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It's Crunch Time

The pace may get slower for some people in August, but for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS), it's the equivalent of Christmas season at Macy's. Primetime Emmy nominations were announced July 17 but this week ATAS is mailing out DVDs of nominated programs and performances to voting members. Voting will continue until Aug. 29. DVDs for Creative Arts Emmys were mailed out last week – voting ends Aug. 22. John Leverence, SVP of awards at ATAS calls it the “beginning phase of final judging” which will take some shows and talent from nomination (nice) to winner (better).

At this phase members of ATAS volunteer to vote. For the program awards, ATAS solicits members from the entire membership. For individual awards, such as performer, cinematographer or director, volunteers have to be peers in the same craft to vote. Leverence says roughly 800 people will vote for drama categories and another 800 or so for comedy categories.

Voters will receive DVDs but a video-on-demand Web site set up during the nominating process is still accessible to ATAS members. ATAS for the first time this year had a “for your consideration” site, in addition to mailing out DVDs, which it does every year. A few networks set up similar sites, including Showtime, which kicked off the trend, and is one of the pioneers of modern, aggressive Emmy marketing. Its online videos were streamed some 50,000 times over the past few months, according to Richard Licata, Showtime's EVP of corporate communications.

ATAS hasn't released figures for its site, which is in beta this year, but Leverence says it was widely used, despite a few bugs. Notably, some people accessing the site had trouble viewing the high-definition VOD. “Next year, I think we'll include an option for high-definition or standard definition,” says Leverence. “It was a beta test, so we learned a number of lessons.”

This year's Primetime Emmys no doubt will be among the most unusual ever: As the nominations announced proved, cable television, notably basic cable outlets like AMC, are getting a lot more recognition than in the past. That largely reflects the increasing number of original productions airing on cable TV. But it is also due to the 100-day writers' strike that ended in February. Production was shut down on many shows, but that mostly affected the broadcast networks, which saw most scripted shows go into repeats for months, likely raising the profile of cable programs in the eyes of voters.

AMC, for instance, received 20 nominations, including a best drama nod for Mad Men. A slew of other cable programs and stars were recognized, too, such as FX's Damages, Showtime's Dexter and HBO miniseries John Adams.

The strike may have hurt the chances of some shows to get nominated, especially those that hadn't run fresh episodes for weeks prior to the Emmy nominations. Still, studios didn't greatly alter their “for your consideration” advertising in the daily trade publications – the ads touting specific shows and actors.

“It was about the same as past years,” observes Leverence, though during the judging period, the frenzy declines because the nominees are already picked. Now all that's left are the awards shows themselves. Creative Arts Awards will be presented at the Nokia Theater in Los Angeles on Sept. 13. The sixtieth annual Primetime Emmy Awards will air on ABC on Sept. 21.