Will word of Emmy changes reach audiences?

CBS uses TCA panel to explain changes

Panels at the Television Critics Assn. press tour are a valuable commodity, given that most networks now only take one day to promote their fall lineups.

So, by devoting a TCA panel earlier this month to the upcoming 61st annual Primetime Emmy Awards, set to air Sept. 20 on CBS, the Eye declared its intent to get the word out on changes it believed would allay the kudocast’s declining popularity.

But with CBS and the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences reversing course Aug. 12 on their most noteworthy proposal — the pre-taping of some awards to air in edited form during the broadcast — even more spin will be needed to convince potential auds that the Emmys are back on track after a dismal outing in 2008.

Right or wrong in their choices, CBS and the TV Acad won’t see improved Emmy ratings unless more people feel there’s reason to watch.

The Eye has had no comment on a marketing plan for the ceremony (though it wouldn’t be surprising to see Emmy-nominated host Neil Patrick Harris, the popular co-star of “How I Met Your Mother,” doing a promotional blitz leading up to awards). The TV Acad, meanwhile, will do what it can on its own platform.

“We’ll build a series of press releases (about the content of the Emmy broadcast),” ATAS chairman and CEO John Shaffer says.

Working in the kudocast’s favor is that, traditionally, other networks do their best not to sabotage the award show’s audience.

During this year’s Emmys, the youth-oriented CW plans to broadcast an encore of the pilot of “The Beautiful Life,” which will have premiered four nights earlier, followed by a re-airing of the second episode of “Melrose Place,” which also will have first aired the previous week. Fox will repeat episodes of its Sunday animated series such as “The Simpsons” and “Family Guy” (the latter a first-time comedy series nominee).

ABC had not announced what it would program opposite the Emmys, but the Alphabet’s entertainment president Stephen McPherson reiterated that “for the most part, people are not counterprogramming the Emmys to any great extent.”

But it’s not going to be a walk in the park — or a stroll to the end zone — for Emmy: The kudocast’s greatest competition will come from NBC, which will air the National Football League’s New York Giants vs. Dallas Cowboys game. In 2008, a Green Bay-Dallas game drew a 9.0 rating and 22 share among adults 18-49 and 22.2 million viewers overall, trouncing the Emmys’ 3.8/9, 12.3 million (a 12% decline in the demo from 2007 and an 18-year low in total audience).

To combat the niche appeal of some Emmy candidates –” ‘Mad Men’ is a wonderful show,” Emmycast exec producer Don Mischer tells Variety; “it’s my favorite show, (but) it gets (only) 1.3 million viewers on average.” — Mischer wants to air clips with broader appeal, citing such TV moments as President Obama’s inauguration and the rejection of Melissa Rycroft on “The Bachelor” as examples.

Entertainment Weekly senior writer Lynette Rice agrees with the concept.

“You need to have more clips (of mainstream shows) so that people watching at home will say, ‘Oh, yeah! I saw that,’ ” Rice says. “It will make the Emmy show more relatable.”

Mischer also feels that more viewers would be drawn to the Emmys if the audience were behind an underdog the way daytime fans were for years with Susan Lucci (“All My Children”).

“(In primetime), it’s more like, ‘I wonder if ‘The Amazing Race’ will win again in the reality show category,” notes Mischer, hastening to add, “Not that they don’t deserve it.”

But even if one were to give these ideas the benefit of the doubt, the question remains about their potential impact on the Emmycast’s rating, at least in the short term, if auds aren’t aware of them and if the industry is more preoccupied with the behind-the-scenes Emmy drama than the broadcast itself.

ATAS executive committee member Kathryn Joosten, a two-time Emmy-winner for her role as Karen McCluskey in “Desperate Housewives” does have one task for the media in the meantime, saying the press needs to do a better job explaining to viewers how voting is done.

“It’s done by peer groups,” Joosten says. “They may be looking at a totally different criteria than the general public is.”

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