Basic Cable Shows Snag Emmy Nominations

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The nominations for the 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards were announced Thursday in Los Angeles. The surprise was that basic cable programs cleaned up. AMC's Mad Men racked up 16 nominations, including one for Best Drama, along with FX's Damages.

DEBORAH AMOS, host:

As TV fans already know, Emmy nominations were announced yesterday and shows on cable, they cleaned up. One cable program, "Mad Men," on AMC, received 16 nominations. As NPR's Kim Masters reports.

KIM MASTERS: "Mad Men" took more nominations than any other dramatic series, the first time that's every happened with a basic cable show. The FX show "Damages" also was nominated for Best Drama. "Damages" star Glenn Close and Holly Hunter of "Saving Grace" were nominated too.

Mr. BRUCE FRETTS (TV Guide): You really saw the walls come down for basic cable, which is a big breakthrough for them.

MASTERS: Bruce Fretts is with TV Guide. In the past, he says, basic cable picked up a few nods here and there, but this year it's well represented in major categories. Many of the nominees are in their first season - "Mad Men," "Damages," "Breaking Bad," and "Saving Grace." Fretts says these shows benefit because they get some room for creativity.

Mr. FRETTS: They can't do and show everything, but they can do and show more than the broadcast networks do. So there's a little bit more leeway there for pushing the envelope, for being a little edgier. And that tends to get attention, especially from the Emmys.

MASTERS: Matthew Weiner is the creator of "Mad Men" and got two writing nominations.

Mr. MATTHEW WEINER (Creator, "Mad Men"): 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.

MASTERS: Indeed, Weiner's show pulls in maybe a million viewers per episode, which would spell doom on a broadcast network. At a gathering of television critics in Los Angeles this week, ABC Entertainment president Steve McPherson was asked whether he's annoyed when shows like "Mad Men" are ballyhooed as big hits despite their small ratings.

Mr. STEVE MCPHERSON (President, ABC): It's certainly frustrating when we have a show that we believe in creatively that gets an unbelievably dedicated core audience that would probably make it very, very successful on a much smaller outlet.

MASTERS: McPherson says he dreads having to kill a show that could work on cable but can't get to ABC numbers.

Kim Masters, NPR News.

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