Fate of longform awards in question

Will TV movies and miniseries make next year’s Primetime Emmy cut?

A day after HBO swept all eight longform categories, broadcast network execs once again groused about having to devote so much Emmy time to those awards. And they may now be in a position to do something about it.

It’s no secret that the Big Four broadcast networks, which take turns televising the Emmys, are itching to kick the longform categories out of the live telecast.

The TV Academy has so far managed to keep the categories in the show. But as ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC get ready to discuss a new contract with the TV Academy, the fate of those longform awards promises to be a key negotiating point.

And some insiders believe that if the org manages to secure another deal with a license fee near its current $7.5 million annual pricetag, it will come with some concessions — such as altering the way those longform awards are presented.

It’s not a new idea. Ever since the broadcasters got out of the longform game, they’ve been anxious to move those categories to the Creative Arts Emmys. (Another option: Launching a new longform awards show, which could be telecast on HBO or another cabler.)

Last year, the TV Academy drew up a proposal to move some longform categories, among others, out of the actual broadcast, shifting them into a pre-show ceremony held the same evening as the televised Primetime Emmys. That plan was later scrapped amid protests from longform creatives.

The networks argue that a whopping 27 awards are handed out during this year’s Primetime Emmys, limiting the amount of other content.

By trimming back on longform, producers might be able to add more taped pieces, performances or clips of nominees.

“If there were less awards it would allow us to create an even more entertaining show,” conceded Emmycast exec producer Don Mischer.

Industry players opposed to such a move argue that the longform awards add an extra dose of star power to the proceedings, attracting thesps to the Emmys (such as Al Pacino) who don’t do series TV. One HBO insider also pointed to this year’s moment when the real-life inspiration behind Emmy-winning telepic “Temple Grandin” stole the show.

“That was an extraordinary moment,” the exec said. “The audience went crazy.”

Network execs say they have no beef with longform programming in general. But devoting so much time to a handful of minis and movies that have been seen by a fraction of the audience is a momentum killer, they argue, and one reason that the Emmycast isn’t a big viewer draw.”Once those longform awards come on, it’s the death march of boredom,” said one network exec.

And Emmy ratings suggest that viewers agree, Mischer said.

“When we looked at the minute by minute ratings, they really do drop in longform,” he said. “And longform is some of the best work in television — just unbelievably good work of the highest quality with great artists. But it’s a simple fact that it’s less accessible to viewers.”

Mischer noted that last year, the first time they compartmentalized the award presentation by genre, they put the longform awards in the middle of the telecast. This time around, longform went at the end, just before the comedy and drama series presentations.

“We felt good about the decision to put it in the last segment, because that allowed us to end with the most dramatic material,” he added. “And by that time we were hoping people were more invested in the Emmys.”

Mischer is well aware of the touchy politics behind any eliminations of kudos from the live telecast. He got caught in the buzzsaw of protest last year when CBS and the TV Acad proposed shifting some writing and directing honors to pre-taped format. But stops short of suggesting that longform awards should be moved off the telecast, emphasizing that any decisions should be sorted out by the TV Acad and its constituencies.

But speaking as a live TV producer, Mischer said that fewer awards would allow Emmy producers more time to deliver compelling moments and comedic bits. Mischer notes that the Grammys present just nine awards on its telecast, while the Tonycast is limited to 14.

Downsizing the longform awards hasn’t been an option for the Emmycast in the past for a myriad of reasons. The various guilds usually balk at the idea of losing valuable primetime showcases for their work. And because the Emmycast relies on waivers from the guilds to run clips during the Emmys, their position holds weight.With so many factions within the TV Academy, getting that unwieldy group to agree on major changes isn’t easy. Any major changes promise to bring opposition from affected industry players — not to mention the folks at HBO. The cabler ironically played spoiler during the org’s last Emmycast negotiation, making a play for that show and helping goose a license fee increase from the broadcasters.

Preliminary talks between the broadcasters and the TV Academy over a new Emmy deal have already taken place, but full negotiations are not yet in swing.

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