Event-casters freshen format and faces

Producer Ehrlich brought in to tinker with kudocast

With ratings for the Emmy broadcast sliding 27% over the last five years to about 13.8 million viewers in 2004, the TV Academy and its broadcast partner this year, CBS, are hoping a good production tune-up will boost numbers.

Brought in to poke around under the hood was longtime Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich, who — this year’s telecast not withstanding — has managed to keep ratings for the music industry’s top kudocast relatively stable amid an era of general aud erosion.

Ehrilich replaces Don Mischer, who produced the event for the last decade — save the delayed 2001 Emmy telecast. Winter Olympics commitments kept him from participating. Comedian Ellen DeGeneres — critically lauded for her hosting work that year amid the pall of 9/11 — will return to Emmy’s podium.

With a somewhat stagnant year-to-year pool of Emmy nominees — and coming off the kudocast’s second-worst ratings perf — such tinkering is an absolute necessity, says Jack Sussman, senior VP of specials for the Eye.

“What would you do in September 2005 to create an event for television called the Emmy Awards?” Sussman asks. “If you rehash what you did the year before, but with this year’s nominees, you might as well save a lot of money and run last year’s show.”

Many of the event’s re-configured elements will not be set until just before the Sept. 18 event date at the Shrine Auditorium. But Ehrlich plans to “find a number of things that give the perception to viewers that they’re seeing a faster show. Viewers will see shorter pieces they can hook into, much as television is now.”

Pacing is key within the three-hour event, which will see 27 awards doled out.

An unpopular decision to prerecord acceptance speeches was recently reversed, but winners will be asked to discuss their shows in their speeches, rather than rattle off a list of thank-yous, says Academy of Television Arts & Sciences chairman and CEO Dick Askin.

“You want to be able to tell the viewer at home why this project is important to you, and what you did to be able to stand up here and accept the honor,” Askin adds.

For Emmy’s 57th incarnation, Ehrlich plans a new-look set, which will forsake the typical gold and silver schemes of award shows. Emmy veteran Steve Bass remains in place as set designer. Ehrlich also has retained Emmy producers Michael Seligman and Danette Herman. Newcomers include producers Bruce Gowers and Renato Basile, and head writer David Wild.

In addition to format tweaks, Emmy producers hope the emergence of broadcast hits like “Desperate Housewives” and “Lost” — both with a healthy share of noms — will spark viewer interest. Emmy pundits have feared that the dominance of series on HBO has generated dissonance among the many viewers who don’t subscribe to the pay cabler.

This is Ehrlich’s second stab at producing television’s biggest night, after the unfortunate 1980 ceremony that fell in the midst of a Screen Actors Guild strike. “Hopefully the biggest difference between 1980 and 2005 is that people will be there,” he quips.

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