Lesser-known networks spark Emmy buzz in Hollywood

LOS ANGELES, July 14 Thu Jul 14, 2011 5:37pm EDT

LOS ANGELES, July 14 (Reuters) - With 104 Emmy nominations on Thursday, cable TV's HBO again dominated rival networks for the industry's highest awards, but several nods from lesser-known networks truly had Hollywood talking.

ReelzChannel, whose focus is showing feature films and original programs about Hollywood movies, took on a big risk when it aired controversial TV miniseries "The Kennedys" back in April, but the move paid off in viewership and Emmy nods.

The network earned 10 of the highly coveted nominations, where before it hadn't had any, including a nod for best miniseries or movie and one each for Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper in the category of best actor.

After football drama "Friday Night Lights" was punted from the NBC network, satellite TV operator DirecTV put the show on its Audience Network for original programs. The satellite operator's reward: four nods including for the top Emmy, best TV drama series, and one each for Kyle Chandler as best dramatic actor and Connie Britton, best dramatic actress.

The Starz network, too, brought in nine Emmy nods for its shows "Pillars of the Earth," "Spartacus: Gods of the Arena" and "Camelot."

The nods underscore a trend in TV that has seen dramas, which in recent years generally have appealed to more narrowly targeted audiences, being replaced on network TV by reality and competition programs that are aimed at broad viewership.

Operations like ReelzChannel or Audience Network with fewer viewers can take the top-quality dramas and use them to attract new audiences, which only enhances overall viewership.

"On cable, we are seeing a strong point of view which is extremely original. Cable TV has a very specific audience. It is a niche market for the most part," said John Shaffner, chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.

HAIL TO THE CHIEF

Stan E. Hubbard, chief executive of ReelzChannel made the decision to pick up "The Kennedys" when The History Channel pulled it from its lineup. The miniseries had drawn fire from some critics who claimed it painted an unflattering portrait of slain U.S. President John F. Kennedy and his family.

But with controversy comes publicity, and that often lures viewers who want to see what all the fuss is about.

"Our daily average ratings have doubled since we announced 'The Kennedys' was coming," Hubbard said. The Emmy nod, he said, should only bring more attention to the channel, and he added that the nomination validated the production's quality.

The Audience Network is somewhat different. Because the channel is owned by subscriber-based DirecTV, its aim is less about attracting new viewers and more about retaining current ones, said Patty Ishimoto, general manager of original entertainment at DirecTV.

Still, she said the move toward original programming and high-quality dramas -- Audience Network recently picked up the Glenn Close show "Damages" -- has been a success.

To be sure, the nods for ReelzChannel, Audience Network and Starz are small by comparison to the likes of mighty HBO with its flashy, expensive productions such as "Boardwalk Empire" and "Mildred Pierce" -- Emmy's most-nominated program.

CBS garnered 50 nominations to be the second most-nominated network. NBC had 46, Fox 42, and ABC 40.

But it was only a few years back that the same things were being said about cable network AMC, and now it is considered one of the key stops on TV remote controls for quality drama after multiple Emmy wins for "Mad Men" and "Breaking Bad."

(Editing by Jill Serjeant)

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