Academy announces 10 year-pact with venue

The Academy of TV Arts & Sciences has sealed a long-awaited 10-year pact with Anschutz Entertainment Group to move the Emmy Awards to downtown’s Nokia Theater.

That means that starting this year, the Emmycast — slated to air Sept. 21 on ABC — will vacate its longtime home at the Shrine Auditorium in favor of the brand-new Nokia. The theater, which opened last fall, is part of AEG’s burgeoning L.A. Live complex adjacent to the Staples Center.

Deal was a long time coming: The TV Acad had been in talks with AEG since 2001, and the org’s board of governors tentatively approved the deal last spring (Daily Variety, May 21).

“We were looking for a home where we could have a long-term relationship,” said ATAS chairman-CEO John Shaffner. “It’s in tip-top condition for the show itself and people who attend the show. This is the right place for our program to come from.”

ATAS plans to move its post-show Governors Ball to the Los Angeles Convention Center next door and has started conversations with studios and networks about locating their after-Emmy parties downtown (much as CBS Paramount did last year with its “Entertainment Tonight” shindig at Walt Disney Concert Hall).

It’s that ability to “dump and load once,” said AEG prexy-chief exec Tim Leiweke, that is one of AEG’s big selling points.

“We’re very aware of the issues of getting people in and around Los Angeles,” he said. “Downtown’s easy, and it’s the highest of priorities to convince the entertainment industry to get people to come and leave once. It’s an ability to have a bigger event and, from a cost standpoint, gives people the opportunity to host these parties at a more reasonable cost.”

An eastward migration of the party scene may not sit well with venues in other parts of the city, however. And a complete shift of the Emmys to downtown may not happen for at least two years, anyway. L.A. Live remains under construction, with much of the complex — including a Ritz-Carlton Hotel, two ballrooms and several restaurants — not slated to open until 2010.

At that point, AEG and the TV Acad expect the entire Emmy experience to take place on the campus, eliminating the usual practice of driving to the show from hotels around the city (a tunnel will connect the Ritz to the Nokia), as well as chauffeuring from party to party after the Emmys.

“It would have been easier for the Academy to say, ‘We’ll see you in 2010 when it’s perfect,” Leiweke said. “With some creativity, for the next couple of years we have to make do … (but) the Academy is being visionary here, as the perfect event will happen once the hotel opens up in time for their show in 2010. At that point, they’ll have the ability to house and host all of their guests at the Ritz-Carlton.”

Shaffner said the org decided to make the move now since the theater was already in use and ready to go. The Shrine is “a venerable, beautiful landmark,” he said, but the Emmys had outgrown it, much like it outgrew the Pasadena Civic Auditorium a decade ago.

“We love that the space gives us the opportunity to go in many different directions,” he said.

The Nokia will seat around 6,500 Emmy attendees — not much more than the Shrine, which usually squeezed in around 6,300. But more of the Nokia seats are on the preferred orchestra level, with wider rows, he said. The Governors Ball, he added, had been bursting at the seams at the Shrine and will now fit comfortably in its new home.

Shaffner’s production design outfit, which he runs with Joe Stewart, is already familiar with the Nokia, having designed the theater for the American Music Awards (which last November became the first kudocast to broadcast from there). As a result, their design firm — in what Shaffner admits looks like a conflict of interest — has been tapped by ATAS to design the Emmycast as well.

Back when AEG first approached the TV Academy about such a move seven years ago, L.A. Live development was nothing more than a proposal, and TV Acad officials decided to take a wait-and-see approach.

Along the way, several ambitious plans — such as an Emmy museum at the site — fell by the wayside.

“For many years, our conversation was about a blueprint and drawings,” said Leiweke. “Because the Emmys require 100% certainty, they couldn’t take a chance until now. They had to make sure their feedback, their considerations and viewpoints were taken into consideration. But life got a lot better for us once we had a tangible theater.”

According to Shaffner, TV Acad members had some issues with the expanse of L.A. Live and were concerned that Emmy events would be too spread out.

“We had a large number of board of governors members down here at various times and let them walk around,” Shaffner said. “The comfort factor was resolved.”

Now that the Nokia Theater has hosted a handful of kudofests, the org was ready to officially sign on. As part of the deal, AEG will also serve as main title sponsor of the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences Foundation’s annual golf tournament this September.

Leiweke said he considered the Emmy Awards to be the theater’s top tenant, on par with the Academy Awards at Hollywood’s Kodak Theater. (The Grammys have broadcast for several years from the Staples Center, which AEG also manages.)

“The Emmys are our Lakers — they’re the anchor,” Leiweke said. “We made sure these folks knew they’d be the highest priority.”

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