The Primetime Emmy Awards have become very much like the weather. You know, lots of complaints about the nominating procedure, the categorizing, eligibility issues, all of that stuff, and nobody doing much about it.
As awards director for the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, John Leverence has heard all of the whining and carrying on about why “Entertainment Tonight” would be nominated in the same category with “The Civil War,” why “The Simpsons” is competing against “A Garfield Thanksgiving” instead of “Frasier” and just how shows get nominated, anyway.
Leverence is a good guy to talk with about this stuff, because he literally wrote the book on awards shows. It’s called “And the Winner Is,” put out by Merritt Publishing. It details the theory and practice of setting up and implementing awards programs, associations businesses and charities of all types.
But back to the Emmys. Leverence believes there are some common misconceptions about the whole way that Primetime Emmys are nominated and organized.
Start off with the nominating procedure. It begins with voting members of ATAS receiving paper ballots that ask them to vote for those entries they feel worthy of nomination, explains Leverence. There is a maximum of five choices per category. A majority of those entries are made by producers and companies on behalf of the people who work on their shows and in their films.
Then there is the categorization question. Leverence notes that confusion often creeps in when people forget that there are two types of Emmy Award clusters. One involves a competitive situation in which “like is pitted against like, with the intent of producing a single winner such as in a horse race,” he says.
Those categories would naturally include things like drama series, comedy series, lead actor in a drama, director of a comedy, TV movie writer, etc.
In the second category would be the “area” awards, non-competitive Emmys in which each of the nominees is ultimately considered on its own terms. The possibility exists for multiple winners. Those honors would include, say, the outstanding informational program competition where you have the odd pairings like “Entertainment Tonight” and “Civil War.”
“With those awards, every nominee could theoretically wind up winning,” Leverence maintains. “Each is voted on separately and doesn’t compete against the other. You’ll usually find a lot of eclecticism among the nominees.”
The “category” awards are intended to pit apples against apples, points out Leverence, while “area” topics are more apples against oranges. Since none of the area awards run during the Emmy telecast, however, they are generally of little importance to the general public.
It is the judging, however, that has perhaps become the most controversial aspect of the Emmy (or any other major awards show, for that matter). There have been accusations that shows, films and individuals are voted on sight-unseen, charges that judges go with the tide rather than trusting their discriminating eye.
However, as Leverence points out, the Emmys have nipped the problem of unseen nominees in the bud by assembling all of its judges over a single weekend, sequestering them at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in mid-August for marathon viewing and ballot-marking sessions among peer panels.
“We have come to see that the most effective means of judging nominees is to have a group of people watch a TV show under the same conditions,” Leverence says.
When doing that judging, each of four panels will view, say, two separate comedy series when voting for the outstanding sitcom winner. “But you have to be there and watch along with everyone else or you do not vote,” insists Leverence. “You must complete the viewing to have your ballot count.”
Simply put, then, while the Emmy nomination and balloting process ain’t perfect, it’s at least well-organized.
“We have quality-control elements in place,” Leverence says.