Broad group of emcees finally given category

They’re probably TV’s most underappreciated performers — but the TV Academy is finally giving reality hosts their due.

Nearly a decade after reality TV began its primetime domination, the org voted this year to give the broad, diverse genre’s hosts their own Emmy category. Recognition validates the notion that a good emcee is a key to success for many of primetime’s unscripted hits.

Just as the reality field has exploded in recent years, the hosting category is crowded with potential nominees: “American Idol’s” Ryan Seacrest, “Survivor’s” Jeff Probst, “Dancing With the Stars'” Tom Bergeron, “The Amazing Race’s” Phil Keoghan, “Project Runway’s” Heidi Klum, “America’s Next Top Model’s” Tyra Banks … The list could just keep going.

“I think it was a big decision for the Emmys to create a new category,” Probst says. “I appreciate being included. In essence, it’s the Emmys saying that your work deserves to be acknowledged. Everything else is icing on the cake.”

TV Acad awards senior VP John Leverence calls it “something of an anomaly” that the Emmys didn’t have a breakout category for reality host as part of its array of performer categories before now.

“But there has been an expansion of reality and reality competition shows as a significant element in primetime TV,” Leverence says. “Now that it’s reached critical mass, it was time to put the host into his or her own category.”

Then came the rule of 14. According to Leverence, the Acad starts seriously pondering new categories once it’s clear there are at least 14 potential contenders.

Until now, hosts were lumped in with producers in the outstanding series categories — meaning they’d win a statuette if the show won overall, but there was nothing that recognized individual achievement.

Most hosts are also producers on their reality shows, which means they’ll still be eligible for the series Emmy in addition to the host Emmy. That’s not unusual — major thesps are usually among the list of producers up for an outstanding drama or comedy Emmy.

“There was always that feeling that the hosts and show producers were in that creative mix together,” Leverence says. “Perhaps the host would be a producer on the show.”

Indeed, in Probst’s case, the host takes his job as a producer on “Survivor” seriously.

“I look across the board at other hosting jobs and realize I’ve been very fortunate in being involved in every aspect of the show, from casting to all the creative and through post,” he says. “I now look back and can say it’s a rare opportunity for a host to be as intimately involved as I am.”

Leverence says the org was comfortable with hosts being thrown in with producers — until the genre reached critical mass.

“It became an elephant in the room,” he explains. “There was the feeling they should be recognized and broken out.”

What Emmy voters might be looking for is anyone’s guess, as the category will surely field a group of hosts from wildly different shows.

Hosts like Probst and Keoghan, for example, travel on location and are charged with pushing the competition forward. They aren’t seen for stretches of an episode, but when they are, they play a key role in pulling out storylines.

On studio shows, the hosts play more of a variety emcee role, introducing acts, making sure a show ends on time and relying quite a bit on ad libs when something surprising happens.

“Tom or Ryan, they have different jobs, they have to navigate the audience,” Probst says. “They have to be the gatekeeper without getting in the way of the show. Sometimes guys like Tom and Ryan are underrated. People don’t understand what these guys are doing.”

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