What's in an Emmy for Cable? Recognition


USA Network is hardly new to the scripted-series business, with shows like La Femme Nikita, Silk Stalkings, and, more recently, Dead Zone and Peacemakers, to its credit. But nothing has put USA in the spotlight like quirky detective drama Monk, winner of this year's Emmy for Best Actor in a Comedy.

Of course, the win was huge for actor Tony Shaloub, who plays obsessive-compulsive ace detective Adrian Monk. But, for USA, it was momentous.

"Tony's picture was in The New York Times the next day," said a glowing USA President Doug Herzog. "The Emmy makes a statement that interesting things are happening on basic cable."

Beyond good publicity, though, what that Emmy does is tough to measure.

At this year's Emmy Awards, basic-cable networks seized prime time statues usually reserved for broadcast networks and pay-TV Goliath HBO. And an Emmy, quite simply, gives a cable network cache, something ordinarily in short supply for basic cable.

USA shared its Emmy experience with sister net Sci Fi, which won Best Miniseries for its hit Taken; TNT, winner of Best TV Movie for Door to Door; and Comedy Central, which snatched the nod for Best Variety Series for The Daily Show With Jon Stewart. FX, winner of Best Actor in a Drama last year for The Shield
star Michael Chiklis, still basks in some post-Emmy glow.

But exactly what an Emmy does for business is harder to quantify.

The Shield's ratings remained fairly consistent before and after Chiklis's Emmy nod. However, industry executives note, the Emmy helped raise the cable net's profile in the creative community, bringing better talent and projects its way. Its latest hit drama, Nip/Tuck, is already getting early Emmy buzz for next year.

It's not like the Oscars, notes Lifetime's head of research and TV historian Tim Brooks, when a win can immediately boost ticket sales, as curious moviegoers go to see the winning films and some movies are re-released. For a cable channel, an Emmy "is an important promotional tool," he said, to present to viewers and the creative community. (Way back when cable was younger and NBC was in the ratings cellar, NBC's Hill Street Blues might have been canceled had it not won a bushel of awards after its first season. That caught the public's attention.)

Lifetime's original movie Homeless to Harvard, starring Thora Birch, was nominated this year for Best Movie. The award went to TNT, which beat out Lifetime and traditional winner HBO. Door to Door, starring William H. Macy in a real-life story of a traveling salesman with cerebral palsy, was TNT's first movie under a new partnership with Johnson & Johnson to make family-friendly movies.

"We got a big return for an advertising partner," said TNT COO Steve Koonin. "They got to experience the ultimate as a sponsor."

The Emmys are likely to pique some advertisers' interest in cable and sponsoring projects. "Clients now see that, if they are on that program, they are award-winning," says Lyle Schwartz, managing partner of research and marketplace analysis for Mediaedge:cia.

An Emmy also gives the ad-sales teams new ammunition to take to their clients as they angle for higher ad rates and premiums on originals.

Long term, an Emmy could help build ratings if a show attracts better and better talent. The Daily Show, for example, may get a few curious new viewers post-Emmy.

More important, says Comedy Central GM Bill Hillary, the Emmy helps raise a show's profile. "You'll see more people wanting to be on and
The Daily Show getting more access because of the Emmy." He expects to see that impact in Stewart's "Indecision 2004" election coverage next year.

For Sci Fi, the Emmy furthered the channel's push to go from niche to a major cable player. "Sci Fi can be taken on a higher level," said its president, Bonnie Hammer, employing one of the media's favorite Taken wordplays.

Looking ahead, she added, "when you get this kind of recognition and exposure ... it helps us justify doing the next project."

Indeed, Sci Fi has already signed up Taken producers Steven Spielberg and DreamWorks for another miniseries. Spielberg is also working on an upcoming limited series for TNT set in the American West.