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ATAS' Leverence: Rookies Could Rule on Emmy Night

With the nominations out, it's now a countdown to the 64th Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on Sept. 23. As usual, cable dominated the drama categories and even crept into the outstanding comedy series category, which broadcast dominated in 2011. And while repeaters like Mad Men and Modern Family are still favorites, there is room for an upset, especially from rookies such as Homeland and Girls.

John Leverence, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences senior VP of awards, spoke about the nominations with B&C programming editor Andrea Morabito. An edited transcript follows.

People always look at the balance between broadcast and cable in the nominations, and cable seemed to have a particularly strong showing this year in both drama and comedy. How do you think broadcast should feel about its performance? Should they be worried?

Although perhaps you might not see this just by looking at the drama series, in fact, there was a signi! cant increase, 10-15% or more, in the total number of broadcast nominations for ABC, NBC and CBS. Fox had a decline because of Glee and American Idol. But in general, the ABC, NBC and CBS fortunes were rather significantly up-two digits up. Then, on the other side, in terms of cable, you had a 20% decline in the number of nominations for HBO, which basically comes down to the fact that they didn't have another Mildred Pierce this year, which had about 20-some nominations last year. You have some spectacular rises in nominations on the basic cable side: FX was up 333%; of course that's American Horror Story. History was up about 145%, and that's attributed to Hatfields & McCoys. But ABC up 20%, CBS up 22%, NBC up 15%, PBS up 33% really I think is a story that perhaps is not told very well by looking at, say, drama series nominations.

The other thing people will be watching to see is if
Mad Men can get a record fifth consecutive drama series win. What do you think of its chances to make history?

You never know. It's a zero-sum game and every year stands alone, total independent suspension of every single year. There's really no such thing, although you might think there would be as you rack up year after year in nominations and wins. But every single outing everybody is at the starting line and it's just a matter of putting together a sufficient number of episodes to wow the judges. Another situation here would be, let's say for example a brand-new show like Homeland. Downton [Abbey, on PBS], a brand-new show in [the] drama series [category], certainly is not new because it was in miniseries last year. You've got in Downton and Homeland, a couple of very strong new contenders coming into the mix. And you know Breaking Bad is coming back in with what's looking to be a pretty strong year. So nothing is in concrete. What happened last year is utterly irrelevant to what's going to happen this year.

Do you think the same principle applies to comedy? Or is Modern Family still the favorite?

I would say that the same logic would apply over there. I mean all of the sudden you've got Girls and Veep that we've never seen before, brand-new shows. Curb [Your Enthusiasm, on HBO] is a longtime favorite coming in and of course 30 Rock and Big Bang are in there also. So again it's a zero-sum game. Girls came out of nowhere. It certainly has been a critically acclaimed show, but in terms of Emmy recognition it's a brand-new ballgame. That is an unknown factor inserted into that mix.

American Horror Story certainly looks strong in the miniseries/movie category, with 17 nominations. Is that enough to make it a favorite?

I think that long-form is really one of those uncertain areas, because in long-form you have such a mix of programming. You go from something like American Horror Story down to a very self-contained two-hour in Game Change. You've got coming out of who knows where Hatfields & McCoys, which [was] certainly underestimated as something that would have the kind of appeal that it has. And then you've got kind of really cool, hip, modern Sherlock, which has an awful lot of power. Luther is nothing to sniff at, and Hemingway & Gellhorn has a lot of star power going for it. Putting miniseries and movies together, you have a very eclectic mix and anything goes.

What surprised you about the nominations?

I think just the diversity of them. There was a piece by Scott Collins in the [Los Angeles] Times where he was talking about sort of a girl power year that we have coming in. With Lena Dunham and Zooey Deschanel brand new to it, the always delightful Mayim Bialik coming in, Merritt Weaver... just very strong kind of girl-power stuff going on there. And over in the drama series side, Anna Gunn coming in, very strong character from Breaking Bad, Joanne Froggatt coming in from Downton. It was an interesting year in that respect. Michelle Dockery also coming in in lead actress. These are the brand new ones who we've never seen [with] a nomination. Then of course you have the other very strong contenders with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Claire Danes coming in. And our dear Kathryn Joosten, who was a longtime governor of the Academy, who sadly passed away just about a month or so ago, came in in supporting actress.

This is the first year since there's been a reality host category that we know Jeff Probst will not win, because he's not nominated. Do you think you can call anyone else a favorite in that category?

I think that with Betty White as part of the equation, there's a real wild card in there. Because of course the other individuals are hosts of regular series and are veterans-Keoghan, Seacrest, Bergeron and Deeley are veterans and the other veteran is not. And all of a sudden you have a host who's never been seen before, but on the other hand has an extraordinary history with Emmy voters. That's a Wild West situation.

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