Cablers may balk at viewer-friendly tweaks

As Golden Globes producers continue to scratch their heads over this year’s viewership slump, the TV Academy is looking to completely overhaul its Emmycast in the wake of its own ratings dips.

In the most radical proposal, org would dump most of its movie and miniseries awards from the Primetime Emmys telecast. Move would help shrink the number of kudos handed out during the three-hour show and possibly make way for a larger presence from the growing reality TV genre.

The TV Academy has formed an industry committee to mull changes to the Primetime Emmy broadcast, led by ABC alternative series/specials topper Andrea Wong. And while no decisions have been made, cable execs are already expressing concern that the categories in which they dominate will be relegated to the Creative Arts Emmys ceremony.

“There are many issues to be dealt with,” said TV Academy president Todd Leavitt, who stressed that talks are in the very early stages.

Still, Leavitt — pointing to the ratings declines experienced by the Emmys, Globes and other awards shows — said the org realized a change is necessary.

Decision to revamp the broadcast comes after September’s Emmys averaged just 14 million viewers — the second smallest audience on record for the event. At the time, observers surmised that viewers passed on the show because they didn’t recognize several of the programs being honored. For example, HBO’s “Angels in America,” which dominated the Emmy wins, drew fewer than 4 million viewers in its original run.

What’s more, industry insiders say there’s even been talk of an alternative to the Emmys that would focus strictly on broadcast TV skeins. A top producer with awards show expertise even quietly pitched such a concept a few months ago, though it’s unclear if the idea has progressed beyond the talking stage.

Insiders say the broadcast webs — which have mostly abandoned the longform genre — are pushing for the change by arguing that Emmy viewers aren’t as invested in movies and minis as they are in ongoing series.

What’s more, they say the three-hour telecast could stand to lose a few awards in order to lighten things up. The show frequently has to sacrifice clips of nominated shows as it goes long, and entertainment bits are kept to a minimum due to the sheer number of awards currently handed out — 27.

ABC, NBC, CBS and Fox hold much sway in what winds up on the Emmycast, since all four nets share rights to the franchise via a “wheel” licensing agreement.

NBC U TV topper Jeff Zucker endorsed the idea of an Emmy makeover.

“Changes in the Emmy broadcasts are long overdue,” he said. “The TV Academy needs to take a serious look at what’s on network TV today. The networks aren’t doing the longform categories to which one third of the categories are devoted. The Emmy broadcast hasn’t evolved with television.”

Viacom co-prexy Leslie Moonves said he’s heard of the proposed changes but doesn’t know enough details to definitively offer an opinion. He did seem open to changes, however.

“I’ve got to see what the proposals are, but clearly things have been weighted to cable,” Moonves said. “Some of that has been justified, some of it maybe not. I do believe there was a broadcast movie or two (in recent years) that should have been nominated. But until I know exactly what people are talking about, I can’t fully comment.”

Proponents of the change would rather move the longform awards out of primetime in order to allow more time for clips and other entertainment — as well as awards for programs seen by a wider audience.

Move would also effectively lessen the presence of cable programming during the Primetime fete.

Still, others point out that eliminating the longform awards would knock some star wattage out of the Primetime Emmys.

“We’re cognizant of the fact that the categories attract a level of celebrity,” Leavitt said. “We’re not going to get Al Pacino (who won an Emmy last year for his role in HBO’s “Angels in America”) to the Emmys otherwise. This is a part of that delicate balance.”

Leavitt stressed that the changes would impact only the on-air Emmy product and that the awards process was not being altered.

TV Academy members are being cautious with the changes in light of the org’s recent failed attempt to change the structure of the Creative Arts awards. Acad split the Creative Arts Emmys into two shows in 2003, in response to concerns that the one ceremony dragged on too long. But that upset members whose categories were relegated to a “mini Emmy” ceremony; the org reverted back to holding just one Creative Arts fete in 2004.

Insiders said anything’s still possible — including more minor tweaks, or even carving out a new Emmy ceremony specifically for longforms.

Leavitt said the fate of the primetime broadcast will be determined in time for this year’s telecast. The 57th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards air on CBS Sept. 18 from the Shrine Auditorium.

(Brian Lowry contributed to this report.)

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