Org weighs its options for next year's Emmys

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences can count its blessings: After a stifling heat wave, the org enjoyed a delightfully temperate August day; a beautifully orchestrated, incident-free ceremony; a laudable array of choices; and given the early date, certainly respectable ratings for Sunday’s Emmycast.

But one suspects that coalescence of good fortune is about to run out.

With the 62nd Primetime Emmys still in the rear-view mirror, attention must turn rather quickly to the 63rd installment and beyond. And while the success of this year’s presentation by most measures ought to be cause for celebration, they shouldn’t obscure the tough choices and challenges the organization faces — starting with who will be televising the Emmys in the near future.

Yes, the academy has options. It’s just that none of them are particularly attractive.

Migrate the telecast to cable, and accept lower ratings. Stay with the broadcast networks on a rotating basis, and likely receive less money as a license fee. Improve financial terms with the networks by booting categories they don’t like because they don’t vie for them — namely, movies and miniseries — out of the primary awards. Or go to a single network — for my money, the best move — but risk alienating the others.

In addition, there’s the little matter of the rival TV awards being developed in concert with the Paley Center for Media, like to launch in 2012.

Even with high-powered entertainment attorney Ken Ziffren lending his acumen to the negotiations on the academy’s behalf, it’s going to be hard to make all of that into lemonade.

One might plead for altruism and generosity from top TV execs toward the Emmys, but that’s a problem, too — namely, the fact that most industry heavyweights aren’t an active part of the TV Acad anymore.

ATAS was set up as an admirably egalitarian body, representing 28 branches, from animation and art directors (current CEO John Shaffner’s discipline) to title design and writers.

Yet that structure has become a source of frustration to senior TV executives, precisely the people who are sitting on the other side of the bargaining table when the Emmycast contract renewal talks begin.

Fairly or not, senior TV execs have grown tired of dealing with an organization they see as the equivalent of herding cats, which helps explain the decided shortage of power players agreeing even to serve as appointees to the executive committee.

By contrast, Steve Mosko, president of Sony Pictures Television and Tony Vinciquerra, chairman-CEO of the Fox Networks Group, are spearheading the Paley Center committee. And for once, such an initiative feels like more than just posturing to gain negotiating leverage.

Given all that, a single-network deal — emulating CBS’ longstanding ties to the Tonys and Grammys, or NBC’s ability to transform the Golden Globes from a wacky cocktail party into a genuine event — would make the most sense. Indeed, the principal argument against it — that the Emmys “belong to the TV industry” collectively — sounds quaintly dated. Do the Oscars belong to the film community any less because they have an exclusive relationship with ABC, which is owned by Disney?

Then there’s the little matter of the longform awards. Although HBO’s recognition for “Temple Grandin,” “You Don’t Know Jack” and (to a lesser degree) “The Pacific” was deserved, sweeping all eight movie/miniseries categories only exacerbated tensions and highlighted the ceremony’s structural dilemma. While it’s not HBO’s fault, nobody designing an awards show from scratch would devote 30% of key honors to categories where only one network is seriously competing.

As Variety’s Michael Schneider and Cynthia Littleton reported, there’s a renewed push by broadcasters to excise longform or diminish its presence, insisting the impetus is all about ratings, not pettiness. More likely, it’s a little of both.

Either way, given how the academy mishandled last year’s attempt to “time-shift” awards — doling out half-truths when the news broke — the odds of a grown-up resolution that leaves everyone feeling chipper look dim at best.

Anyway, congrats on a great show, and another round of applause to Emmycast exec producer Don Mischer. Savor those echoes while they last, though, because suspense over “And the Emmy goes to…” has already turned to “And what the hell do we do now?”

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