Basic Cable Shows Get Emmy Nods

This year's Emmy nominations for Best Series include for the first time two shows on basic cable: AMC's Mad Men and Damages on FX. Matt Weiner, creator and executive producer of Mad Men, says basic cable's relatively small audience allows some "really cool shows to get made."

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The headline today out of the 2008 Emmy nominations: Watch Out for Basic Cable. For the first time, two shows that do not air on broadcast networks or on pay channels such as HBO or Showtime have been nominated for Emmys in the much-coveted Best Dramatic Series category.

One of them airs on FX, a Fox best cable channel. It's the legal thriller called "Damages."

(Soundbite of television program, "Damages")

Unidentified Woman #1 (Actor): (As character) I cannot make a case if Mr. Fisk refuses to participate in the discovery process.

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As character) My offices has delivered over 850,000 documents.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) Yes, but not the we requested.

Unidentified Man #1: (As character) You requested everything.

Unidentified Woman #1: (As character) And we haven't received it.

NORRIS: That's the program "Damages." The other show is on AMC, and it's called "Mad Men." It's an office drama about a Madison Avenue ad agency.

(Soundbite of television program, "Mad Men")

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (As character) Pleasure to meet you. Oop, sorry about that.

Ms. MAGGIE SIFF (Actor): (As Rachel Menkin): I'm Rachel Menkin.

Unidentified Man #2: (As character) Sorry, I was expecting...

Ms. SIFF: You were expecting me to me to be a man. My father was too.

NORRIS: Now we should say that these two basic cable shows have much smaller audiences than their Emmy competition, such as ABC's show "Lost," but they have received big critical acclaim, and that says something about what's changing in the world of television.

Matt Weiner is the creator of "Mad Men," and he just got his Emmy nod today, and he joins us now. Congratulations, Mr. Weiner.

Mr. MATT WEINER (Creator, "Mad Men"): Thank you very much, Michele. I'm thrilled.

NORRIS: Now, what does this say about television? Are we seeing the rise of basic cable?

Mr. WEINER: Yes, I guess we are. I mean, there's been a lot of great shows on basic cable for the last few years, but what you're really seeing here is that the creative freedom that's allowed for this kind of niche television, which requires a smaller audience, really, than broadcast television, it's allowed for a lot of really cool shows to get made, and the Academy has recognized it; that's also unusual because something new is not always easy to get through.

NORRIS: Now, you created this show. I understand that the idea and these characters lived in your head for a long time. Could you describe the idea behind this program, the quick pitch you made to the suits at AMC?

Mr. WEINER: Well, here's a lesson for anyone trying to do a television show. I never made a quick pitch. I wrote this script for this in an act of defiance and frustration at the job that I had at that time. It was eight years ago, actually, this month, and I sent them the entire script.

NORRIS: So you started working on this when you were unhappy with another job. You didn't mention what job that was.

Mr. WEINER: Well you know, it was the - I was a half-hour sitcom writer, and just creatively, I felt very frustrated. I had other things that I wanted to express, and I sat down to say, well, they won't let me land at the big airport, I'm just going to build my own plane.

NORRIS: So for those who haven't seen this program, are not familiar with the characters at the ad agency, Sterling Cooper, tell us what the show's about.

Mr. WEINER: Well, the show's about an ad agency in 1960. It's about New York City, it's about people who are selling products and creating an image of the idealized life of that time and about the disparity between the idealized life that they're selling and their own lives.

NORRIS: Just curious. When you were shopping this, where else did you take it before you went to AMC?

Mr. WEINER: Well, it was a long process. I mean, you know, it was - went to HBO, and it went to USA, it went to FX. It was - you know, it was sitting around for four or five years, and actually it kind of had a reputation as being this amazing, unproduced pilot, undoable in a way at network television because of the smoking. Murder's not a problem, but smoking was a problem.

NORRIS: Just curious, do you smoke?

Mr. WEINER: I fight the battle with smoking.

NORRIS: You didn't answer my question.

Mr. WEINER: Yeah, well, you know what? I actually wrote the script, originally part of it was to exorcise tobacco from my life, and then I went to New York - well, everybody has an excuse for why they start smoking again. All I can say is it's come to my attention that it's very addictive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. WEINER: And I would like to get it out of my life.

NORRIS: Matt Weiner, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. All the best to you.

Mr. WEINER: Thank you.

NORRIS: Matt Weiner is the creator of "Mad Men." It has been nominated for an Emmy for Best Drama Series, one of two basic cable shows to get that nod, and Matt Weiner received two nominations for writing.

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