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The TV academy only calls them "tweaks," but there are significant new changes in the Emmy voting process that may impact who gets nominated for — and wins — the TV awards.
The official academy statement is: "There are no major changes to the nominations. These are just tweaks to try to refine the process, which basically involves balancing the membership ballots and the blue ribbon panel votes."
However, the changes are substantial enough that they could give a strong boost to more popular programs and stars over rookies that upstaged them last year.
This summer the nominees for best acting and series will be determined by a 50/50 mix of the popular vote of TV academy members plus the scores of judging panels which evaluate sample episodes submitted by the top 10 vote-getters in each category. Last year the final five nominees were determined exclusively by the panels, which watched sample episodes submitted by shows (the ones that landed in the top 15 of the popular vote) and stars (top 10). Now only the shows and stars in the top 10 will have their work screened by industry peers who view the sample episodes at the TV academy's headquarters in North Hollywood over one weekend.
The academy believes that the new input of the popular vote will ensure that oversights don't repeat like the "Lost" fiasco last year when the 2005 winner of best drama series failed to get a new shot at the same award. Now the presumption is that a show like "Lost" is so popular that it would be guaranteed a nomination if it received enough popular votes to offset its poor ranking by a judging panel in the event its producers pick another weak episode choice. "Lost's" episode submission last year was dismissed by many TV journos as a poor choice full of too many dangling plot lines that baffled judges who weren't regular viewers of that unabashedly quirky series.
TV academy officials are unsure of how the two vote results — popular and the panels' scores — will be mixed mathematically to be given equal weight when determining the final five nominees, but they've been assured by accountants that a fair statistical formula has been devised.
Last year the panels took place over one weekend and judges didn't view sample episodes of everything nominated in one category. They saw several different episodes each, grading them based upon an ideal standard of excellence. This year panels will be spread out over two weekends and participants must watch all 10 episodes submitted per category and then rank them using a preferential vote.
Last year there were only panels for the lead and guest acting categories plus best series. Contenders for supporting acting were still chosen by an outright popular vote. This year the supporting races will be given panel scrutiny, too. All actors and programs in the running will submit one sample episode, including in the series race.
In the final round of Emmy voting, to determine winners, supporting stars will now submit only one episode -- just like lead performers -- instead of two, as in previous years. Series will continue to submit six sample episodes that are separated into three sets of two and then distributed randomly to judges viewing them on DVDs at home. Guest stars will also only submit one episode this year instead of the usual two.
That means there will be 14 judging panels convening over two weekends this July: 12 judging acting categories and two judging best comedy and drama series.
This year contenders will be given the option of switching the DVD screener they give to the nominating panel and, later, to the at-home judges. Last year contenders had to stick with the same episode even if the contender heard bad feedback from some panelists during the first screening.
"I don't think many will be switching," says an academy official. "If the episode was good enough to get them a nomination, they'll probably want to stick with it for the win."
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