ATAS may alter Emmy rules

Responding to widespread criticism over last year’s Primetime Emmy Awards, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ national awards committee has proposed several major changes in award rules–among them allowing producers of “The Simpsons” to enter that show in live-action categories and judging outstanding drama and comedy series candidates on a “body of work” instead of a single episode.

The committee also has proposed eliminating separate writing and directing Emmys in the comedy and comedy, variety or music categories in favor of a “team concept” in which writing and directing staffs should receive Emmys for a show (along with the producers) based on their involvement with 40% or more of the episodes. That concept also will be explored in regard to drama series.

An outline of the proposals, set forth at the committee’s last meeting in December, was obtained by Daily Variety. A subsequent session exploring additional points of contention–including the reinstatement of separate guest actor categories, creating the category “outstanding new series” and eliminating awards for variety-music performers–will be held tomorrow night.

Just proposals

An Academy spokesman stressed that the changes already delineated and those suggested are simply proposals, subject to consideration and ultimately approval by ATAS’ board of directors.

It’s also uncertain how the powerful writers and directors guilds will respond to efforts to reduce their award categories, in the same way the actors branch howled over changes in the guest awards.

Still, the committee clearly saw a need to respond to the critical drubbing suffered by the most recent Emmycast and probably felt additional heat from a new rival awards show, ABC’s American Television Awards, which in its format addressed a number of long-standing complaints about Academy judging practices.

The Academy has also been driven by a desire to reduce the number of awards presented during the prime time telecast, which prompted the awkward compromise over guest actors that spurred significant criticism of last year’s Emmys.

No MOW changes

Critics blasted the Academy for making two-hour series pilots eligible as “movies of the week.” The committee, while responding to nearly all other criticisms, did vote not to suggest a rules change on that last point.

A run down of those changes approved by the committee, subject to discussion by the board:

o Consolidate three existing categories–comedy series, writing in a comedy series and directing in a comedy series–into a single category, outstanding comedy series, with writers and directors involved in at least 40% of the episodes to receive Emmys along with theproducers.

The compromise would eliminate two awards and shorten the telecast but would still allow writers and directors to receive Emmys.

The committee outline says it will also explore the matter in regard to drama series, but noted they don’t operate with writing and directing staffs in quite the same way as comedy and variety shows. Out in the cold would be writers who aren’t on staff.

o Similarly revamp the comedy, music or variety program area, establishing the category of variety, music or comedy series, patterned after the proposed change in the comedy area, to encompass writers and directors.

Separate awards, presented off-air, would exist for variety specials as well as writing and directing in that genre, eliminating “apples and oranges” criticisms about prior grouping of series like “Late Night With David Letterman” with specials like the Academy Awards.

o “Body of work” voting by peer group members, as opposed to a single episode of each series viewed by a blue-ribbon panel, would be used to select lead and supporting actor and actress awards as well as the top drama, comedy and variety/music/comedy series.

Blue-ribbon panels have long been the subject of criticism, and the committee suggests the current system for performers is “not a definitive presentation of the nominees achievements.”

o In an obvious concession to “The Simpsons,” producers could enter their programs “according to their choice of emphasis on content,” disregarding whether the medium is live-action or animation. In short, “The Simpsons,” viewed as a comedy series by its makers, could be entered in that area and not be compelled into the children’s area because it’s animated.

Several equally heated matters will be addressed at tomorrow’s meeting, with committee action on the following suggestions:

o Reinstating separate guest performer awards for both actress and actor in comedy and drama series. The awards would again be presented during the off-air creative arts portion of the two-day Emmy festivities, but as a compromise with performers, winners would appear as presenters during the live Sunday telecast.

o Eliminate the category for variety-music performers, such as Billy Crystal as host of the Oscars or stars of one-shot specials. Those performers, who had been lumped in with series players like “Saturday Night Live” regulars, would now be eligible for Emmys along with program producers, while ensemble players like those on “SNL” and “In Living Color” would be eligible in comedy performer categories.

o Establish a separate Emmy for outstanding new series, with eligibility cutting across genre lines.

o Convert children’s programming from a category to an area to prevent “apples and oranges” judging situations.

o Allow voters to nominate more than five programs in each category (instead, choosing as many as they feel worthy) on the first ballot.

o Eliminate the classical music/dance individual achievement award, open to writers, performers and directors and dominated by PBS opera and concert programs. The committee notes those awards belong more in the Grammys and that those involved would still be eligible in the classical program category.

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