Emmy Watch: Cable TV will dominate drama race

For decades, the Best Drama Series category at the Emmy Awards was the exclusive domain of the broadcast networks, PBS and HBO. “Star Trek: The Next Generation” was the first syndicated series to contend in 1994.

In 2008, Emmy history was made when two series from basic cable and one from HBO rival Showtime broke through for the first time. AMC’s “Mad Men,” FX’s “Damages” and  Showtime’s “Dexter”  joined Fox’s “House” and ABC’s “Lost” and “Boston Legal” in the category, with AMC’s period piece winning.

Two years ago, those three series were joined by AMC’s “Breaking Bad” and HBO’s “Big Love” to almost completely dominate the field of seven nominated series (with “Lost” and “House” rounding out the category). Earlier this year, “Mad Men,” “Breaking Bad,” “Dexter” and HBO’s “True Blood” outnumbered their network counterparts (“Lost” and CBS’ “The Good Wife”) in the lineup.

Next year, I expect cable’s ascendancy to continue despite two past nominated series — “Breaking Bad” and “Damages” — taking a break this year. Stalwarts like “Lost” are off the air. And the broadcast networks have not produced anything buzzworthy this season. However, cable has continued to generate the kind of award-worthy series to which Emmy voters gravitate.

At this early stage, of the ten series that I regard as frontrunners for the six (or possibly seven) slots in the category, only one of them airs on a broadcast network (CBS’ smart adult drama “The Good Wife”, a nominee last year). The other nine, in alphabetical order are “Big Love” (HBO), returning next month for its final season; “Boardwalk Empire” (HBO), capitalizing on the pedigree of its producers and director Martin Scorsese; “Dexter” (Showtime), nominated the last three years; “Game of Thrones” (HBO), which is sight unseen and based on hype at this stage; “In Treatment” (HBO), returning after a year-long hiatus to critical praise; “The Killing” (AMC), which is also sight-unseen and based on buzz alone; three-time Emmy victor “Mad Men” (AMC); “True Blood” (HBO), a nominee last year; and perhaps the hottest new show this year “The Walking Dead” (AMC).

Subject to whether it airs during the eligibility period, HBO’s “Luck” might also be a factor. And I might as well mention other cable dramas that might be in the running, like Showtime’s upcoming period drama “The Borgias” and adaptation of the UK hit “Shameless”; HBO’s “Treme”; AMC’s now defunct “Rubicon”; FX’s “Rescue Me” or “Sons of Anarchy” (neither of which has been an Emmy darling of late); the upcoming retelling of the period classic “Camelot” on Starz; TNT’s “Men of a Certain Age” or “The Closer”; Syfy’s soon to premiere “Being Human”; and any of USA’s best options: “Burn Notice,” “Covert Affairs” or “White Collar.”

Of the network offerings that might make an impact in this category, only the following have even a remotely realistic shot at a bid: previous nominee “House” (Fox), which might return to the category after missing out earlier this year; “Blue Bloods” (CBS), probably the best-reviewed new network drama series premiering during the fall; “Friday Night Lights” (DirecTV) for its final season; NBC’s “Parenthood”; or perhaps two upcoming midseason premieres: Shawn Ryan‘s “The Chicago Code” (Fox) or “Harry’s Law” (NBC) from Emmy king David E. Kelley.

But I will wager that come July next year, we will likely hear about the “slow death of broadcast television” with headlines like “only one single show from the broadcast networks are among the nominated series for Best Drama Series.” Watch this space.

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