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Cable Executives Pleased Over Shot at Emmys

July 15, 1988|ELLEN FARLEY

It's a long way from the yucks of "It's Garry Shandling's Show" to the sobering look at Vietnam of "Dear America," but both could be among the first cable TV programs to be nominated for Emmy Awards.

This is the first year cable has been allowed to compete in the Emmy competition, which has always been for, about and dominated by the big three television networks.

So, whoever wins, this year's results could be the most interesting reflection yet of the viewing--or voting--habits of the 5,200 people who make up the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the Emmy voters.

"I'd be very surprised if cable shows won anything this year," said Showtime chairman Tony Cox, referring to a seemingly built-in disadvantage for cable in the Emmy nominating process.

The disadvantage stems from the fact that a majority of the TV Academy's members live in the greater Los Angeles area, where there are fewer homes with cable television than elsewhere--38% in Los Angeles versus a national average of 52%.

Therefore, "Cable television will not be nominated as it should," said Ralph Baruch, chairman of the National Academy of Cable Programming.

But in contrast to the unhappy-sounding Baruch, Showtime's Cox and most other cable figures queried sounded like partygoers on their way to a soiree they've been dying to attend.

"Quite honestly, we're overjoyed just to be there," said HBO chairman Michael Fuchs.

"Clearly, the system is never perfect," Cox said. "It's somewhat of a popularity contest and whoever is the most visible tends to get remembered and be recognized. That's true of the Academy Awards. That's true of every awards. We just have to take our chances."

The results will be partly revealed when nominations are announced July 28, a month before the Aug. 28 Emmy Awards show.

In any case, the only phase of the competition in which the entire membership votes--the nominating process--is nearly over. The deadline for returning ballots is today.

Once the nominees are chosen, cable's disadvantage is eliminated, because the winners are selected by peer panels that are required to screen all the nominees in their category.

For now, though, the big question is: Will Academy members have selected the nominees by voting, as the rules instruct, "on programs you have seen," or will they have chosen programs they believe should win, based on what they've read or heard about the shows?

"It's a question we all have on our minds," acknowledged Doug Duitsman, president of the TV Academy. However, he said he had heard from only one cable representative on the issue, the cable Academy's Baruch.

In an interview, Baruch insisted that, "The only system that can really work is if the programs (all entrants submitted for nominations) are screened."

Duitsman said he has asked the TV Academy's awards director, John Leverence, to study "how long it would take to screen all the entrants" for the Academy's members, though it is obviously too late for that process to take place this year.

Between the three major television networks, the Fox network, PBS and cable, "There are approximately 4,500 total entrants this year and approximately 450 from cable," an Academy spokesman said.

With that number of entries, "I'm not sure screenings are the practical solution," said Showtime's Fred Schneier, executive vice president of programming. "I guess I muse with most of my colleagues about how close can you get to the optimum circumstance, which is prescreening, with a practical concern to expenditure of time and money."

"I have this sort of blind trust that the high-quality programs will be the ones that get the nods," said Bill Couturie, the producer, director and co-writer of HBO's "Dear America." "I'm just thrilled that we get to go head-to-head with network television and see who makes the best programs in certain areas."

Likewise, producer Robert (Buzz) Berger, whose credits include the Emmy-winning "Holocaust," as well as HBO's "Sakharov" and "Mandela," said, "I'm not overly concerned. Sure, this year, we (cable producers) are at a disadvantage, and maybe next year, but in three or four years, I think there will be parity. Cable has to start with the Emmy process somewhere and this is a good start."

Cable hasn't been eligible for Emmy Awards in the past for two reasons. One was that their inclusion was opposed by the three major commercial networks, which didn't want to promote the competition. Duitsman has referred to cable's exclusion as "an unwritten rule" of the awards program as long as the Emmys stuck to its tradition of airing only on ABC, CBS and NBC.

But when Fox Broadcasting outbid the networks for telecast rights to the Emmy Awards, that problem evaporated. Then it was only a matter of cable TV growing to the point where it met the Academy's criterion of being available to at least 51% of the nation's viewers.

Academy officials were willing to overlook the fact that no cable channels actually reach all of those homes. "That doesn't mean they have to be wired in 51% of the homes, but they must be available if those homes choose to use it," a spokesman explained.

The cable networks that have submitted programs for Emmy consideration are Arts & Entertainment, CBN Cable Network, the Disney Channel, HBO, Cinemax, MTV, Nickleodeon, Showtime, TBS and USA Network.

Opinions vary on what cable's inclusion in the Emmy Awards will mean for the cable industry's own programming honor, the ACE Awards.

Producer Berger believes the ACE Awards "will find they should be phased out. If cable is truly represented in the bigger world of the TV Academy, then I don't think it (ACE) is necessary."

Showtime's Cox disagrees. "I'm on the ACE committee and there's no conversation about that at this point," he said. "I think we see ACE as being around for quite a while."

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