Kudocast network wheel spins challenge

Another year, another network.

The Oscar kudofest has a permanent home at ABC, the Grammy showcase resides at CBS, and the Golden Globes telecast remains parked at NBC. But the Emmy broadcast — which migrates to Fox Sept. 16 with Ryan Seacrest hosting — hops from one Big Four net to the next every year.

The so-called “Emmy wheel” poses a unique problem for the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences, as every network has different agendas — and each one has a different perspective on how to produce and promote the show.

“The wheel really makes the marketing of the Emmys very challenging,” says TV Academy CEO Dick Askin. “There’s really no ownership of the telecast by any one network. As a result, you’re doing everything on a year-to-year basis rather than setting long-term marketing plans that you can build on.”

From the networks’ perspective, a lot of time and money is poured into a telecast that will air just once — and then move to a rival the following year.

What’s more, should your telecast pull a strong Nielsen rating, it’s the network which hosts the event next year that will reap the benefits when it comes time to sell ads.

Still, the Academy already had a chance to stop the wheel in 2002, when the kudcast’s rights were up and HBO made a play for exclusivity. But the TV acad chose to keep the wheel rolling, even though the ride remains a little bumpy. In fact, Academy officials expect to keep the wheel format intact when the show’s network contract comes up for renewal in 2010 — perhaps with some tweaks.

“Somebody else might join the wheel,” says Academy rules topper John Leverence. “As television evolves, it might be that the wheel evolves also.”

According to Askin, since the Emmys are about recognizing excellence within all of TV, the broadcast can’t belong to just one outlet. Letting one net broadcast the show every year “could devolve into something that might be a nightmare,” he says.

“If one company had a long-term ownership of it, it would politicize the process tremendously,” Askin adds. “As it is, it’s difficult enough trying to be fair and equitable to all of the four networks and represent the interest of the emerging cable networks.”

Despite the private grumblings of some network officials, all four webs realize the Emmycast serves an important purpose as an infomercial for primetime TV viewing on the eve of the new fall season — they see it as something that should be supported when it’s on their network and not aggressively counterprogrammed when it’s not.

“The Emmys is an incredibly important promotional platform for whoever has it,” says ABC VP of marketing Michael Benson, who is already making plans for the Alphabet’s 2008 Emmy broadcast. “I would love to have it on our air every year.”

Meanwhile, despite the challenges the wheel presents, the Academy has made an effort to establish more consistency in how the Emmy telecast is presented and marketed, such as with the show’s key art (which is designed by the Academy).

But each network still has its own Emmy strategy.

Last year, for example, NBC took a more conservative approach, choosing a rock-solid host (Conan O’Brien) and keeping things rather traditional. Airing in August, the Peacock’s telecast captured a small — though not record low — bounty of 16.2 million viewers.

This year, Fox still has most of its plans under wraps. But it has already announced an initiative to make the Emmys eco-friendly — everything from a red carpet made from reusable materials to a prominent recycling program. The net has also invested in airing the broadcast in high definition.

Still, while remaining coy about this year’s broadcast, Emmy exec producer Ken Ehrlich says he’s planning to make use of certain musical acts, leaning on Fox’s “American Idol” connections.

“There’s no doubt this was a pretty significant year in the world of reality television and alternative television, so you can expect to see things that reflect that emphasis on the show,” he says.

Askin says the Academy and Fox turned to Ehrlich after “American Idol” producers Nigel Lythgoe and Ken Warwick dropped out because he “brings a nontraditional approach to the show, but he’s respectful of the integrity of the Emmy.”

“Once Ken starts releasing some information about the show, there will be quite a bit of interest,” Askin says. “There are at least two segments that I think will be water-cooler moments.”

Betsy Boyd contributed to this report.

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