How cable dominates Emmy drama

Paul Martella
Yahoo! TV Emmys Blog
Mad Men star Jon Hamm (AMC)
Mad Men star Jon Hamm (AMC)

Those cable guys never give the broadcast networks a break.

For four years running, Mad Men has taken home the Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series, and this year, the AMC juggernaut has another Emmy nod.  Cable drama darlings Breaking Bad, Boardwalk Empire, and Game of Thrones also made the cut.  But where's the Emmy love for the networks?  "I think The Good Wife gets in as broadcast's noble representative," NPR blogger Linda Holmes predicted to The Hollywood Reporter back in June.  But no such 'Good' luck. The truth is cable is built for drama, and Hollywood knows it.

Cable envy has been spreading around studio circles for a few years now.  One reason is shorter show cycles.  Cable channels typically order 13 episodes per show verses the 22 episode standard at the networks.  A-list talent with tight schedules are more willing to sign on for a drama on cable.  "Jessica Lange was not interested in doing 22 episodes," American Horror Story creator Ryan Murphy revealed to the New York Times.  "The 13-episode schedule was how I was able to get the cast."

Then there's the freedom.   Cable can get away with more in terms of language, sexuality, and subject matter.  An actor or director willing to take a chance or go into darker territory can find those opportunities on cable.  And when it comes to Emmy nominations, the television academy rewards risk-takers.  Dexter has had four Outstanding Drama nominations; Breaking Bad has racked up three.

Sometimes it's just a numbers game.  Dramas on cable, even basic, have better stats for wins.  Five of the six dramas nominated for an Emmy this year are on cable channels.  And quality newcomers like Homeland on Showtime are elbowing in on an already crowded field.  Stars and studios with an eye on Emmy gold are betting the odds.

Broadcast networks have wised up and are taking a few cues from cable.  In May, Fox ordered more episodes of the high-concept drama The Following starring Kevin Bacon.   The actor-slash-director stipulated he wouldn't do more than 15 episodes a year, and Fox didn't balk. "The networks are opening up to that scheduling model," president of entertainment at Fox Kevin Reilly said.

It's working for cable, it can work for the networks, too.   If there was only something they could do about the FCC's stance on nudity and four-letter words.  Even still, Don Draper better watch his back.