Basic Cable Actors Horning In on Primetime Emmy Award Nominations

By Lisa de Moraes
Thursday, July 3, 2008

In a harbinger-ish of things to come, basic-cable thespians are everywhere in contention for Primetime Emmy nominations this year, mostly at the expense of broadcast-TV thespians.

Sarah Silverman, for example, is being considered for an Emmy nomination, not for her groundbreaking "I'm extremely intimate with Matt Damon" performance on Jimmy Kimmel's ABC show, but for her Comedy Central series.

Silverman is among the top-10 contenders for one of five nominations in the best comedy actress contest -- marking the first time that Comedy Central has gotten this close to a nom in one of the glam acting categories, reports Tom O'Neil, the trophy-show wag who does the Gold Derby Web site run by the Los Angeles Times.

In the past, HBO and Showtime were the only cable networks whose on-air talent was nominated in this race. Now, Silverman doesn't yet have an actual nomination -- they will be announced July 17 -- but she's still a player, according to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences sources who report to O'Neil.

Likewise, last year only three of the 10 contenders for a nomination in the drama-series lead actress competition came from cable. This year only three are actresses in broadcast TV series.

Last week the TV Academy, for the first time, released the names of the top-10 contenders for best comedy series and best drama series. But late in the week, it announced it would not reveal the top-10 lists in the acting races. This did not go over well with O'Neil, who embarked on a 48-hour marathon to get the scoop on who's in the running in every acting category.

"I wanted to send a strong statement to the academy," he told The TV Column yesterday. "For the past two years I've leaked these lists, but it usually took me a couple of weeks. This year I wanted to strong-arm the academy into releasing the actors lists the week after they released the series lists. . . . I wanted to exert the maximum pressure, showing they can't keep these lists secret -- it's the Internet age."

For O'Neil, it was a crusade. "This is not just an award, this is the highest honor of the most powerful medium in the world -- arguably much more important than the Oscars," said O'Neil, who covers both.

"The Emmys saved 'Hill Street Blues,' . . . 'Cheers,' 'All in the Family.' They were all low-rated . . . in desperate need of support from the industry. . . . I think the Emmy is not only the most important show-business award but the most meaningful and the most noble and heroic," O'Neil said.

This year he decided to take up the cause in a big way, he explains, because so many basic cable programs were making the top-10 lists. "The Emmys are finally acknowledging a trend. . . . This is where the creative genius of television is emerging, and the fact that they are in the running is important."

And, concerning those contenders for best lead actress in a drama series, "if we end up with only two of the five final nominees being cable, at least we will have known that seven of the 10 were seriously considered, and that's important."

It wasn't really so hard to get the lists so quickly, he admits; academy members are "notorious blabbermouths."

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