TV Acad move to shorten ceremony irks some

A bid to shorten the length of the annual Creative Arts Emmy awards ceremony has kicked up a cloud of controversy from members who feel they’re being treated like third-class citizens.

Following vocal complaints last year from members upset by the ever-escalating length of the ceremony (which is usually held a week before the primetime Emmycast), the ATAS board of governors earlier this month moved to shorten the event by “transferring 15 awards to a separate same-day event to be held during a pre-show at the Shrine Auditorium,” ATAS veep John Leverence wrote in a letter to nominees. “This is similar to the procedure used at the Grammy and Tony Awards. An independently supervised lottery was held to select the categories.”

Pre-show ceremony will take place Sept. 13 at 3 p.m., two hours before the usual 5 p.m. creative arts awards. Move in essence creates three tiers of Emmy award shows: The big event to be broadcast on Fox, the large creative arts awards with statuettes in more than 60 categories and the mini-Emmys with 15 categories.

An August dinner honoring winners in engineering and interactive categories has been scrapped, with all of those awards slated to be announced at the larger creative awards ceremony.

Those selected to be in the group of 15 will be able to attend the larger ceremony, while those in the traditional show will be invited to the pre-show. And categories selected for the smaller pre-show will be guaranteed a spot in the bigger ceremony the next year (assuming ATAS continues the policy).

Not surprisingly, those who’ve been selected to sit at the kiddie table aren’t happy about the move.

“Why do we have to suffer so that the rest of the attendees can sit through a slightly shorter ceremony?” one Emmy nominee, who asked not to be identified, wrote in a letter to Leverence. “The result is that we will not be in attendance of the main ceremony to be recognized along with our peers in the other creative fields. In addition, we will have to endure an incredibly long day, having to be at the ceremony many hours earlier in order to attend our pathetic ‘Pre-Awards Ceremony’ and then have the ‘privilege’ to sit through the main event while not even being recognized.”

While ATAS describes the move as a one-year trial, even that fact has some nominees upset since there’s a chance 2003 could be the only year for the three-tier system. If that’s the case, this year’s group of 15 will be the only nominees not to be honored at the main ceremony.

ATAS prexy-chief operating officer Todd Leavitt admitted he’s received numerous angry emails and letters about the decision.

“It’s not the most elegant solution,” he conceded. “But in a democracy… everyone has to share a little of the pain. We’re confident the board has done its good work.”

Leavitt noted the Academy only moved to make the change after a bevy of complaints last year about the length of the creative awards and a subsequent six-month study of various solutions to the problem. He also said that after talking to several angry nominees and explaining how the decision was made, “Most people weren’t happy, but they agreed to support the trial.”

One nominee, who also asked not to be named so as to not impact voting, said ATAS should have implemented “other ways to speed up the ceremonies.”

“You could have less banter between the actors and presenters,” the nominee wrote. “You could decide not to show all five of the nominated commercials. You could cut down on some of the retrospectives. You could bestow only one lifetime achievement award – not the two or three special awards I have seen in the past – and save precious minutes in the subsequent video presentations and long-winded speeches.”

Leavitt said that many of those ideas were in fact considered but ultimately rejected so as to keep the main show entertaining and more in line with the primetime kudocast.

“We attempted to choose the least painful of all the alternatives,” he said.

Leavitt said incoming ATAS chairman Dick Askin has already agreed to hold a town hall-style forum after the Emmycast to allow members to express their feelings about the experimental three-tier ceremony system. He said he’s taking the criticism of the move in stride.

“Last year, tomatoes were being thrown at us (over the length of the ceremony),” Leavitt said. “In a democracy, no good deed goes unpunished.”

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