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Does Emmys' 'time-shift' reflect misplaced priorities?

July 31, 2009 |  9:01 am

The Emmys' plan to "time-shift" eight of the 28 awards bestowed on the upcoming Sept. 20 telecast may seem bizarre and unfair, but is it?

It will be done to save time on the Emmycast and it will entail bestowing those awards before the main ceremony, then featuring the winners' acceptance speeches in full — or so Emmy chiefs promise for now. Also, they promise that all nominees in those categories will still be mentioned. Huh? How much time can be saved in that case? Emmycast producer Don Mischer claims that 12 to 15 minutes can be salvaged, but that doesn't make sense. It doesn't take that long for the winners in eight categories to walk up to the podium. Theoretically, that's the only time being saved if Mischer doesn't slash the acceptance speeches. Some Emmywatchers don't trust that promise.

Emmys TV news 2

Conspiracy theorists not only believe that those speeches will be edited down, but that there is a bigger, more sinister plan behind all of this. The eight categories being denied live presentation — best miniseries, movie, supporting actor and actress, drama series writing, movie/mini writing, variety directing, movie/mini directing — just so happen to neglect the four broadcast networks that rotate presentation of the Emmy ceremony: ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox. Combined, those networks only have four out of the 40 nominations in those races. This year's telecaster, CBS, only has one single nomination (supporting movie actress, Marcia Gay Harden, "The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler"). Emmy chiefs aren't doing this to categories that include major nominations important to the big four networks.

Most of the bumped categories involve movies/minis — those are races dominated by HBO, which is furious about this news. "For a show that has always recognized the best in the television industry, it now seems to be increasingly focused on recognizing broadcast network television," says a spokesman. "That is unfortunate given the range and caliber of talent represented in these categories which are being singled out for time-shifting."

Next year is the last year of the "wheel deal," which calls for those four broadcast networks to pay a license fee of about $7 million each to telecast the show. Rumor has it that the TV academy is kissing up to those networks to renew the current deal. If that falls through and the telecast must be shared with lower-rated cable networks such as AMC — which pulled off historic wins last year for best drama series ("Mad Men") and lead actor (Bryan Cranston, "Breaking Bad") — the license fee and Nielsen ratings will drop significantly.

Is that such a bad thing? Inevitably, it has to happen sometime, so the academy better prepare for it. TV's top award should, ideally, be shared with all major channels that are seriously in the Emmy game, don't you think? Staging a perfect Emmy ceremony is not about earning the most money and Nielsen ratings. It's about putting on the best salute to the best of TV at the industry's family reunion. Like other families' reunions, they shouldn't always be held at rich Uncle Harry's mansion.

But that's not how the TV academy thinks and its leaders aren't ashamed to admit it. During a conference telephone call with journalists, Mischer said that the academy's goal is to stop Emmycast viewers from tuning out "because the Emmys featured shows that viewers didn't know and weren't interested in."

Wow. Right there the Emmys admit that the top goal of their telecast isn't to spotlight TV's greatest shows, which may be in desperate need of the attention. The chief goal is to chase the highest ratings and "to deliver the most entertaining Emmy telecast possible." That's the language in the academy's official statement on why it's doing this.

Gold Derby would like to ask Emmy leaders why they believe that entertainment and ratings are their highest goals — instead of, say, staging the best TV salute possible to the best of TV — but they refused our request for an interview. When we asked to speak to someone, we were blown off with an e-mail containing the official statement and that's that.

For the record, here's the full, official statement: "The Television Academy has had a long and mutually rewarding relationship with the four broadcast networks and we continue to work collaboratively with our partners.  CBS, Don Mischer and the Academy all share the same goal — to deliver the most entertaining Emmy telecast possible for the television viewers.  We believe these changes will allow us all to do that."

Photo: ATAS

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