The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences board of governors — reacting to severe media criticism and ABC’s upcoming TV awards show–has approved a number of major procedural changes in the Primetime Emmy Awards.

They including making “The Simpsons” eligible for consideration as outstanding comedy series and again establishing separate guest-actor categories.

The new rules were approved at a meeting Wednesday, following a sweeping series of suggestions from ATAS’ national awards committee, outlined earlier here (Daily Variety, Jan. 5).

Another significant rules shift, not previously put forth by the committee, involves limiting two-hour series pilots to consideration in series categories–a response to complaints regarding nominations in the movie area last year for the pilots on “I’ll Fly Away” and “Homefront.”

With more than 200 movies now produced annually for broadcast and cable, observers felt it was unfair for series to elbow out telefilms in that category.

The board did not take action on a number of other changes proposed by the awards committee, among them the consolidation of writer and director awards into “team” wins–honoring those writers and directors involved in 40% or more of episodes–which would have eliminated non-staff personnel from consideration.

Also, a proposal to judge 11 top program and performing categories on “body of work”–to supplant the current system, with peer-group panel judging of one or two episodes –was rejected on the grounds that such a change might allow final voting by some members who haven’t viewed the nominated work.

The committee suggested a two-tiered system that would have opened up the process beyond the blue-ribbon panels.

Allowing producers to enter programs according to their choice of emphasis on content might just as well be called “‘The Simpsons’ rule,” an area that’s probably drawn more press reaction than any other awards procedure.

Now, animated shows will be eligible for consideration as animated series, children’s series, comedy or even drama series, depending on the producer’s choice.

Only one other animated show, Fox Broadcasting Co.’s “Batman,” currently airs in prime time, though the change would also clear the way for ABC’s “Dinosaurs” to vie in the comedy arena.

Back to status quo

By reinstating four guest performer awards (male and female, in comedy and drama series), the Academy returns to the status quo before last year’s Emmys, when guests were lumped in with regulars due to complaints from the actors branch–which accounts for about one-seventh of ATAS’ membership–about guest actors being recognized off-air.

Guests will again receive their awards during the non-televised presentation of technical Emmys, but as a compromise guest winners will get to hand out awards during the live telecast and will be acknowledged on the air.

Sources note that some of the perceived foul-ups in past Emmy rules, such as the guest actor brouhaha, were made in an effort to shorten the Emmy telecast.

The board has now decided the Academy can give out as many awards as necessary as long as it limits the number presented on-air to those of greatest interest to the public, with others to be presented during the craft awards.

As a result, the tradition of presenting two craft awards during the prime time telecast on a rotating basis will be eliminated, and the board may try to move writer and director awards to the day-earlier creative arts ceremony as well.

“Our purpose is not to eliminate awards but to cut down (the number presented) on air,” said ATAS president Leo Chaloukian.

Previously, about 30 of more than 70 categories have been included in the on-air award roster. The Academy hopes a streamlined show will help in its negotiations for a new broadcast deal, after six consecutive years on Fox.

ABC’s “American Television Awards,” which will air in May, includes only 21 performer and program categories, based on a body of work over the season.

Chaloukian said other Emmy changes may be forthcoming as the Academy “tries to respond to the voices and needs of a changing industry while maintaining fairness.”

Additional rules issues could be raised at the next board meeting in early February. George Sunga and Barbara Brogliatti serve as chair and vice chair, respectively, on the awards committee.

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