TV Academy Hopes Format Change Lets Emmys Breathe

It’s been a foregone conclusion since Variety broke the story in February that the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences would remove at least seven of the 28 awards from the live Emmy telecast by prerecording them and showing only the acceptance speeches. The board voted on the matter back then, with the only question being which awards were going to be shifted — and which group of recipients disappointed.

The answer appears to be predominantly the longform community, with six of those categories — outstanding movie, miniseries, writing and directing for a movie or miniseries, and supporting actor/actress — to be time-shifted into (or depending on one’s point of view, out of) the primary telecast.

Two additional categories for writing and directing will also be prerecorded.

So what’s the big deal, and why is this happening? The goal is to give producer Don Mischer more time to put together an entertaining show, and remove categories that might not be as interesting to the audience. By cutting out the build-up, the “time-shifted” approach will probably give the producers another 15 minutes or so to play around with during the CBS broadcast.

It’s a happy coincidence that most of those categories are likely to honor a cable network and have traditionally overlooked broadcasters in recent years. HBO has won best movie, for example, all but two times since 1993, and broadcasters have grown tired of seeing the awards become a three-hour commercial for the pay service, which set a record last year with 13 awards for the miniseries “John Adams.”

Still, the TV academy knows that some people are not going to be happy about this. Longform producers and execs, led by Helen Verno at Sony Pictures Television, complained bitterly when the matter first arose.

The academy responded with this statement at the time:
“We have no intention to remove any of the TV movie, miniseries,
variety/music/comedy specials and series categories from the Primetime
Emmy Awards. There have been no such discussions with CBS.


One can sympathize with the academy about the pressure to remove (or at least diminish the exposure for) certain categories and streamline the awards. The Tonys and Grammys have employed a similar approach. Even the Oscars demonstrated a willingness to break with tradition by expanding best picture to 10 nominees.

The academy’s leadership, however, should have been more honest with longform producers when the situation first became public, instead of (charitably) punting the problem down the road — including the question of whether the talent guilds representing writers, directors and actors will withdraw waivers for the use of clips if they are unhappy about the new configuration.

Honorees will still get their moment in the sun, even if it’s slightly different and somewhat cloudier than in the past. That said, there are going to be some hurt feelings, and I suspect there might be a little extra irritation about the simple fact that the academy didn’t engage in some straight talk about its plans from the get-go.

Update: Emmy producer Don Mischer confirmed that the changes are planned while stating that the actual configuration of the awards isn’t officially locked. He also noted that the prerecorded awards will have to begin around 4:15 p.m. PT (45 minutes before the live telecast), so a long evening just got a bit longer.

Meanwhile, Academy Chairman John Shaffner has emailed members complaining about the information leaks out of the academy, which of course was promptly leaked. Fortunately, we’re talking Emmy procedures here, not torture memos, but it’s always nice to be talked (or emailed) about.

Mischer also noted one interesting point during the conference call: That with the increased commercial load in primetime, the Emmys have to present 28 awards in roughly 2 hours and 10 minutes, which left “very little time to do anything else.” I doubt that will mollify those writers, producers, directors and actors who feel like they’re being dissed, but when you ask “Why can’t they hand out 28 awards in three hours?,” it’s a noteworthy statistic.

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