B'casters combine to thwart cabler, give 'respect'

This article was updated at 10:45 p.m. PST

Shunning a larger bid from HBO, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ board of governors Wednesday night accepted a $52 million 11th-hour bid that will keep the Emmy kudocast on the four major nets through 2010.

As a result, ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox will continue taking turns to air the show on a yearly basis in a “wheel” format. The new deal will bring ATAS $5.5 million annually for the first four years, followed by $7.5 million for the remaining four years. The four nets also agreed to give ATAS more creative input in the kudocast production.

The new deal is a hefty bump from the webs’ initial $3.3 million proposal and its $3 million license fee over the past four years. But it’s still less than HBO’s $10 million, five-year bid to host the Emmys beginning in September 2003.

“A persuasive argument was made for the continued value to stick with the four networks,” said Acad chairman/CEO Bryce Zabel. “We owe a great debt of gratitude to HBO for stepping up and paying us a great deal of respect. We also felt the networks stepped up and paid us a great deal of respect.”

CBS prexy/CEO Leslie Moonves presented the four-network proposal to ATAS’ executive committee at a meeting earlier in the evening; the committee then spelled out the nets’ terms at the board of governors meeting.

Moonves made an impassioned presentation to the ATAS exec committee arguing that taking the Emmycast to HBO would be “a devastating blow” to both the Academy and the show itself, one insider said. He also argued that network TV was “the rightful home” to an event that celebrated the entire TV industry.

After his speech, Moonves conducted a Q and A session with members and then met privately with Acad attorney Ken Ziffren to confer about the details of the proposal. Moonves had previously been empowered by the other three webs to close out a deal at a pre-set financial level.

“The Academy is a non-profit organization and we were looking for fairness in our license fee,” said Tribune Entertainment prexy Dick Askin, first vice chair of the Acad. “Our goal was not to maximize the dollar amount out of the award show. This is a fair price both parties are happy with.”

HBO prexy and CEO Chris Albrecht was philosophical after the decision. “While I am certainly disappointed that we didn’t the Emmys, I am glad that the Acad finally got some respect from the big wheels in the big wheel.”

The governors also may have been swayed by the ferocious rhetoric emanating from network execs in recent days. Some governors may have rationalized that a financial bump from the nets would be better than a large increase from HBO — which would be coupled with an even larger headache, if broadcasters made good on their threats.

“This gave the broadcasters the chance to express their feelings, which scared the shit out of the Academy,” one network insider said before the meeting.

Already extremely sensitive over the perception that HBO has overtaken the broadcasters as Emmy’s darling –even if the nets still win the lion’s share of trophies — webheads were particularly indignant when they learned that ATAS may move the show to their supposed arch rival.

As a result, all four nets vowed, in varying degrees, to boycott the Emmys and withdraw support of ATAS should the show jump to HBO.

Industry players debated this week whether or not the nets could actually pull off a boycott with significant impact.

“I don’t think talent would drop out,” said one production exec. “They’re not going to stop talent from doing, it but maybe they can stop them from showing clips of shows.”

Still, network insiders believe ATAS underestimated the reaction from network execs after they learned that a group of reporters had been gathered to discuss the HBO bid.

Network threats aside, ATAS could have greatly expanded its operations had it chosen the HBO option. A $10 million payday would have afforded the org the opportunity to launch more educational and other themed programs. Acad officials said Wednesday the network deal will provide them with the same opportunity.

“This is a beautiful example of democracy at work,” said Acad prexy Todd Leavitt.

Like the HBO proposal, the four-network deal will continue to cover the Emmycast’s $5 million-$6 million production costs as well as $1 million to $2 million worth of marketing. Should the wheel continue in its current order, Fox is next in line to air next year’s Emmycast.

(Josef Adalian contributed to this report.)

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