… the nominees are ABC, CBS, Fox, NBC and HBO. And the winner is …

In a hitherto unthinkable turn of events, the name in the envelope could be that of cable-TV outsider HBO, a situation that would throw the cat well and truly among the pigeons.

HBO, a one-time creative laughing stock, has snatched more and more Emmy prizes in recent years with hits such as The Sopranos – collecting no fewer than 24 of this year’s sixty categories – and may in 2003 walk away with the biggest prize of all, the Emmy Awards show itself – a televised carnival of mutual admiration hosted by annual rote among the four broadcast TV networks.

It looks as if this scenario may come to pass unless Emmy organizer, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, is unable to persuade the networks to up the cash on the table for the show’s broadcast rights.

Six months of negotiations have led to deadlock with the Academy insisting on a five-year deal that more than trebles the present licensing fee of $3 million to an eyewatering $10m – plus $5-$6m in production costs, and $1-$3m to cover marketing expenses.

The latter costs are not in dispute being broadly in line with previous years but, according to the Academy, the network’s alleged ‘final’ offer is frozen at $3.5m. Says a spokesperson from academe: “We found [someone] who is willing to make a deal that we proposed to the networks that the networks did not accept.”

Observers believe the HBO threat could be a negotiating ploy – although time is not on the Academy’s side with its board of governors meeting to decide the issue today (Wednesday). The networks will have no say in reaching a decision as they are not members of the Academy which represents individual program-makers such as writers, producers, cinematographers and make-up artists.

HBO was unwilling to comment on the drama’s likely dénouement, saying it was “inappropriate for us to comment on the business of the TV academy.” But a CBS representative was less reticent about the outcome if the show goes to HBO. “[The networks] would counter-program aggressively,” he said. “We would no longer participate in the Emmys in any way, shape or form.”

Tune in same time, same channel, next week for the final episode in this stirring saga of love, power and revenge ...

Data sourced from: The Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff