Genre often lumped in with documentaries

Reality TV takes more bites of the Emmy apple this year than ever before but some below-the-line artists are still hungry for more.

Though few will talk about their feelings publicly, many feel reality TV’s awards representation hasn’t caught up to the genre’s importance to the industry.

Despite about five hours a week primetime reality programming on the broadcast nets, the many more on cable and the vast revenues they generate, the genre has often been lumped in with the traditional documentaries at the Creative Arts Emmys, putting unscripted shows at a disadvantage.

To Darla Marasco, post-production VP at Max Post, it’s as if the TV Academy has been saying to itself, ” ‘How long do we think this reality thing will hang on? It’s just a fad. Scripted stuff will take over again pretty soon.’ Well, it just hasn’t, for 10 years or more. And they have to face up to that.”

The TV Academy is adjusting, albeit slowly. Last year ushered in separate cinematography and picture editing Emmys for “small-team” and “large-team” productions, renamed this year as “nonfiction” and “reality,” respectively.

Sound technicians, however, must be content with single statuettes. This year is typical, with mixing and editing categories each pitting “Amazing Race”or “Deadliest Catch” against a slate of traditional documentaries.

As for reality directors and hosts, the tribe has spoken: They can take their torches and go Emmy-less.

But film editor Michael E. Phillips, senior market solutions manager at Avid, explains that unscripted shows operate under different constraints from traditional docs.

“A season of a reality competition might involve 2,000 to 3,000 hours of raw footage,” he says.

Most important, he adds, in most cases a reality team “has to find the stories that are evolving over time. They can’t anticipate them in advance,” the way a Martin Scorsese can in shaping “The Blues.”

Phillips can’t fathom why sound should be treated differently from his branch. “As a picture editor, I’m really restricted in the possibilities of story by the quality of the sound.

“On a ‘Survivor’ or ‘Amazing Race,’ the production mixer may be following 18 or more characters over as many locations. It’s especially difficult to sustain style under those conditions. Consistency of style drives a story more than anything else.”

The Academy, though, has its reasons for going slowly. One veteran sound man, who asked not to be identified, says that “On one level, they may not be apples and oranges. The job of mixing is the job of mixing.”

However, even he takes into account the varying challenges of different shows when he goes to vote.

“First, I look at the environment in which the dialogue was recorded. How hostile is it? You can’t set up for a second take in the middle of a storm at sea. The amount of denoising and cleanup needed is also important.

“Second, I consider the complexity of mixing the different elements. One show might have a seated person talking, under music and with clips. But on a war show, there could be hundreds of tracks to sift through.

“A lot of balls are being juggled,” he says of the TV Academy. “They want all the nominations to be fair, but they also look to make the awards more inclusive. And the peer groups are individual islands, each arguing ‘We want another statuette.'”

Marasco remains cautiously optimistic that Emmy will find a way to further recognize reality TV sound.

“The Academy sees the times are changing and they know they have to move with them,” she says. “They just have to move faster.”

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