Contest looks like a David-and-Goliath mismatch

The Academy of Arts & Sciences is about to elect a new chairman, and from afar the contest looks like a David-and-Goliath mismatch: Bruce Rosenblum, president of the Warner Bros. Television Group; and Nancy Bradley Wiard, formerly a producer on “The Young and the Restless,” and now a freelance producer and consultant.

Like Florida, however, academy elections can yield surprises.

One reason might be the small number of voters. Only representatives of the board of governors and executive committee participate, meaning despite more than 16,000 members, the election will be decided by less than 70 of them. In addition, only those who attend the Nov. 16 meeting get to register a selection, after each candidate delivers a brief three-minute presentation.

The stakes, however, are significant. If elected, Rosenblum would be the highest-ranking person to hold the academy’s top voluntary post since then-Walt Disney Studios head Richard Frank did so over three two-year terms, concluding in 1997. To some, the lack of participation among industry heavyweights in recent years has cost the organization, which — while everyone likes winning Emmys — hasn’t possessed much profile beyond overseeing the awards.

At times, being active within the academy and fully employed in TV have also appeared to be mutually exclusive. And while it’s easy to respect those who commit their time, the Emmy ideally derives its meaning from the academy being perceived as a collective representing industry peers, not a private club consisting of the few, the proud, the folks who show up.

Nevertheless, a segment of the academy is suspiciously eyeing Rosenblum as something of a carpetbagger for entering the race — parachuting in, as opposed to gradually matriculating through the ranks as Wiard, currently the vice chair, has.

There has also been muttering his status will make board members timid about challenging him, in a body where art directors and publicists have equal say with showrunners and directors — a peer-group structure outgoing chairman John Shaffner, a production designer by trade, recently called “our oddly representative government.” The parallel would be the U.S. Senate, where Montana possesses the same weight as California.

Reduced to the basics, the board faces three questions: How will it tackle thorny changes the networks are sure to demand in the televised ceremony over their TV contract? What is the academy’s appropriate role beyond the Emmys? And what kind of leader do they want?

In interviews (excerpted more fully on variety.com/bltv), neither Rosenblum nor Wiard offered specific answers about changing the awards, though Wiard suggested the networks aren’t necessarily in lockstep about how to revise them, conceded there are too many on-air awards and said any tinkering must be done “with respect for everybody.”

In terms of a broader vision, Rosenblum said, “The academy has a responsibility to take a leadership role in influencing the transition of our industry while also maintaining its role in recognizing creative excellence.” He cited expanding diversity, anti-piracy, maintaining local production and creating employment opportunities as industry-wide priorities of importance to all members.

Addressing whether Rosenblum has an edge because he regularly interacts with fellow network and studio honchos — and presumably would enjoy readier access to them — Wiard said, “I do not think I am at a disadvantage at all,” adding in regard to the board, “I think it’s a big benefit to the room that I know the individuals, I know their issues, [and] I know where we need to make change.”

As for whether Rosenblum’s job at Warner Bros. could intimidate members, she said, “There always is concern with the below-the-line people, and I can understand some of that feeling.”

For his part, Rosenblum said he’s comfortable operating as a consensus builder, and the academy’s democratic structure ought to dispel such apprehensions. “I actually view my role and experience as an asset to the dialogue and process,” he said.

Frankly, the academy will trudge onward whatever the outcome, just as the Emmys will go on, albeit with some kind of facelift. Still, the clarity of the choice will define its guiding body’s ambitions — and whether they’ll brave an agenda that could potentially make the organization stand for more than its signature event, or remain content out of habit with the same-old, same-old.

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