TV Academy taps negotiator

Ziffren to lead Emmy contract renewal talks with nets

Power lawyer Ken Ziffren has once again signed on to rep the TV Academy as it negotiates a new Emmy deal with the networks.

In a memo to academy members, John Shaffner — the incumbent chairman/CEO who faces a runoff vote on Wednesday to keep that title — said Ziffren has already held “preliminary discussions” with the Big Four nets about a new pact.

Under terms of the academy’s “wheel” deal with the broadcasters — in which all four nets take turns broadcasting the Emmys — good faith license fee negotiations must begin 90 days before the 2010 telecast (which this year falls on Aug. 29).

Ziffren guided the academy during its last contract renewal, in 2002, securing an eight-year, $52 million deal from the networks.

That repped a solid increase from the previous $3 million the nets paid annually for the show. After the four broadcasters offered just a slight increase — to $3.5 million annually — Ziffren scored a whopping $10 million-a-year bid from HBO.

With HBO threatening to steal the Emmys away, the networks talked up plans to boycott the Emmys, blacklist the TV Academy and launch a rival kudocast in conjunction with the Museum of TV and Radio. But in the end, the nets (led then by CBS topper Leslie Moonves) agreed to revise their offer.

This time around, the networks aren’t talking a license fee bump — and indeed, the TV Academy will have to fight to keep even the status quo license fee. In recent weeks, industry execs, led by Sony TV topper Steve Mosko, have again brought up the idea of a rival awards show — and once again, the Museum of TV and Radio — now known as the Paley Center — is being discussed as a partner.

HBO also isn’t expected to play spoiler this time, as execs at the pay cable net haven’t expressed interest in going down that road again. Although some industry execs have argued that the Emmycast would be better served with one permanent network home (which might then invest more in the telecast), it’s believed that the academy would prefer to keep the wheel intact — and all four nets invested in the awards.

We have a plan and have begun the process of talking with our guild friends and our broadcast partners to examine how we can create a telecast that is of mutual benefit to all of us,” Shaffner wrote. “(Org committees) have been studying our strengths and our options, including ancillary revenue sources for the telecast.”

As for Wednesday’s runoff, Shaffner will face off against Brian Seth Hurst, who most recently served as second vice chair of the academy.

Our future hangs on the upcoming negotiations,” Hurst said last month in his speech to org members.

Campaigning to replace Shaffner, Hurst added, “We are not in a better place than we were two years ago. We have been in a holding pattern. We react, we don’t respond. We don’t get out ahead, we run behind.”

Shaffner, meanwhile, said that under his leadership the org has “set a wonderful stage for the year ahead with a critically acclaimed and ratings-improved telecast of this year’s Emmys, as well as positive and engaged relationships with our colleagues in television as we begin our conversations about our license fee.”

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