TV academies settle legal battle

N.Y. org drops appeal against L.A. rival

There’s finally a thaw in the cold war between the two television academies.

The New York-based National Academy of TV Arts and Sciences has dropped all appeals against the L.A.-based Academy of TV Arts and Sciences, ending a lengthy legal battle that had erupted two years ago over how to hand out Emmys for broadband programming.

In the end, the L.A. TV Academy won out, as the New York org has “accepted and validated all other issues that served as the long-standing positions of the (Los Angeles) TV Academy, which were upheld by a panel of arbitrators in two rulings rendered in late-2007 and mid-2008.”

Resolution follows the departure of NATAS prexy-CEO Peter Price, who had led the legal battle against its West Coast counterpart. Price left the org at the end of last year.

NATAS chairman Herb Granath and ATAS chairman-CEO John Shaffner jointly announced the resolution of the dispute Tuesday. Both orgs said they plan to form at least one joint committee to “examine areas of shared concern.”

This battle started in 2007, as the two orgs were holding discussions on how to launch a broadband Emmys structure. During that time, NATAS went ahead and announced plans to partner with MySpace and award up to 15 broadband Emmys on its own.

The Los Angeles Acad — which awards the Primetime Emmys — filed suit, accusing the Gotham org (which hands out local, daytime, news and sports Emmys) of attempting to establish a broadband Emmy infrastructure without permission. The case wound up in arbitration instead.

The American Arbitration Assn. halted the NATAS plans, agreeing with ATAS that NATAS had violated terms of the 1977 TV Academy divorce that originally split the two into West- and East-coast rivals. (ATAS had argued that each org had a right to hand out Emmys to broadband programming that falls under their TV jurisdiction; the arbitrator agreed.)

A New York judge later upheld that arbitration ruling. Another arbitration panel, meanwhile, ruled in favor of ATAS on another front: whether foreign-produced projects are eligible for a Spanish-language Emmy (the panel said no, agreeing with ATAS).

That panel also ruled that ATAS could recover the legal costs from its battles with NATAS.

NATAS filed two appeals last year in New York Superior Court, seeking to overturn the judge’s decision to uphold the arbitration ruling; and a second to overturn that prevailing party ruling that allowed ATAS to sue for legal costs. The court’s appellate division has sat on the case since then; that led both orgs to seek a way to end the standoff on their own.

Tuesday’s announcement means those appeals have been withdrawn. NATAS will pay ATAS’ attorney fees and the cost of arbitration; it’s believed that ATAS will be paid around $900,000.

Agreement also ends what repped the second major skirmish of the decade between the two TV acads. Earlier this decade, NATAS — hoping to immediately launch a Latin Emmys kudofest — filed a demand for arbitration against ATAS, which preferred to take a wait-and-see approach.

That dispute was settled in 2004, with no Latin Emmys launched. The ongoing tension between ATAS and NATAS dates back to their split in 1977; but by the late 1990s, both sides had started working closer together. ATAS and NATAS even aggressively pursued a reunification at the start of the decade — but the Latin Emmys battle derailed those plans.

Now, no one’s talking merger, but both sides likely feel — particularly in harsh economic times — that it’s better to bury the hatchet and work together rather than tear each other apart. Among the topics on the table are how to hand out technical awards, as well as how to proceed with a Spanish Emmy telecast.

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