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The Wide Open Emmys?

The Primetime Emmy Awards airing on ABC on September 21 will likely go down as one of the most unusual salutes in its 60-year history, due mostly to the fact that there wasn't much of a season to celebrate. The 100-day writers' strike that ended in February took care of that. It shut down production on most shows for weeks and wreaked havoc on network ratings for months afterwards.

But the show must go on. Members of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences (ATAS) begin voting for this year's nominees on June 2 with nominations announced the morning of July 17.

The usually predictable lineup of shows and actors nominated for Emmys will be anything but predictable this year as a result of the strike. Shows that were generating early Emmy buzz like ABC's Pushing Daisies went out of production so long ago as to be virtually forgotten, while some Emmy favorites never made it on the air, notably Fox's 24.

“Shows like Pushing Daisies that in a typical year would have gotten recognition are very questionable now,” says Chicago Tribune television critic Maureen Ryan. “There's that newcomer effect you want to reward, but now it's like: 'What was that show about?'”

Still, coupled with HBO's Sopranos no longer being eligible for Emmys and shows like NBC's Heroes stumbling to what many believe was a creative low, the lingering effect of the writers' strike is expected to give shows and actors that may have otherwise been overlooked a better shot at a nod.

Critics are predicting Showtime's Dexter, which got added exposure on sister network CBS during the strike, AMC's Breaking Bad and perhaps even HBO's In Treatment will get nominated. Among actors on series, David Duchovny of Californication gets good press.


ABC's Lost hit a creative peak this season and fortuitously aired original episodes during the darkest days of the strike, when most other scripted series were in repeats, likely giving it an added boost when Academy members vote. ABC's rookie sitcom Samantha Who? and star Christina Applegate came back from the strike with creative juices flowing, unlike a few other shows. AMC's Mad Men, a likely nominee even before the strike, is now a virtual shoo-in for a nomination.

Other shows and actors that would have been iffy-at-best contenders in a typical year may now get a shot at a nomination, including Glenn Close from FX's Damages, TNT's Saving Grace, the stars of HBO's Big Love, and Lifetime's Army Wives, a huge ratings hit that in a typical year could have been viewed as too soapy for an Emmy. Not now.

“Our thinking is that even when it was airing and the marketplace was cluttered with cable series last summer that it really did pop,” says Maria Grasso, senior VP of series development at Lifetime Television. “Voting is happening prior to its second season, but if there is an added advantage because there's been a strike and people are focusing on cable that would be fantastic.”

None of this is to say there won't be any predictability to this year's list of nominees, only that the usual shows will be mixed up with underdogs.

Regulars on the Emmy list will almost certainly be nominated again this year, mostly deservedly so, including TNT's The Closer and its star Kyra Sedgwick, as well as ABC's Grey's Anatomy and Ugly Betty. NBC's 30 Rock and The Office, Fox's House, CBS's Two and a Half Men and USA's Monk are regulars and top of mind, so they're unlikely to be affected by the strike.

“Generally speaking, I think Emmy nominations will probably go where they've gone before with Two and a Half Men, Ugly Betty and Grey's Anatomy, a lot of the usual suspects,” says Matt Roush, senior critic at TV Guide. “But I do think there's room for new blood and the strike may open up some doors, especially for cable. Mad Men is a perfect Emmy show—it has that classic look. A show like Dextershould definitely be in the top 5. I'll be really upset if it's not.”


Meanwhile, the nominating process is also changing this year in a nod to new technology. Where ATAS in the past has sent Academy members “For Your Consideration” DVDs (and VHS cassettes before that), this year it has also set up a Web site. “For Your Consideration” programs began being uploaded on May 20 and can be viewed by Academy members.

A few networks including A&E have set up their own “For Your Consideration” Websites.

ATAS's site is up for a few reasons, partly to cut down on costs—and as an environmental issue—by eliminating the need for DVDs and the elaborate packaging that usually goes with it.

The move to online video is also simply a reflection of the times, says John Leverence, senior VP of awards at ATAS.

“The Academy has been hosting, if you will, a 'For Your Consideration' program for many years,” he says. “As the DVD followed VHS and was a technological innovation, so is online video-on-demand. That's the next step, in terms of 'For Your Consideration' and the industry, in general.”

But the most noticeable change to the Primetime Emmys will be to the show itself, in part because of the strike and the expected shakeup in nominations.

The telecast will also look and feel different. Last year's much-criticized theater-in-the-round stage, when Ryan Seacrest hosted the Fox airing of the Emmys, will not return.


And there's a new venue—the Nokia Theater in downtown Los Angeles, next door to the Staples Center where the Grammy Awards were held in February. There may also be outdoor entertainment along the lines of rock band Foo Fighters jamming outside during the Grammys.

Another change will be a more pronounced presence by reality stars than they've had in the past—in fact, the one new category that will likely be televised is for outstanding reality host.

It's also the 60th anniversary of the Primetime Emmy Awards, which will play into the show, likely with glimpses of stars and clips from shows stretching back to the days of the DuMont network.

“Where we're headed at this time is blending in where television history has been and where it's headed, without getting into specifics. It's really a celebration,” says Ken Ehrlich, executive producer of the Emmys for the fourth straight year. “I'd like to do it in a way that's fresh, though. Don't be surprised to see classic television clips but don't be surprised to see it done in a different way.”

The Emmys are working hard to drum up interest in the show, notably because ratings last year sunk to the second lowest in history. But of more concern, the Emmys are worried about viewer interest in TV shows themselves—the broadcast networks, except Fox, have lost millions of viewers—so Emmy organizers have to worry that viewers won't really care who wins.

“It's a challenge,” says Ehrlich. “But I believe the nominations will be interesting. There may be some fresh names and shows and that allows us, especially with the sixtieth anniversary covering my bases with what's familiar, to be fresher in our approach. I'm looking forward to the booking process, let's just put it that way.”