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Leverence Sees Broadcast–Cable Balance in Emmy Noms

The nominations are out, and now it’s a countdown to the 63rd Primetime Emmy Awards ceremony on Sept. 18. As in 2010, cable dominated the drama categories while broadcast networks improved on their strong comedy showing last year for a clean sweep of the outstanding comedy series category this time around. And while there are clear front-runners, there still is room for an upset in several shaken-up categories.

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

How close do you think the race is betweenBoardwalk EmpireandMad Menfor outstanding drama, sinceBoardwalkhas 18 nominations andMad Menhas 19?Boardwalkand Steve Buscemi also won the Golden Globe.

Each one of the programs has its own history of success with Emmy voters and certainly in this particular year, you have a dead heat in terms of the nominations. Mad Men of course has had a high degree of success with the voters in this category over the past several years. Boardwalk has certainly shown an inclination in its rookie year to have favor with the voters. In terms of going forward with the actual horse race that will conclude the competition, I would defer to the wisdom of the voters.

Do you thinkModern Familyis a lock for outstanding comedy series considering the show’s 17 nominations and nods for its entire cast?

The Academy does not have an ensemble category such as the Screen Actors Guild, and in fact, an ensemble was nominated. This, by the way, is not the only time this has happened. In terms of Modern Family’s position vis-à-vis the other candidates, 30 Rock is not too far behind it with 13 nominations. 30 Rock has, with Mad Men, shown itself to be a perennial favorite when we come down to the final-final. It’s one of those situations in which you have a very strong field and you have very strong contenders all the way up and down the line.

Mildred Pierce—in the new mini and movie category— also looks like a lock since it leads all nominations. What do you think?

In some of the reviews of the HBO version, and some of the comments I’ve heard is that there was an inevitable comparison to the Joan Crawford [version], which was like a two-hour movie as opposed to the long affair. It very well might be that the comparison with the Joan Crawford version, the movie version, might have been either pro or con. I only bring that up because it’s a situation where it’s not a matter of the quantity of nominations, although that certainly does reflect a sense of the quality of it, but it’s ultimately a matter of the quality of the show.

What surprised you about the nominations?

The biggest surprise for me was a historic surprise. This competition in drama series has never shown any love for fantasy and science fiction. Programs such as Star Trek or Buffy or Battlestar Galactica or perhaps even this year, Fringe…have never had any traction, and all of a sudden you have Game of Thrones. You have this thing that kind of sticks out like a sore thumb in terms of being kind of a sci-fi fantasy sort of world that has just never come to any kind of significant recognition in this particular category.

How do you think broadcast should feel about its performance? There’s always a broadcast vs. cable argument, and broadcast did poorly in drama but great in comedy. How can that change? Should broadcast worry about changing it?

I think everybody carves out their own territory. The broadcast part of the spectrum has really kind of moved away from long form, and hence you see in long form a very strong representation of cable. Now in comedy series you have 100% of the nominations coming in non-cable or in broadcast. I don’t know if it’s the business models, I don’t know if it’s the inherent aesthetic sensibilities of the people at the networks and at the cable companies. But that seems to be the way it has been been breaking down, and of course that sort of distribution is inevitably going to be reflected in these Emmy percentages. I don’t know if somebody over at the network is wringing his hands over the fact that there is not a lot of long form. I don’t know if people over at the cable networks are in a state of agitation that they can’t bust through on the comedy side. Maybe everybody is happy where they are.

Were there any campaigns that you saw that you think particularly helped or hurt any shows? For example, did Warner Bros.’ campaign forThe Big Bang Theoryhelp it squeak in the nod that Warner Bros.’ desperately wanted for that show?

I thought the best log line campaign was for Pawn Stars where they said, “If you give us an Emmy, we promise not to pawn it.” That was extremely clever, I liked that very much. I think that one of the things that is most important is what you send out when you do a DVD “for your consideration” or if you post it to introduce people to it. I think that sometimes instead of a single episode being sent out, maybe an arc of episodes gives it a little more critical mass. It seems like having a campaign is not going to necessarily get you a nomination, but not having a campaign is not going to do you a lot of good for getting a nomination.

Why do you think HBO always does so well with its Emmy nominations? No one is ever even close.

That certainly is a true statement. This year we had a total of 504 separate nominations. HBO got about 20% of those, a total of 104. I don't think that HBO really does any more on the promotional side...The percentage breakdown between the number of nominees in cable and broadcast is not exactly a dead heat, cable has 53% of them and non-cable has 47% of them.

But it isn't a lopsided victory for one or the other. Whereas when you look at the number specifically for HBO vis-à-vis everybody else, there's 20% that they're taking; 20% is a very, very significant margin of victory... You then specifically take a look at those numbers and you can see how there are amassed. Between Mildred Pierce, there's 21, then you add to that another 18 with Boardwalk, you're now up to 39, you then pick up another 13 with Game of Thrones, now all the sudden you're at 52-that happens very fast. When you have that kind of massing of significant numbers in a particular network with particular shows, it gives you 20%.

Top ChefupsetAmazing Racein the reality competition category in 2010. Who is the favorite in that category this year?

As you know, The Amazing Race had a real lock on that for a long time. It was the exception last year that proved the rule, with Top Chef coming through. I think that what it indicates is that in any given year, to a very high degree depending on the particular episode that's chosen and the judges' response to that particular episode, that anything can happen. The voters are instructed very specifically that their evaluation of the series is not to be based on an overall sense of how the series did as a whole, but a very specific evaluation of the particular episode that they watched... That's kind of an unknown quantity. For your readers and for the public in general we hope we'll be able to get the message across that a win in the Emmys is not based on a overall arc of achievement but rather a very, very specific response the judges have to a particular episode.

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