationships with operators. Operators contacted for this story declined to comment on programming partners. That doesn’t surprise CTAM’s Beales. Operators, she says, don’t normally use Emmy wins to enhance their marketing. "It’s off their radar screen," she says. The main reason, she argues, is that network programming no longer is a differentiator for cable since "it is also offered by DBS and now the telcos," she says. Still, "a smart cable marketer" should tout Emmy-winning shows, she argues, although they must recognize their competitors could do the same. AN UNUSED MARKETING TOOL? As for the programmers, they believe the awards are beneficial to their relationships with distributors, but in ways that can’t be quantified. "I think awards give operators another marketing tool," says Koonin. "The Emmy telecast is a highly watched program," he adds. "Cable operators should take a proactive stand and reinforce their value message by making it clear that they have programming [not available on broadcast] that is award-winning and critically acclaimed, as well as highly popular." While he believes "program quality is something that operators should shout from the rooftops," he admits, "specifically promoting Emmy wins is not a sustainable strategy" since a program "that wins big one year might not win next year." TNT does nothing special to help operators tout Emmys, he says. When Bravo’s Berwick talks to operators, she often speaks of Emmy winners "because it shows that we’re doing something different with the network," she says, "and that what we do is of the highest quality." She laughs when mentioning Inside the Actors Studio, which she calls the Susan Lucci of its category—it has been nominated 13 times but has yet to win. "We do a lot of business with our distribution partners in local ad sales, and if a show gets recognized, that will enhance the sales effort," A&E’s DeBitetto says. "So it’s all good," he adds. "But I’m not sure I can tell you there’s a specific, direct financial correlation between a network winning an award and a distributor taking advantage of that." "Most basic networks are now widely distributed, so I’m not sure there’s an immediate benefit for the operator anymore," says Ganeless, "but anything that has an impact on the viewer ultimately has an impact on the operator." Her reasoning? Operators "have a relationship with the same viewer as the network." Putting aside for the moment the question of an Emmy’s direct economic benefits, Koonin takes a pragmatic approach. "We’re maniacal about keeping our eye on the viewers, on bringing them the best experiences. If we get the benefit of an Emmy, so be it." Cable’s Short History With the Emmys Remember 1987? Sharon Gless received a prime-time Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for Cagney & Lacey, Bruce Willis got one as outstanding lead actor for Moonlighting and Michael J. Fox was outstanding lead actor in a comedy series for Family Ties. Big network shows like L.A. Law and The Golden Girls dominated and PBS garnered wins in the more highbrow categories. Fox and a few syndicated shows received what seemed like reluctant nods. Then, in 1988, new network names appeared, including Showtime, TBS, Disney and HBO—with the latter copping three wins: two for Dear America: Letters Home From Vietnam (outstanding information special and outstanding individual achievement – informational), and one for Jackie Mason on Broadway (outstanding writing in a variety or music program). That year marked not only the start of HBO’s long winning streak at the prime-time Emmys; it also was cable’s Emmy debut. "Broadcasters kept cable…out" of TV’s most prestigious awards, recalls Char Beales, president and CEO, CTAM. Richard Licata, EVP of corporate communications at Showtime, says broadcasters "felt the Emmys was their domain. We had the CableACE Awards, and never the twain shall meet." "We had to go to extreme measures to get ourselves considered in the competition," says Beales, who in the 1980s was VP of programming and marketing at NCTA, where she also served as executive director of the National Academy of Cable Programming, which sponsored the CableACE Awards. From 1978 to 1987 the ACE Awards (Awards for Cable Excellence) were the only official recognition given to the burgeoning world of cable programming. After years of lobbying, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences relented and the door was opened for cable’s first Emmys in 1988. Oh, those pesky broadcasters. "Once we did finally get in and started to win, the argument started to emerge that because we were bigger-budgeted, especially with TV movies, we should be put into a different category, like best made-for-cable movie or miniseries," says Licata, who was with HBO in 1980s. —P.C. 2006 Emmy Nominees Below are Emmy-nominated shows in major program categories that will vie for awards at the 58th annual prime-time Emmy Awards ceremony in Los Angeles, Sunday, Aug. 27 (8 p.m. ET, NBC). Outstanding Drama Series Grey’s Anatomy ABC
House Fox
The Sopranos HBO (above)
24 Fox
The West Wing NBC Outstanding Comedy Series Arrested Development Fox
Curb Your Enthusiasm HBO (above)
The Office NBC
Scrubs NBC
Two and a Half Men CBS Outstanding Miniseries Bleak House PBS
Elizabeth I HBO
Into the West TNT (above)
Sleeper Cell Showtime Outstanding Made for Television Movie Flight 93 A&E (above)
The Flight That Fought Back Discovery Channel
The Girl in the Caf� HBO
Mrs. Harris HBO
Yesterday HBO Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Series The Colbert Report Comedy Central (above)
The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Comedy Central
Late Night With Conan O’Brien NBC
Late Show With David Letterman CBS
Real Time With Bill Maher HBO Outstanding Variety, Music or Comedy Special 78th Annual Academy Awards ABC
Bill Maher: I’m Swiss HBO
George Carlin: Life Is Worth Losing HBO
McCartney in St. Petersburg A&E
The XX Olympic Winter Games-Opening Ceremony NBC Outstanding Animated Program Less Than One Hour Camp Lazlo Cartoon Network
Family Guy Fox
Foster’s Home for Imaginary Friends Cartoon Network
The Simpsons Fox
South Park Comedy Central (above) Outstanding Animated Program One Hour or More Before the Dinosaurs Discovery Channel (above)
Escape From Cluster Prime Nickelodeon Outstanding Children’s Program Classical Baby 2 HBO
High School Musical Disney
I Have Tourette’s But Tourette’s Doesn’t Have Me HBO
Nick News With Linda Ellerbee: Do Something! Caring for the Kids of Katrina Nickelodeon Outstanding Nonfiction Special All Aboard! Rosie’s Family Cruise HBO
How William Shatner Changed the World The History Channel
Inside 9/11 National Geographic Channel
Rome: Engineering an Empire The History Channel
Stardust: The Bette Davis Story TCM Outstanding Nonfiction Series American Masters PBS
Biography A&E
Deadliest Catch Discovery Channel
Inside the Actors Studio Bravo (above)
10 Days That Unexpectedly Changed America The History Channel Outstanding Reality Program Antiques Roadshow PBS
The Dog Whisperer National Geographic Channel
Extreme Makeover: Home Edition ABC
Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D-List Bravo
Penn & Teller: Bullshit Showtime Outstanding Reality-Competition Program The Amazing Race CBS
American Idol Fox
Dancing With The Stars ABC
Project Runway Bravo
Survivor CBS

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