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Aisling O’Connor: How the Emmys stole Oscars' thunder in the great frock-off

SUNDAY'S Emmys red carpet served up an amuse bouche of fashion and celebrity, whetting the appetite for awards season. Though traditionally silver screen ceremonies such as the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and Oscars dominate the headlines, it was apparent from the media coverage of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences primetime honours that TV is the place to be.

Where we would usually expect stars of the small screen to doll themselves up for such an event, the shift in the talent line-up in US television has forced an upping of the style stakes. Shoulder-to-shoulder with the stars of 'Modern Family', 'The Good Wife', 'Breaking Bad' and 'Mad Men' were Oscar regulars and Emmy nominees Nicole Kidman, Julianne Moore and Jessica Lange. Every single red carpet walker from big name to newcomer was enveloped in borrowed luxury designer gowns and dripping with tens of thousands of dollars' worth of jewellery.

The increased presence of polish on red carpet is reflected in a major shift in the industry in recent years. Where TV was the place a movie star went when their film career went bust, these days some of the best scripts and highest budgets can be found on the small screen.

HBO's format is thought to have been the catalyst for change. The ad-free premium cable channel relies on subscriber fees, merchandising, product placement and syndication, thus leaving content comparatively un-fussed with advertiser concerns such as risque subjects and images.

This system raised the bar in the value of comedy, drama and made-for-TV movies, attracting the talents of Martin Scorsese, Mark Wahlberg and Kate Winslet to the HBO network.

The success of hit shows 'Entourage', 'Sex And The City', 'Curb Your Enthusiasm' and 'The Sopranos' threw down the gauntlet in terms of budget and creativity, opening the industry's door to A-list movie stars, producers and writers in order to compete for ratings.

The result of the influx of bigger name talent to television marks a new golden age in television. The plot lines of 'Breaking Bad', 'Boardwalk Empire' and 'Game of Thrones' are more popular water cooler topics than the latest superhero blockbuster franchise.

The raising of the profile of the Emmy awards can be in part attributed to the massive public interest in nouveau TV drama and comedy, but, as the 'E! Live From The Red Carpet' two-hour special would suggest, the predominant draw is fashion. As much as fans want to see their favourite show triumph in the industry polls, there is a bigger audience solely concerned with what the stars were wearing.

The internet was abuzz yesterday morning with the Kidman/ Moore showdown -- not regarding Julianne's taking home the statuette, but who topped the 'Best Dressed' list.

In a twist of fate, the Emmys was the ultimate in product placement.

Fashion designers such as Versace, Christian Dior, Naeem Kahn and Lanvin showcased their merchandise, just as TV networks HBO, ABC, NBC and AMC put the faces of their flagship shows to work on the red carpet.

TV bosses are facing much upheaval in how audiences consume their pro-gramming. Millions of global viewers watching illegally on the internet, messes with the ad-break and sponsorship profit model. The new focus on the 'collectable' quality of modern drama is vital to syndication, DVD and iTunes sales.

Bringing in brand-name actors, directors and writers is key to rolling with the punches in an ever-changing media landscape.

Awards season is in reality a huge marketing exercise for both sides of Hollywood, played out over four or so months with the Oscars as the big finale. We may not bother to learn who won what, caring more about who wore who at TV awards, but the fact remains that because of celebrity and fashion, television is back on the agenda. As gowns won the night over gongs, in its 64th ceremony the Emmys finally established itself as an industry event to be reckoned with.

Gowns and gongs on the Emmys' red carpet: Pages 34-35

Irish Independent