Emmy boycott doesn’t benefit anyone

MUCH HAS BEEN MADE of the difficulty in getting the television industry to act in unison — particularly as it pertains to the issue of televised violence, with 44 days now remaining on Sen. Paul Simon’s suggested deadline to start making progress toward forming a violence-monitoring body.

While no one seems to believe the industry can coordinate an effort in that short a time, CBS, NBC and Fox Broadcasting Co. have had no trouble falling into what they say is coincidental lock-step on what amounts to a boycott of the Primetime Emmy Awards.

To briefly recap the situation, those three services have indicated they won’t buy tickets to the ceremony, make their publicity department available to staff the event or purchase congratulatory ads in the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ Emmy magazine.

NBC Enterprises prez John Agoglia resigned his position on ATAS’ executive committee last February. And last week network VP of Saturday morning and family entertainment programs Linda Mancuso gave up her seat on the board of governors, citing “professional loyalty.” Mancuso stressed that the decision was her own, but there are indications that network brass are seeking to discourage employees from participating in Academy activities.

In the big picture, there are, of course, few things more meaningless than the seemingly annual Emmy controversy, whatever it happens to be, other than that it provides juicy copy during August when not much else is happening in television. Everyone loves a good rhubarb, after all, and with the Dodgers and Angels slumping, summer’s favorite pastime has been limited to watching executives acrobatically try to dodge the Heidi Fleiss story. To that charge (feeding the controversy, not connections to Heidi), we plead guilty; still, no matter how you approach the issue, it’s network officials who look foolish in all of this — saying, in essence, if we’re not allowed to play in your sandbox, we’ll take our toys and go home.

However it’s intended, that’s exactly how CBS, NBC and Fox look to any interested or, more significantly, disinterested third party. “It’s the height of childishness,” one Academy member said.

Even if Academy negotiators did the terrible things they’re accused of by making an exclusive deal with ABC — negotiating in bad faith for a few more bucks and shutting the other three networks out of the process — the action by the other webs seems punitive and pointless.

Which channel airs the Emmys means nothing to the viewer, except perhaps being denied glimpses of anonymous network officials when the camera pans the audience. Granted, awards shows tend to be boring, but this seems a rather drastic measure to avoid attendance.

MORE IMPORTANT, the current Emmy controversy seems indicative of a general lack of civility among the networks that goes beyond the inherent competitiveness of the business.

In the past few weeks, for example, NBC has played hardball with CBS over protecting its intellectual property rights vis-a-vis “Late Show With David Letterman,” after having rendered Letterman invisible by dropping him from the web’s on-air promos.

CBS responded by exercising a last-minute option on the Janek movies, starring Richard Crenna, apparently just to keep them from being picked up by NBC as part of its “NBC Friday Night Mystery” movie wheel. The Eye network has also rather crassly sucked up to Tom and Roseanne Arnold, giving them their own midseason show with the clear intent of establishing a toehold to woo “Roseanne” away from ABC.

Before one starts to think ABC is the last bastion of gentility in television , it bears noting that the Alphabet web declined to staff the Emmys when the event aired exclusively on Fox.

And while ABC did nothing below-board in bidding independently for the Emmys, returning the show to Sept. 19 — the eve of the fall season’s start — may be unfairly perceived as a case of nose-thumbing at the shut-out networks, which maintain the show now provides ABC a springboard for promoting its fall lineup.

EVEN THAT ARGUMENT doesn’t really hold water as a means of defending a boycott. Pro football telecasts on CBS and ABC will build toward NBC’s Super Bowl telecast, but that doesn’t stop the other webs from adding to the hype.

Similarly, all the years the Oscars have aired exclusively on ABC hasn’t stopped other services from participating in the hoopla. Why, then, should the Emmys — ostensibly of more importance to the television industry — not receive the same courtesy, regardless of how ineptly the TV Academy might have handled the negotiations?

Back in February, after the ABC deal was announced, it was acknowledged in this space that the other networks had the right to be angry but ought to set those feelings aside by the time the awards rolled around, concluding, “It’s time for a little statesmanship on everyone’s part.”

So much for the art of diplomacy, and one has to wonder how the industry can effectively deal with Congress and other outsiders if it can’t reach an internal accord about something so relatively trivial. What appears needed is some sort of ombudsman who can step in and say, “Children, play nice.”

The TV Academy would like to smooth things over with the alienated networks and bury the hatchet. Officials at those webs seem intent on burying the hatchet as well — into the spine of the Academy, that is, while at the same time, unwittingly, shooting themselves in the foot.

What violence. What outrage. What … silliness.

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