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Emmy Hopefuls Get the Jitters

7/11/2008 08:00:00 PM Eastern

Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (ATAS) members, for the first time ever, were able to watch “For Your Consideration” screener episodes on a Website this year before casting their votes. The nominees will be announced July 17. But the system used to choose them has bugs that will have to be worked out by next year.

Problems with the Emmys.tv site included a failure to launch until late May, months after traditional DVD screeners had been mailed out. And the site was set up to offer high-definition feeds, but most voters' computers were engineered for standard-definition streams.

“The playback was a bit jittery,” says Academy executive John Leverence. Next year, Leverence says the technological issues will be ironed out, with plans for post-production companies to help optimize the streaming.

Many executives like the concept even if it's not perfected. “I think it was a smart idea,” says Katherine Pope, president of Universal Media Studios. “The technology needs to mature. I don't think anybody was expecting the amount of material that was posted up there. I think next year you'll see it really solidify, and over the next couple of years it will likely go completely in that direction.”

Next year the Academy will crack down on the amount of promotional material that can accompany a DVD mailing, which ought to make a difference.

Studios' eagerness to participate in the Academy's first-ever screener site was mixed, because they didn't want to give up the marketing opportunities that come with a traditional DVD mailing. But CBS Paramount dipped a toe in, posting two reality series. It also offered most of its shows on its own dedicated site.

This year's Emmy nominations will no doubt show the effect of the writers' strike, which forced networks to postpone or discontinue popular series. NBC's Heroes, for example, aired no new episodes after December, and Pope is positive that will hurt the show when the awards are given out Sept. 21. (The awards will be telecast on ABC.)

“Yup, I absolutely do,” she says. “This definitely was an unusual year in terms of shows being on and then being off for long periods of time.”

Heroes, a nominee for outstanding drama series last year, failed to make the top 10 finalists this time around. Other series that may have lost nominations due to the strike include previous winner 24; Fox opted simply to not air the show.

Nonetheless, anticipation is building that AMC's Mad Men and FX's Damages will make the final five for outstanding drama, putting either a step closer to becoming the first basic-cable series to win that category.

FX chief John Landgraf says he was skeptical about their chances for nomination: “I think it will be zero or at the most one—that would be my guess.” Landgraf, an Academy board member, cites issues with the voting that he says still favor broadcast and pay-cable networks.

Says Charlie Collier, executive VP and general manager of AMC, “I have heard statistically it's a difficult thing, but we haven't really focused on that.”

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