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There's More Emmy Drama For Cable This Year -- And Less For Broadcast

Cable Continues Inroads in TV Awards, As Broadcast Dramas Find It Hard to Get Nominated

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Cable dominated Emmy nominations, shutting out broadcast in the key category of outstanding drama series for the first time. But while critical acclaim may ignite buzz, it doesn't necessarily equate to more ad dollars.

Credit: Michael Yarish/AMC

AMC's "Mad Men" led with 17 nominations, including outstanding drama, an honor it has been awarded four times in a row. AMC's other hit, "Breaking Bad," HBO's "Game of Thrones" and "Boardwalk Empire," PBS's "Downton Abbey" and Showtime's "Homeland," are also up for the title.

Broadcast had been banking on CBS's "The Good Wife" to retain its presence in the category (it was the only broadcast nominee for outstanding drama in 2011), but cable has been increasingly stealing slots that would have normally gone to the Big Four networks.

This extended into the lead-actor-in-a-drama category, with Hugh Laurie, star of Fox's "House" noticeably absent from the nominees, which included Bryan Cranston of "Breaking Bad," Steve Buscemi of "Boardwalk Empire," Michael C. Hall of Showtime's "Dexter," Hugh Bonneville of "Downton Abbey," Damian Lewis of "Homeland" and Jon Hamm of "Mad Men."

Broadcast hasn't truly dominated the category sicne 2007, when HBO's "The Sopranos" was the only cable series nominated for best drama. "The Sopranos" actually ended up winning the award, and a cable series has taken home the trophy every year since. Cable has steadily encroached on broadcasters' turf, with select advertisers again shifting dollars to the medium from broadcast in this year's upfront market, said Amy Sotiridy, senior VP-director of national broadcast at Initiative . Still, there's no clear correlation between ad spending and awards.

"Critical acclaim is nice, but we don't buy a show for awards," she said. "Buzzed-about shows are great, and some clients are looking to be in those types of shows, but it's about going to where the customers are and that doesn't necessarily mean shows with piles of awards."

If given the choice between ratings and awards, it's likely the broadcasters would chose ratings , said Brad Adgate, head of research at media buying firm Horizon Media.

"There are different priorities here," he said. "Broadcasters are not only going after a large amount of viewers and content that appeal to a mass audience, but also programming that doesn't make advertisers uncomfortable."

On the cable side, there's more leeway to create edgier content, he said. It's this grittier, edgier programming that strikes a chord with critics.

Broadcast wasn't completely shut out from the drama category all together, with Julianna Margulies and Kathy Baker securing nominations for outstanding actress for their work in CBS's "The Good Wife" and NBC's "Harry's Law," respectively. Meanwhile, Archie Panjabi and Christine Baranski received nods in the outstanding-supporting-actress categories for their "Good Wife" roles. The Big Four networks still have a foothold in comedy, with ABC's "Modern Family" receiving a total of 14 nominations.

It's primarily been the premium cable networks, specifically HBO, that have been driving Emmy nominations. This year was no exception, with freshman series "Girls" and "Veep" receiving nods along with returning hits like "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "Boardwalk Empire."

While HBO received 81 nominations, this is down from 104 last year and is its lowest total since 1999. This comes as basic cable networks step up their investment in original content.

FX's "American Horror Story" tied "Mad Men" for the most nominations. AMC brought in a total of 34 nominations, FX received 24, and Lifetime earned five. History's miniseries "Hatfields & McCoys" garnered 16 nominations, the most in the network's history.

This continues a trend started in 2008, when FX's "Damages" and "Mad Men" made headlines by becoming the first basic-cable series to receive nominations for best drama, with "Mad Men" ultimately taking home the first win for the segment.

In the early days, cable wasn't even recognized at the Primetime Emmy Awards. Instead, it had its own awards, the CableACE awards, which were created in 1978 and ended in the mid-90s. Cable became eligible for the Emmys in 1988.

Of course, that 's when few households had basic cable and there were only a handful of channels. These days many cable shows have surpassed that of broadcast in ratings . And while even the biggest cable series still do not rake in the same viewership as NCIS, in aggregate they have been making a dent. This Emmy first for cable is just another sign the gap is closing between the two worlds.

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