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TV feud may put Emmys at risk

Will competition kill the Emmy Awards?

Odd as it sounds, a quiet but bitter battle is being waged over the future of the Emmys, the most prestigious television awards, with the networks going head-to-head with the cable channels.

The immediate point of contention is HBO's acclaimed 12-part program From the Earth to the Moon. HBO intends to submit it for Emmy consideration in the miniseries category. (HBO won 19 Emmy awards in September, second behind NBC, which had 24.)

That prompted a flurry of letters from executives at ABC, CBS, NBC and the USA Network to the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, which conducts the awards, arguing that From the Earth to the Moon should be submitted as a dramatic television series, a far more cluttered and competitive category.

The academy ultimately rejected the recent claims, saying that From the Earth to the Moon was a throwback to some of the great miniseries the networks produced, like ABC's Roots, and NBC's Centennial.

In response, some network executives hinted that they would consider dropping out of the Emmys entirely and starting a new set of awards that would exclude the cable channels.

Cable channels are able to prosper by offering a steady diet of second-run movies and original programing that has to appeal to only a slice of their audience. By contrast, the networks rely on advertising fees, which are charged on the basis of how many people watched a show. Thus, a pay-cable channel can do well with a relatively small but avid following, but the networks must always shoot for a mass audience.

"If CBS wins an Emmy, it doesn't mean 5 cents more," said Leslie Moonves, the president and chief executive of CBS Television. "But if HBO wins an Emmy, they can use it to win more subscribers."

The broadcast networks resent what they perceive to be positive news reports about original programing on the cable channels and underreporting of the modest overall audience for cable shows.

"The cable industry has done a wonderful job of selling itself with what I believe are very misleading figures," said Peter Roth, the president of Fox Entertainment. "The six networks are seen by almost double the number of viewers of the total cable universe. I find it absolutely confounding that people are not delving into the truth of that."