Road to the Emmys 2012: Down to the Wire

While millions of viewers who tune in for the Sept. 23 Primetime Emmys will bring their a season’s worth of loves and hates to the kudocast, the voting itself doesn’t quite reflect that cumulative vision.

It’s no secret, but it can still be hard for outsiders to grasp: Emmy winners are chosen based not on the body of work for an entire campaign, but on episodes specifically submitted by the nominees — six for the contenders in program races, only one for individual competitors.

“It’s very specific in that respect,” TV Academy senior awards veep John Leverence says, “because what we don’t want for the final judging is a generalized sense of the quality of the show or of an individual performance of somebody’s ability as a picture editor: ‘Oh yeah, this picture editor, I remember he did great work on this other series ….’ No, it doesn’t work that way.”

Furthering that aim, the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences creates judging panels to select the winners of its Emmys, meaning that the vote itself isn’t a reflection of the entire Academy membership (as it is in the pre-nominations balloting), but rather those who serve on the panels.

Judging dates in 2012: Aug. 6-24 for Creative Arts Emmys, Aug. 13-31 for the telecast awards.

“You put that DVD in the player, and you watch that tape,” Leverence says. “Don’t worry about (anything else). This is the one you’re looking at, and by gum, this is the one we want you to make your decision on.”

Academy members volunteer to serve on the judging panels, with the caveat that they can’t serve on the same series panel for three consecutive years. Judges for individual achievement categories such as writing and directing must come from those respective branches.

Leverence says the largest panel this year is for drama series, which will feature more than 800 voters out of the Academy’s 15,000-member base. Acad members who have a professional conflict of interest with a nominee can’t be on a panel, but with no programs from ABC, CBS, Fox or NBC nominated in the category, a large pool was free to volunteer.

Though the program categories aren’t judged on their entire seasons, they still face a rather rigorous test. The voting panels are divided into three groups, each watching a pair of submitted episodes.

“You have, on the one hand, a great opportunity for (the shows) to strut their stuff,” Leverence says, “But on the other hand, it’s like a two-edged sword, because you’ve got to come up with six Emmy-winning episodes.”

Between 700 and 800 voters are participating in the comedy panel, but in other categories, such as those vetted by the 147-member cinematography branch, the voting body dips to about the minimum of 20. Performer panels tend to have about 50 apiece — still small enough to give each voter a serious amount of influence in the outcome.

In another twist, different voting systems are used for different awards. Some go with a straight preferential ranking system — 1 through 6, no ties — and the scores are totaled with the low tally winning. However, especially in categories that invite apples-to-oranges comparisons (such as movie-miniseries or variety/music/comedy specials), a scoring system is used in which panelists award points to the nominee on various relevant elements, and the high score wins.

Until about a decade ago, Leverence recalls, panelists would assemble over a weekend at a hotel for a period of intense judging.

“They would go into the various rooms and sit down,” Leverence says, “and we’d roll the 3/4-inch tape.”

By shifting to allow voting from home or office, the Academy was able to get more participants — as well as a wider demographic range and more that were professionally active.

“If it were structured like we used to have it, it might skew in the direction of those who have time to do it,” Leverence says.

Road to the Emmys: Down to the Wire
For Emmy voters, moments trump overall merits | Award gods’ co-producer | Soirees fill up Emmy week | Trivia for this year’s Emmycast

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