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Dear Little Orphan Emmy: Who's fighting for the integrity of the Emmycast?

August 6, 2009 | 12:09 pm

"Little Orphan Emmy" — that's what the Hollywood trade papers used to call TV's top award when battles broke out over telecast rights, voting methods, bias toward broadcast TV over cable, all that. The reason: The welfare of TV's Golden Girl usually seemed to be abandoned on the sidelines while networks, nominees and other players pummeled each other to smithereens. Now she's orphaned again.

Look at what the directors and writers guilds are fuming about during this new smackdown over "time-shifting": how many categories they get unveiled live on the Emmycast. Look at what the Emmys are fighting for: the most entertainment value and highest Nielsen ratings for the ceremony. Really! Nobody's crusading for what everybody should be championing: the best Emmycast, period, the show that will celebrate the best accomplishments of TV in the best possible way.

Emmy time shift

Such an ideal award show must include the writing and directing awards, of course — just as they've been part of the TV ceremony for decades. Emmycast producer Don Mischer and academy chairman John Shaffner insist that the usual number of awards (28) must be cut — just as they have been from the Grammys and Tonys. Really? The Grammys' ratings have plummeted over the past 15 years as the number of award presentations on the telecast dropped from 18 to 11. The Tonys' ratings fell dramatically, to use a Broadway term, since they cut back the number of awards from 24 to 14 so they could include more song-and-dance numbers from shows that have nothing to do with the Tonys. Sure, the ratings of the last Tonycast increased a bit over the previous year, but it's ridiculous to claim the reason for that was because the ceremony included production numbers of inappropriate Broadway shows like "Legally Blonde" that had no reason to be featured.

Awardcasts aren't successful because they include few actual awards and lots of alleged "entertainment." In fact, the opposite is often true. Consider the two biggest award shows on TV: the Oscars and Golden Globes. The Oscars have few production numbers and 24 awards, some of them shamelessly unglamorous (best live action short, best film editing). The Globes dispense 25 competitive awards. They not only don't have entertainment segments, the award show doesn't even have a host!

Recently, the TV academy released an official statement declaring its chief goal to be "to deliver the most entertaining Emmy telecast possible for the television viewers." That's shocking — on so many levels. For starters, let's recall the worst part of last year's dreadful Emmycast: the numskull banter between the five hosts. That's "entertainment." That's the kind of thing Mischer & Co. wants more of! 

The reason the Emmys show was so horrible last year was because of lousy writing. That can be fixed, but not by insulting the writers and demoting their awards. However, Mischer and ATAS blame something else for the terrible Emmycast last year: the excellent TV shows that won Emmys!

Mischer actually told the Television Critics Association: "The TV academy did extensive research after last year's broadcast, and a number of things were found. But kind of the key finding was that potential viewers were not tuning into the Emmys because they felt the Emmys featured shows that mainstream viewers did not know and were not interested in."

In short, it's all the fault of "Mad Men," which swept the drama awards despite having only an average viewership of 1.3 million on AMC. It would've been a higher-rated Emmycast if "CSI," which has 18 million viewers, won. But, hey, "C.S.I." wasn't even nominated because Emmy voters — people who work professionally in the TV industry — didn't think it deserved to be.

Mischer should've stuck with his other arguments for "time-shifting." The fact that he used this slap at TV's greatest show suggested that he doesn't care enough about his chief job as producer of the Emmys: to stage the best possible celebration of the best of TV. It looked like he was blatantly pandering to Emmycast telecaster CBS — just like TV academy leaders are accused of doing.

One of the chief goals of the Emmycast is to spotlight worthy winners so that more viewers will tune in. In fact, the TV award's greatest legacy in years past was that it saved low-rated sleepers that went on to become classics after winning top Emmys — like "All in the Family," "Cheers," "Hill Street Blues" and "Cagney & Lacey."

ATAS leaders are being slandered all over Hollywood right now over claims that they're betraying the best TV (cable) for money from the four broadcast networks that pay ATAS about $7 million per year to televise the Emmycast in a wheel deal. Enough!

If the TV academy is that truly worried about money it earns from the Emmycast, that's a genuine concern. OK. ATAS has overhead expenses it must cover. When the current wheel deal ends next year, ATAS should say to the whole TV industry: here's our price tag — $7 million. Whoever covers that expense can join a new wheel deal. That means FX,  Showtime, AMC, TNT, Bravo, NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox. Heck, a few years ago HBO offered $10 million to telecast the Emmys and got turned down! Obviously, quite a few alternative networks will ante up whatever is needed.

With their expenses covered, ATAS leaders should focus next on simply putting on the best Emmycast possible and stop this ridiculous pandering to the broadcast channels. That's what happened this year — TV academy chiefs got caught doing that and it's sad. Last year it seemed like the Emmys finally caught up to the reality of TV when a basic cable program won best series, drama or comedy, for the first time ("Mad Men"). That demonstrated that the old broadcast-biased Emmys may finally be breaking free of old chains, joining today's new world of alternate media and doing their basic job better. But, alas, the Emmys just did a flipflop, shamelessly, right out in public, and did so for the worst possible reason: money.

Hollywood's peer-group awards are bestowed by nonprofit academies because such organizations are supposed to be above commercial obsession. The current Emmy uproar is a painful reminder that this award's leaders need to return to their highest ideals. Fast. Call it the new time-shift.


DGA joins battle against Emmys' 'time-shift'

WGA, other Emmy players blast 'time shift'

TV show runners blast 'time-shift'; Emmys play defense

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

Photo: ATAS

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