Host award brings reality to Emmy

Does show need fixes to be more relevant?

Reality show hosts will compete for their own trophy at September’s 60th annual Primetime Emmy Awards, now that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has added a category for them.

Could this and future reality show awards bring more viewers — in the form of reality TV junkies — to the Emmy broadcast?

“Not necessarily,” says Jonathan Reiner, a daytime Emmy winner whose credits include “The Big Give” and the upcoming E! Pamela Anderson show. “But (honoring hosts) is a logical evolution. Hosts greatly enhance their shows. Recognizing their accomplishments is long overdue.”

Currently, in addition to the host, reality program, reality program competition and cinematography categories, reality shows can compete for nonfiction writing and directing Emmy Awards.

“We’re at the point where you have to look at where these reality shows are in the current scheme of TV programming,” says Tom Bergeron, host of “Dancing With the Stars.” “We have two reality shows (“Dancing” and “American Idol”) that are reasonably dominant in the marketplace, so it only makes sense that the Emmys would recognize that.”

Kevin Burns, president of Prometheus Entertainment and an Emmy winner for “Biography,” says the Academy needs to consider moving some supporting categories to the Creative Arts (nontelevised) ceremony in order to make room for more reality TV categories.

“I’d rather see eight shows win eight different awards if they’re the eight shows that the public has truly embraced as being exceptional,” Burns says.

“The real problem is that the Academy hasn’t caught up with the explosion of what we call reality TV,” adds Burns, executive producer of “The Girls Next Door.” “Within the reality TV genre, there are several legitimate subcategories. You can’t fit all the reality shows comfortably into (existing categories).”

Case in point: Although “American Idol” and “Dancing With the Stars” vie for a slot against other competition series like “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race,” the latter ones don’t have the variety show elements of the former.

Others balk at the idea of creating more awards for reality show personalities, such as Simon Cowell, Omarosa and Janice Dickinson, even if they are draws to their respective shows in a way that Emmy-nominated actors like Marcia Cross, Charlie Sheen and Christopher Meloni are to theirs.

Emmys for hosting reality shows could be given in two categories: live and pretaped. “Live hosting is the hardest job on TV,” says “Dancing” semifinalist Marissa Jaret Winokur, a Tony winner for “Hairspray.” Her “Dancing” partner Tony Dovolani concurs, adding: “Tom (Bergeron) can be compared to the icons like Johnny Carson and Dick Clark.”

“Best judges? Most outrageous personality?” counters TV Guide senior critic Matt Roush. “Maybe for online polls, but (not for) the Emmys proper. If they open the door to categories devoted to celeb-reality shows or manufactured docu-soap reality programs like ‘The Hills,’ I can see no benefit, just a cheapening of the Emmy brand in general.”

“To call (reality show personalities) ‘performers’ would turn the whole genre on its ear at this point,” Reiner concurs. “I’d prefer to see an all-reality awards ceremony, not done tongue-in-cheek, in which those personalities are recognized.”

A “live reality show host” category at the Emmys, distinguished from hosts of prepackaged shows, might be in order given the specific challenges of the positions.

“Having done both, I can say they are two different animals,” Bergeron says. “Does it require a separate category? I’m just happy to have this new one.”

According to Burns, re-examining the Emmy Awards is vital if the show is to compete for audiences in the future.

“The Emmys have an opportunity to bring the nation together in that kind of collective celebratory experience that many of us remember as kids,” he says. “Today’s fragmented audience needs to be taken into account, and more shows need to be included in more categories.”

“You can’t judge a 2008 TV landscape on a 1965 model for the Emmy Awards,” he adds. “A host category isn’t necessarily the answer. Redefining just what reality TV is is part of the solution.”

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