Even after a good impression, TV kudos frontmen get replaced

Jimmy Fallon opened the 2010 Emmys with panache: He, Tina Fey, Jon Hamm, Joel McHale, Jorge Garcia and the cast of “Glee” took the stage to sing “Born to Run” — music by Randy Jackson, costumes by Tim Gunn, sweet dance moves courtesy of Betty White.

The rest of the infectiously silly ceremony followed suit as a nonpartisan celebration of TV and its beloved personalities. Fallon helmed, undeniably, one of the best Emmys in recent years.

But it’s unlikely it’ll happen again anytime soon. The Emmys recently signed a $66 million deal with the four major broadcast networks, extending its existing wheel contract for eight more years. This means the ceremony rotates among the Big Four networks; last year was NBC’s turn, and the upcoming telecast will air Sept. 18 on Fox, under exec producer Mark Burnett.

Is it time for networks to ditch their own self-interest, particularly when choosing the right host, and instead focus on producing the best Emmys possible? Short answer: Probably, but it’s complicated.

For one thing, siding with an in-network host has advantages beyond promotional. Fallon, for example, is much more likely to get time away from his show to work on the Emmys if the network has a vested interest. Plus there’s interviews, promos, tech, etc.

“It’s a huge interruption, and everybody has to be willing to make the sacrifice to accomplish it,” says John Shaffner, chairman and CEO of the TV Academy.

Lots of hosts are considered each year, but simply put, staying in-network is the path of least resistance.

The Emmys tried something different in 2008, splitting hosting duties among reality show representatives from all the major networks (plus Heidi Klum). Even Shaffner admits it was a calamity.

“Trying to coordinate and get everybody in the same place and produce a great show — well, we learned a lesson,” Shaffner says. “You put yourself in a place where you make your job that much harder.”

The “one host, one network” is tried and tested, but not every net has a stable of willing and capable prospects.

“This is a very, very difficult set of job requirements. … You’ve got to play to two very different audiences: the people in the room and the people at home,” says AOL TV critic Maureen Ryan. “You’re not just going to find two or three people at each network who are able to do that. You might not find anyone.”

Still, the wheel contract is a necessary evil. “It keeps the whole industry invested in the Emmys,” says producer Don Mischer, an awards show veteran and exec producer on the past two Emmycasts. The flip side, of course, is that “no single network can build (the Emmys) into a franchise,” Mischer continues. And a franchise would carry the potential for a consistent host.

But what if the individual hosts themselves were the franchise? As Mischer points out, a truly great host can transcend network bias — though it wouldn’t hurt if this mysterious and undefined host were completely unconnected to the big four — and prove advantageous for whoever’s turn it is on the wheel.

“If you came back this year saying that Jimmy Fallon would return to host, that could help you draw more viewers,” he says. “As a producer, if I found an outstanding host that loves the job and wants to come back, I might say it should happen.”

It’s tough to find the perfect host, no matter how you slice it. They’d need to be readily available and willing to work tirelessly with every network. They’d have to be biting, but in a fun way. Plus they’d have to, you know, host every Emmy telecast — a commitment in time as well as career direction.

But someday, there might be a time when a host fits, when it’s in every network’s best interest to set aside its own agenda, reach across channel lines and bring this mythical person on board.

Until then, though, the Fallons and Neil Patrick Harrises of TV will be waiting every few years to provide respite.

Road to the Emmys: Preview:
TV diversity more apparent in stars than stories | ‘Modern Family’ spark seen at table read | Broadcast nets hang tough at Emmys | Emmy host with the most is a ghost | Returning Emmy contenders | Brilliant but canceled, still nominated? | Product integration finds TV comfort zone | Cult faves make pass at Emmy end zone

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