TV Academy officials and CBS execs were understandably nauseous Sunday night, after a grueling day-long ride on the Emmy-go-round.
“To call this a no-win situation is the understatement of the year,” said CBS Television topper Leslie Moonves. “This is horrible. I want to go out and puke right now.”
At 9:30 a.m. it was all systems go for the Emmy Awards. Host Ellen DeGeneres was on stage at Los Angeles’ Shrine Auditorium, where telecast producer Don Mischer was conducting one last dry run. A final coat of paint had just been applied to the program’s set. Food for the after-show Unity Dinner had already been delivered.
Then the other shoe dropped.
At around 9:45, word trickled out that the U.S. and Great Britain had started military action in Afghanistan. The Emmys still appeared on track at 10:30 — but a half-hour later, the fate of the kudocast was in serious doubt.
By noon, it was official: The Emmys had been postponed. Again. But this time, probably for good.
Moonves joined Mischer and incoming Academy of Television Arts & Sciences chairman Bryce Zabel at a hastily organized news conference Sunday afternoon, where they said most industry reps favored halting the show.
“We don’t think there’s a burning need to present the Emmy Awards at this point,” Zabel said. “This is about doing the right thing.”
All involved said they were heartbroken over the string of events that forced what will presumably be the first Emmy cancellation in the award’s 53-year history. Originally set for Sept. 16, the event was postponed after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington.
In deciding to go forward, the Academy, CBS and Mischer opted to throw out the original show and start from scratch. DeGeneres remained as host, while Walter Cronkite was tapped to open a new ceremony.
“The issue of carrying on is the biggest one we’ve faced,” Zabel said. “It has not been an easy day or easy three-and-a-half weeks.”
With millions of dollars riding on a telecast, tributes already produced in honor of fallen firefighters and police officers, and DeGeneres rehearsing on stage, it wasn’t an easy decision to yank the telecast.
In the first flurry of calls following news of the movement overseas, Zabel said the intent was to operate as if the Emmys were still a go. Zabel even told radio station KNX-AM that the show would move forward.
But Moonves said it quickly became apparent that a large constituency of execs, producers and stars no longer had any intention of attending the event.
“They weren’t being jerks, they weren’t being prima donnas, they just didn’t want to come down,” he said.
One insider said Moonves and Zabel were ready to cancel the kudocast almost as soon as news of the U.S.-led attacks hit the airwaves.
“They knew the decision they had to make this morning. They couldn’t bear to make it until they started hearing about people pulling out,” he said.
Several major show factions — including delegations from “The West Wing,” “Will & Grace” and the David E. Kelley dramas — pulled out before the official cancellation, according to studio and network insiders.
Moonves, who cut his golf game short when he heard about the action in Afghanistan, said he spoke to execs at the other three major networks about whether to cancel the show.
“There was a general feeling that people were feeling uncomfortable,” Moonves said. “People were feeling that is was not a day to celebrate. It felt trivial. It would be the wrong thing to do to do it tonight.”
Said Fox Television Entertainment Group chairman Sandy Grushow: “This decision wasn’t made out of fear. It was made out of a sense of appropriateness.”
Before pulling the plug, Emmy organizers and CBS discussed a number of alternative options — including airing the Emmys on cable, had CBS opted to go with wall-to-wall news coverage in primetime.
“Anything you can think of was discussed,” Moonves said.
The CBS topper said the net, org and producer then came to the final conclusion — to cancel the show — simultaneously.
“Between 9:30 and the time we came over here (to the press conference), hundreds of phone calls were made between all of us,” Moonves said; “95% of comments in the last hour were in favor of this decision … We’re reeling as Americans. We have to see what’s happening as a country. Are we in a place where we want to have this celebration?”
Mischer broke the news to DeGeneres soon after the decision was made to once again scrap the show.
“Ellen was very emotional and somewhat devastated by all of this,” he said. “She was introducing emotional segments. It’s been tough for her … She put a lot of time and effort into this.”
Thesps were getting ready for the kudocast when they got the news. One publicity rep recalls calling an actress around 12:45 p.m. to fill her in.
“She was sitting in her hotel room with her makeup artist when I told her,” he said.
Zabel said the decision to postpone the telecast was not based on any specific threats that might have been directed toward the Emmys. In fact, the Los Angeles Police Dept., FBI and the Emmys’ own security force felt that it would have been safer to go ahead with a show Sunday night rather than days from now.
The move to halt the telecast also came despite ATAS’s earlier insistence that the show go on, per President Bush’s and New York Mayor Giuliani’s request that American life return to normal.
“There’s a difference between carrying on and doing something inappropriate at this time. We reached that line this morning,” Zabel said. “We are not concerned we’re sending the right or wrong message right now.”
All involved will spend the next few days figuring out how to hand out this year’s Emmy statues and recycle any of what was to have been Sunday night’s ceremony.
Moonves, who recently visited the Ground Zero site in New York, said the terrorists attacks make an Emmy cancellation seem small in comparison.
“We’re all sick to our stomachs,” he said. “Yet you realize we’re in the TV business. It’s small potatoes to what’s going on in the real world.”
(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)