Cable's '12th Annual Ace Awards' attracts stars you've seen elsewhere


So what is the allure of awards programs on television? Probably not the nostalgic memory of the actual works involved -- whether for Grammys, Tonys, Oscars or Emmys -- but rather, a fascination with the glitzy people who don tux and gown to pat each other on the back.

And by that measure the "12th Annual ACE Awards" show, VTC honoring the best of cable programming from the year past, ranks pretty high in the awards firmament, boasting a list of stars you're also likely to see at any or all of the above.

(The show can be seen live from Los Angeles at 9 p.m. tomorrow on these basic-service networks: BET, Discovery, Family, Lifetime, Nick at Night, TNT and TBS.)

Billy Crystal, for example, the frequent Academy Awards telecast host, seems a good choice to win an ACE for his "Midnight Train to Moscow" comedy special on HBO, documenting his touching trip in search of his family's Russian roots.

Hume Cronyn, perhaps the dean of American quality actors, seems a likely best actor ACE for HBO's "Age-Old Friends." But his competition includes a couple other big-screen stars, such as Albert Finney (for HBO's "The Image") and Martin Landau (for TNT's "Max and Helen").

On the best actress side, Faye Dunaway seems the leading big-name contender for the period TNT film "Cold Sassy Tree," but other top Hollywood competitors include legend Gena Rowlands (for TNT's "Montana") and Cicely Tyson (for TNT's "Heat Wave").

How about some of these names for a variety of other acting categories? Oliver Reed (TNT's "Treasure Island"), Max von Sydow (HBO's "Red King, White Knight"), James Earl Jones ("Heat Wave" and A&E;'s "Third & Oak"), Anthony Andrews (Showtime's "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde"), Elizabeth Ashley (A&E;'s "The Rope"), Marsha Mason and Swoosie Kurtz ("The Image"), Colleen Dewhurst (Disney's "Lantern Hill") and Blair Brown (Lifetime's "Molly Dodd").

And how many Grammys are represented in the nominees for best music special or series? The names include Diana Ross, The Rolling Stones, Yo-Yo Ma, Paula Abdul and Evelyn Glennie, not to mention multiple performers in such nominated shows as the "MTV Video Music Awards," "New Visions" (on VH-1) and "Yo! MTV Raps."

Clearly, original productions on cable attract some high class performers.

The similarity of the cable awards telecast to the longer established awards shows continues with particular irony regarding the Oscar and Tony telecasts. For it has always been likely that a big majority of viewers of those awards have never seen the movies or plays involved.

With the ACE Awards, obviously, those without access to cable will have neither seen any of the nominated works, nor can even catch the awards show. (Cable "penetration" is still below 60 percent of households nationwide, and less than that in the Baltimore region, where the city has lagged behind suburban areas in cable hookups.)

Further, many cable viewers will still be unable to relate directly to many of the nominated shows, for they may not subscribe to all or any premium services. Yet the pay-cable networks once again heavily dominate the nominees.

For example, HBO programs garnered 100 of the 361 nominations, to Showtime's 31 total and The Disney Channel's 26.

However, it is encouraging to note that some basic-service channels are up for an impressive number of ACE awards. TNT tied with Showtime, in fact, with 31 nominations, largely on the strength of its own movies which began premiering last year.

A&E; is up for 30 nominations, and other basic services with significant nominations include ESPN, CNN, Lifetime and the Maryland-based Discovery Channel.

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