ATAS committed to voting change

Things are getting a tad less democratic at the Emmys — but Academy of Television Arts and Sciences promises it will lead to a better kudofest.

Starting this year, a blue ribbon panel will ultimately decide the nominees for outstanding comedy and drama, as well as the key Emmy acting categories. By doing so, the org hopes to diversify who ends up getting honored.

Rule change — approved by the org last week — is the latest move by ATAS to counter long-running complaints that the Emmy ends up going to the same-o, same-o year after year.

Several years ago, the Academy did away with selecting Emmy winners through a blue ribbon panel, reverting to at-home voting. Now the panels are back — but this time in the nomination process.

Democracy is hardly on the wane, it’s just becoming, well, a sort of parliamentary form of democracy. Academy members will still get first crack at choosing potential nominees. But once their picks are narrowed down to 10 (or 15, in the case of actors and actresses), the panels will take over.

Selected panelists — 500 in total — will hole up at the Acad’s North Hollywood headquarters over the June 24 and 25 weekend to watch episodes of said finalists, and from there choose the ultimate nominees.

The blue ribbon members will be divided into groups of between 20 and 25, and will screen only a portion of nominees. They’ll give each series or thesp a grade, which will then be averaged into percentages. Nominees with the five highest percentages will move on to the Emmy ballot.

The idea, said TV academy chairman-CEO Dick Akin, is to give a wider pool of series and actors a chance for their performances to be seen and judged upon before the nominations come out.

“This new voting initiative hits the issue of a narrow nominations process head on and significantly increases the potential for the widest and most diverse selection of nominees possible,” Askin said.

Up until now, nominations in the outstanding series and acting categories simply consisted of the top five vote getters in any given category, as selected by all eligible Acad members.

But that meant that nominees weren’t necessarily based on what’s actually on the screen — and that smaller, critically acclaimed shows like The WB’s “Gilmore Girls” didn’t stand a chance against more well-known shows.

Now that noms will be determined by panelists who actually view episodes, top-notch skeins will presumably have a better crack at landing a nom. (As long as they make the top 10, of course.)

“There’s often a razor’s edge difference between most of those (series and actors) in the top clump of nominees,” said TV academy awards senior VP John Leverence. “That dead heat situation, several thought should be looked at more carefully. Like in a photo finish of a horse race, where you have to look at the picture to see who came over, we figured that if you looked at the tapes, the actual accomplishments, it would be more fair to determine the top five nominees.”

Blue ribbon panelists will sign confidentiality agreements, so that word of potential nominees isn’t leaked. They’ll also be asked to refrain from voting in cases of conflicts of interest — such as if they worked on a show or with a thesp under consideration for a nom during the eligibility period.

There is some precedence: Blue ribbon panels already choose the nominees in the guest actor/actress and variety show performer categories.

Meanwhile, in another major rule alteration, for the first time directors and casting executives will vote on acting categories alongside thesps.

Leverence said the change was pushed by the actors and actresses themselves, who were looking to add more legitimacy to the award. The Academy boasts around 1,400 performers, as well as 500 directors and 200 casting execs. Change effectively adds another 700 voters to the outstanding actor and actress voting mix.

That means the blue ribbon panel determining actor and actress nominees will consist of thesps, helmers and casting execs as well.

“It was both a qualitative and a quantitative reason,” Leverence said. “This is a major change — the Academy has traditionally been purists when it comes to peer groups, in terms of who votes specifically for what.”

Meanwhile, the Academy issued a rule clarification on how to handle “dramedies” such as “Desperate Housewives” or “Boston Legal.” Now, according to the org, shows must prove that at least six episodes over the course of a season contained enough comedic material to be considered for “outstanding comedy” consideration — or enough drama for the drama categories.

That clarification, however, stopped short of actually ruling on whether hourlongs like “Housewives” or “Legal” should be allowed to compete against sitcoms (Daily Variety, Jan. 10). That’s because the burden of proof is relatively small — producers on most dramedies would easily be able to find six segs that could be classified as comedy- or drama-centric.

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