Must the show go on?

Embattled TV awards to air Sunday on the CW

Having rescued the Daytime Emmys from near death earlier this year, the producers behind this year’s event must now prove that the kudocast deserves to be saved.

That’s a tough order — but Associated Television Intl. president David McKenzie, whose company partnered with MGM Worldwide TV to revive the homeless awards show –said he believes there’s still life in the Daytime Emmys.

A group of industry vets apparently agree, having rallied to make the show happen this Sunday at downtown Los Angeles’ Orpheum Theater.

“I didn’t want to see the Daytime Emmys go bye-bye,” McKenzie said.

The National Academy of TV Arts & Sciences, the New York-based org that handles the Daytime Emmys, found its marquee awards show orphaned this year after CBS, which had the option to run this year’s kudocast, passed on it instead.

The reason was pretty clear: Last year’s Daytime Emmys, which had aired on ABC, posted its lowest rating yet — attracting just 5.4 million viewers and a dismal 1.2 rating/4 share among adults 18-49.

Like most awards shows, the Daytime Emmys had been suffering from erosion for years — but the telecast had experienced additional indignities in recent years. Once a May sweeps event, the telecast was later pushed into June, when viewer levels are lower.

Also, as tensions once again rose with rival Los Angeles-based org the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences, NATAS lost the ability to rely on help from its much larger West Coast counterpart.

NBC dropped out of the show in 2004, leaving just ABC and CBS to rotate coverage. But once CBS passed, ABC said it wasn’t interested, either.

Meanwhile, McKenzie said he got into the mix by accident: Having won a Daytime Emmy last year — for the special “America’s Invisible Children” — the exec asked his assistant to find out how to buy tickets for this year’s ceremony.

One problem: There was no ceremony. Over at NATAS, the org was mulling several possibilities — such as moving the ceremony to a cable network, or even turning it into a webcast — but things were looking grim at the start of this year, as the clock for booking the event was running out.

“It’s tough for the networks because of the economy,” McKenzie said. “They’re running fairly scared… (but) when we heard that the Daytime Emmys was having trouble getting on TV, we stubbed our toes on this and said, ‘That’s just not right.’ We called in a lot of folks we’ve known for a long time and told them, ‘We don’t want this to go away, don’t you agree?’ ”

That’s when ATI’s Jim Romanovich contacted the NATAS to see if there was a way to help. ATI then brought MGM onboard.

MGM made sense because it already controlled a block of primetime, at least until the end of summer: the CW’s Sunday night, where it runs a movie package. As a result, the CW isn’t paying a traditional license fee for the Daytime Emmys but instead has a unique advertising relationship with NATAS, ATI and MGM for the telecast.

ATI and MGM also began calling around Hollywood, sending out a plea for help to keep the Daytime Emmys alive.

That’s when they signed awards show vets such as Jeff Margolis, who’s set to direct, as well as writer Ken Shapiro. Other folks heavily involved include Al Schwartz, who’s exec producing with McKenzie and Romanovich, as well as co-exec producers Jim Packer, Dan Goldman and Paul Sharratt.

And in a sign of the easing of tensions between the two TV acads (now that their long-running legal battles have been dropped), ATAS topper John Shaffner is even involved, serving as a production designer, along with partner Joe Stewart, through their Shaffner Stewart company.

“The cooperation has been terrific,” McKenzie said. “Everyone understands this is a difficult marketplace, and that every award show is being looked at… (but) everyone wants this, needs this, to remain on the air.”

It’s a tough order: The CW’s Sunday night sked doesn’t get much circulation, which is one reason the Dub is dropping it altogether after Sept. 20. The older female skew of the Daytime Emmys also doesn’t necessarily mesh with the CW’s aud.

What’s more, it’s on a Sunday in late summer, when viewership is lower anyway — and still against tough original competish on cable, including HBO’s “True Blood,” which also attracts a rabid femme crowd.

But McKenzie and crew hope to conjure up interest through packages such as “Daytime Gives Back,” which features stars such as Susan Lucci in Kenya.

“(We’re hoping) people will say, it’s not only an event that pats itself on the back, but it did a lot of nice things too,” McKenzie said.

Show will also include a tribute to canceled sudser “Guiding Light” and celebrate the 40th anniversary of “Sesame Street,” and there will be a mini fashion show. Vanessa Williams is hosting.

“We’re putting a lot more entertainment into the show this year and moving it at a faster pace,” McKenzie said.

Because of the 11th hour save, the Daytime Emmys had to be pushed from its traditional early summer home to Aug. 30 — which puts it smack in the middle of Emmy season for NATAS’ Los Angeles rival, the Academy of TV Arts & Sciences.

But McKenzie believes that could benefit the Daytime Emmys (which take place a night after ATAS throws its annual Los Angeles Area Emmy Awards show), as some of the Primetime Emmy hoopla potentially rubs off.

“This is not a bad time for it,” he said. “We’ll be interested to see how it does. Maybe it goes back to May or June; that remains to be seen. But I’ve seen in my years of marketing that when you group something like this together, for some reason they feed one another.”

As for next year, ATI and MGM are already onboard, while the CW has the first option to bring it back. But should the Dub pass on it, McKenzie said he’s confident he’ll be able to find another home for the show — or even clear it in syndication.

“That’s what I do. For years I’ve been clearing TV specials on a barter basis,” he said. “I could clear this one blindfolded. It’s not like we’re dead if some network doesn’t take it.”

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