TV is a house split in two
The one primetime program that hit the TV jackpot in 1999, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” is noticeably missing from the list of the Prime Time Emmy nominees and the reason is as much of a mind-bender as the toughest question on that tube quizzer.
The gist: The primetime gamer competes among the daytime Emmys.
Huh? Is that our final answer?
Yep, as long as there are two separate TV academies bestowing the same award. The academy that dispenses the Prime Time Emmy, Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, does not have the legal right to honor gameshows, so, for now, “Millionaire” takes on “Frasier” and “ER” in the primetime Nielsens and “Oprah” at the daytime Emmys, administered by the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
The Emmy’s situation is unique in showbiz. Only one industry org (the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences) bestows the Oscar; ditto for the Grammy (the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences).
But there are two different orgs that dispense TV’s highest honor. Jointly, they own the Emmy trademark and rights. They even have similar sounding (some say confusingly similar) names. ATAS, based in North Hollywood, Calif., bestows the Prime Time Emmys, while Gotham-based NATAS handles daytime, news and sports Emmys, in addition to overseeing the Intl. Council, which dispenses kudos for global programs.
NATAS also acts as a parent org for the 17 national chapters that give Emmys to local talent in Atlanta, Cleveland and elsewhere.
How did TV’s house get split in two?
The same way that most do — by divorce. There was only one TV academy when Emmy was born in the late 1940s, but it officially split into two warring factions in 1977.
A tug of war over TV’s Golden Girl dates back to the late 1940s, when entertainment programming left Gotham for California without even saying good-bye. The Left Coast soon took over producing most of the fun fare (“I Love Lucy,” “Gunsmoke,” “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”) and also assumed a superior attitude that ticked off New Yorkers, who produced TV’s live programs (“Playhouse 90,” “Studio One”), news, sports shows and quizzers.
Manhattanites held onto other advantages, too: The network chiefs dwelled there and Madison Avenue commercials continued to pay for all of the showbiz honchos’ martini lunches, limos and mortgages.
By the 1950s and 1960s, the Emmys were as much a showdown between the coasts as between programs and stars. Typical of the time was Daily Variety’s headline in 1957: “N.Y. Outpoints Hollywood 15-4.”
By the 1970s, Hollywood clearly emerged triumphant. Live feature TV was dead, taped entertainment programs swamped primetime and Californians virtually dominated the acad’s leadership.
Unsatisfied with the power they had already amassed, West Coast TV execs infuriated Gotham’s TV leaders by shutting down the org’s Manhattan office. Next, they enraged members of the academy’s local branches nationwide by trying to stop all non-Californians from voting on the national Emmys.
The New Yorkers and national members finally banded together against Hollywood hubris in 1976 when the job of the academy’s presidency came up for a vote. Each coast put up its own candidate, but it was clear that a New Yorker had the edge: John Cannon, a former academy chairman. When Cannon won easily, the outraged Hollywood faction resigned from the academy and declared the formation of their own org. A federal court settled the details of the divorce by 1977.
Will the two academies ever get back together? ATAS prexy Jim Chabin says his academy is “completely open” to talks about a merger.
But the short-term prospects seem dim. Cannon, who is still NATAS prexy, believes the split is permanent.
“We ended up making an omelet,” he says, “and you can’t put the eggs from an omelet back in the shells once you’re done.”