Emmys boost field in top categories

The Emmy Awards stopped well short of an Oscar-sized doubling of its nominations, but an extra slot in top categories could freshen — or popularize — the contest.

Jon Hamm

Jon Hamm

LOS ANGELES — The Emmy Awards stopped well short of an Oscar-sized doubling of its nominations, but an extra slot in top categories could freshen — or popularize — the contest.

With six possible nominees for each of the acting and series awards, Battlestar Galactica might break the TV academy bias against sci-fi when the nominees are announced Thursday — or vampire saga True Blood could shatter the resistance to fantasy.

Younger, edgier stars who tend to fight for recognition might finally get it. Jim Parsons of The Big Bang Theory and Anna Paquin, already a Golden Globe winner this year for True Blood, are among the worthy.

Whether the outcome will approach last year’s Emmy victory by Mad Men — the first basic cable show to be honoured as best drama series — is unlikely.

“Last year was a very major breakthrough year,” John Leverence, the academy’s senior vice-president of awards, said.

A return to routine would be just fine with the major broadcast networks.

They’ve seen their offerings increasingly eclipsed in the awards by cable series, particularly dramas, that claim smaller audiences but louder critical buzz.

A series such as Mad Men, which might top out at 1.5 million viewers compared to 16 million-plus for CBS’ hit The Mentalist, could also be blamed in part for shrinking Emmy Awards audiences. Last year’s ceremony was the least-watched ever, with 12.3 million viewers.

The Oscars boosted its best-picture field from five to 10 in hopes of including more popular fare and swelling its also dwindling audience, and the Emmys could see the same result from its more modest increase in nominees.

The selection process for the expanded Emmy categories also switched from a combination of academy popular vote and blue-ribbon panels to popular vote alone.

Whatever the effect of the change, some shows face unique obstacles.

That includes Battlestar Galactica and its deserving star James Olmos.

“We’ve never seen, historically, that sci-fi has a lot of traction with Emmy voters” beyond technical awards, said Leverence.

He noted the lack of “marquee” acting or series honours for that TV classic, Star Trek.

Academy voters may also have nostalgia in mind this year, with several high-profile shows having wrapped last season and taking their last shot at trophies.

They include ER, The Shield and Boston Legal as well as Battlestar Galactica.

Departed shows or stars may not see much love, with some predictable exceptions, said TV editor Daniel Fienberg of the entertainment website HitFix.com.

Emmy voters “are always happy to give (nods) to William Shatner and James Spader for Boston Legal, even though most viewers have no recollection that Boston Legal was even on this year,” Fienberg said.

For the most part, he expects this year’s nominations to be a rerun, with major categories filled mostly with repeat contenders.

Besides Mad Men, last year’s top winners included comedy series 30 Rock and its stars Alec Baldwin and Tina Fey, and drama series actors Bryan Cranston of Breaking Bad and Glenn Close of Damages.

The 61st Primetime Emmy Awards, with Neil Patrick Harris as host, are scheduled to air live Sept. 20 from the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.

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