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Miniseries or Not? A Serious Question on 'Earth to Moon'

Television: HBO's plans to submit the program as a miniseries draw fire from rival networks.


Even before its launch Sunday, Home Box Office's splashy docudrama "From the Earth to the Moon" is generating Earth-bound controversy regarding its classification for the nighttime Emmy Awards.

Specifically, top executives at NBC, CBS, ABC and the USA cable network have written the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, the body that governs the Emmys, vehemently objecting to the 12-hour production being entered as a candidate for outstanding miniseries.

Also taking part in the campaign is Robert Halmi Sr., the producer of several major miniseries, including last year's Emmy winner, "The Odyssey," as well as USA's recent "Moby Dick," starring Patrick Stewart, and NBC's upcoming "Merlin," with Sam Neill.

"I find it outrageous that HBO is able to call this series a miniseries," said USA Networks President Rod Perth. "They are in direct violation of Emmy rules."

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 7, 1998 Home Edition Calendar Part F Page 8 Entertainment Desk 1 inches; 30 words Type of Material: Correction
Emmy winner--In a Saturday Calendar story about television miniseries, NBC's "The Odyssey" was mistakenly credited with winning last year's Emmy Award in that category. The award went to PBS' "Prime Suspect 5."

Halmi and representatives at the other networks declined comment, but a source said the consensus among them is that this represents another case of HBO "manipulating" the Emmy process, having used its success garnering awards as a marketing tool for the pay channel.

Under Emmy guidelines, the networks contend that "From the Earth to the Moon" qualifies as a series, not a miniseries, because it features different directors on each episode and chronicles various stories from the space program in a less linear fashion than is the norm on miniseries.

The program's chances of winning would doubtless diminish in the series category, which features more formidable competition, including such programs as "ER," "NYPD Blue," "The X-Files" and "Law & Order."

A spokesman for the television academy said it was premature to discuss the matter because "From the Earth to the Moon" has yet to be formally submitted for Emmy consideration, with April 24 as the entry deadline; however, sources say there has already been considerable discussion within the organization about how to handle the situation.

In addition, HBO confirmed that the network's intention is to submit the program for consideration as a miniseries. "For anyone who has read the rules, it is obvious that 'From the Earth to the Moon' qualifies as a miniseries. To suggest otherwise is ludicrous," a network spokeswoman said Friday.

The spat highlights a larger issue--what one network executive described as "real displeasure" with the academy regarding award policies. Some network officials, in fact, have pressed for the academy to establish a separate category for cable movies, noting that HBO, as a subscription service, doesn't rely on advertising and generally spends far more than broadcasters to produce and promote its films. HBO films have won the Emmy for best movie five consecutive years.

HBO officials have countered in the past by pointing out that higher budgets provide no assurance of quality, and that network owners Disney (ABC), General Electric (NBC), News Corp. (Fox) and Westinghouse (CBS) clearly have the resources to compete with the Time Warner-owned channel. Halmi and NBC, for example, spent nearly $30 million on their four-hour "The Odyssey," and at least as much has gone into "Merlin."

The priorities are different at HBO, however, whose prestige projects--including Emmy-nominated comedy "The Larry Sanders Show" and movies like "Miss Evers' Boys," "Don King: Only in America" and the abortion-themed "If These Walls Could Talk"--draw attention to the service, which is half the battle in helping convince people they should subscribe.

The next Emmys will be presented in September and televised on NBC, in the final year of an agreement in which the show has rotated among the four major networks. Emmy nominations will be announced in July.

Despite their complaints, the networks continue selling commercial time to HBO, including recent national or local ads for "From the Earth to the Moon" that aired during the Academy Awards and coverage of the NCAA basketball championship. Sources say HBO has spent from $8 million to $10 million promoting and advertising the project.

* OUT OF THIS WORLD: Tom Shales calls Tom Hanks' miniseries "awesome." F20

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