Emmys looking to revamp

Number of awards reduced in telecast

With Oscar producers promising a rethink of this year’s kudocast, execs at the Emmys are mulling their own primetime shake-up.

Facing what could be another brutal year for kudo ratings, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences has drawn up a plan that will lead to fewer awards presented on air — answering critics who have blasted the Emmycast’s bloat.

According to insiders, the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences is looking to juggle some categories out of the actual broadcast — thereby bringing the televised kudo count down from the 28 that have recently been awarded live.

Under consideration is a plan to move some TV movie and miniseries awards. Also potentially impacted would be the reality, variety/music/comedy and specials categories.

The TV Academy’s Board of Governors has discussed ways to tweak the show while still honoring those categories — possibly by shifting some Emmy categories into a pre-show ceremony the same evening as the televised Primetime Emmys. The winners’ acceptance speeches would then still be included during the telecast.

Both the film and TV orgs have similar goals — reversing the rapid ratings decline of awards shows by putting on an event that is more entertaining, and not just about handing out statuettes.

But any major changes may face some opposition from affected industry players. Kirk Ellis, who took last year’s longform writing trophy for HBO’s “John Adams,” noted that the longform categories, for example, still inject the Emmys with star power and a sense of gravitas.

“The whole idea is absolutely preposterous,” he said. “Television is famously a writer’s medium. To deny writers their appropriate place at the table can only be interpreted as condescension at best, and at worst, a deliberate insult.”

Another Emmy winner from the longform world, former Academy governor Stanley M. Brooks (“Broken Trail”), also expressed concern that TV movie and miniseries might be treated as a “stepsister to series.”

“The problem is not too many awards, it’s that the show is not very good,” he said. “Give us something relevant. It would be a real tragedy if they diminished the show by eliminating any of the longform categories.”

In a statement, the org said that “the Television Academy’s Board of Governors has discussed a variety of proposals to make this year’s Primetime Emmy telecast as entertaining as possible for today’s television audience.

“While the board has given its overwhelming support to these recommendations, the number of awards presented on air and the manner in which they are presented will not be determined until the Academy, its broadcast partner, CBS, and the producer have had an opportunity to fully evaluate and agree upon them.”

Nothing’s been made official at the org quite yet, but insiders said the idea is to give Emmy producers more flexibility in deciding which awards appear on air — depending on how compelling the nominees or backstories are. That would be similar to how the Grammys are televised, as the handful of awards shown every year are chosen depending on how it helps the telecast. (In other words, is there a chance a superstar or crowd favorite might win? Then include it.)

CBS — which happens to telecast the Grammys, and will air the Emmys this year (as part of the rotating four-network wheel) — has been briefed on the plans, and is said to approve of any ideas that might help connect the telecast with a bigger audience.

The Grammy formula appeared to pay off this year: Shedding many awards and focusing on musical performances, this month’s Grammy show rebounded from the kudocast’s record-low 2008 ratings, jumping 14% among adults 18-49.

But that’s so far an exception to the overall downward trend. Last month’s Golden Globes registered its lowest ratings in 13 years, while last year’s Oscarcast brought in its smallest audience on record (triggering this year’s changes).

That’s why first-time Oscar producers Bill Condon and Laurence Mark are promising to shake up Sunday’s kudocast. Condon and Mark have remained mum on their plans — even keeping broadcast partner ABC in the dark until recent days — but their aim is clear: Reinvent what has become a formulaic and stodgy affair.

As for the Emmys, the TV-centric telecast has seen its audience dip deeper and faster in recent years. Last year’s Emmy Awards on ABC brought about its lowest-yet demos (a 3.8 rating and 9 share among adults 18-49) and its second-worst audience ever, 12.3 million.

So far, attempts to freshen up the Emmy telecast have fallen flat — or worse.

Last year’s decision to tap the Emmy-nominated reality TV hosts to anchor the show garnered some of the broadcast’s worst reviews in years.

Other gimmicks, such as the year stars took the stage to sing TV themes in an “American Idol” format (yes, that was Donald Trump crooning the “Green Acres” theme), or the year the Emmys were presented in a “theater in the round” format, made no impact either.

For years, Emmy critics have suggested that the telecast could only be saved by first shaving the number of awards handed out in that three-hour time frame.

That was always a non-starter for the org and its powerful peer groups. The longform categories were especially seen as vulnerable, now that the broadcast nets — which pony up the annual $7.5 million license fee — are pretty much out of that game.

Which awards might actually be handed out beforehand, and which are still included in the live show, might not be decided until later — perhaps after the nominees are announced.

If the TV Academy follows through on the plan, that would free up the three-hour-plus Emmy telecast for perhaps more entertaining segments. Because it has had to squeeze so many categories into such a short period, right now the Emmycast consists almost entirely of awards.

The result has been a kudo-heavy telecast in an age when viewers have pretty much voted, via remote, against such shows.

The telecast change would rep the second major round of shuffles to hit the Emmys this year. The TV Academy also voted this month to expand the number of nominees that will be up for key categories, including best comedy and drama series, from five to six.

(Cynthia Littleton and Brian Lowry contributed to this report.)

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