Show streamlines awards for entertainment
TV’s creative forces are ready for their closeup. Just don’t expect as many of them this year.The scuffle over who gets live face-time on this year’s Primetime Emmy telecast started July 30 and promises to continue through the Sept. 20 rites on CBS. Emmycast exec producer Don Mischer last week outlined a plan to “time-shift” eight of the 28 awards by prerecording the presentations just prior to the live telecast. While the industry pros in the theater at major award shows care deeply about who wins the trophies, the TV Acad commissioned research that found home viewers care a lot more about what happens in between trips to the stage (unless, of course, a winner trips on the way to the stage). This year’s kudocast team is mum about specifics of the show, but it will include a look back at highlights and oh-wow moments of the past 12 months. And it’s likely that some kind of interactive element — e.g., home viewers texting in votes for their favorite shows — will be incorporated. Host Neil Patrick Harris, who charmed viewers as host of the Tonys in June, will preside over a telecast that would afford more time for host antics. CBS, which lately seems to know a thing or two about rehabbing award shows, is determined to shake up the Emmy status quo. And its execs are braced for the onslaught of industry complaints — Disrespect! Self-serving! Payback for cable hogging all the glory! — as the net looks to add more entertainment value and less ” … and the winner is” routine to the telecast. Streamlining the number of awards in favor of performances is a big part of the game plan. (This year, the network aired the Grammycast, which ran 3½ hours and handed out 10 awards; also on CBS, the Tony equation was three hours and 14 awards.) The Emmy flap points up the eternal dilemma of televised kudocasts: Is the event really for the honorees, or is it an entertainment show? The TV Acad is working on the supposition that the Emmys need to remain a big annual TV event in order for the award to retain its special sheen. The three-hour live Emmycast aims to celebrate the best that TV has to offer and serve as an annual self-congratulatory fest for the biz. The trouble is, the shows that have been typical Emmy bait in recent years have tended to be niche cable fare or critical darlings that don’t draw the masses. Shows like “Mad Men,” “Dexter,” “30 Rock” and Emmy darling “Arrested Development” generate outsize pop culture buzz, especially among the media elite, but only a sliver of the national audience that tunes into “CSI,” “Dancing With the Stars,” “American Idol” and lately, “America’s Got Talent.” Distressed by plummeting Emmy ratings during the past few years — particularly after last year’s critically panned telecast — the TV Acad hired a research firm to confirm what many in its ranks already suspected: Many viewers took a pass on the Emmycast because it was dominated by shows that “viewers didn’t know and weren’t interested in,” according to Mischer. And big ratings are crucial for the TV Acad to command the multimillion-dollar rights fees from the Big Four networks, which share the Emmycasts on a rotating basis. The Eye’s secret weapon is Jack Sussman, exec VP of specials, music and live events. He and his team had success in reviving the fortunes of the Grammy and Tony Award telecasts this year, and they’re determined to go for the trifecta with the Emmys. If ratings don’t improve with the makeover of this year’s Emmycast, the Big Four networks may well sit out the bidding on the next Emmy contract, expected to begin early next year. If so, there undoubtedly would be no shortage of cablers standing in line to grab the Emmycast. But if history is any guide, the cabler or cablers who land the rights might just find that winning Emmys is a whole lot more fun than the burden of putting on the Emmycast.