Television Academy Spars Over Membership of Music Supervisors

Should music supervisors be allowed to join the TV Academy?

It’s a controversial topic within the Hollywood music community, and a new move to admit them – without consulting the membership – is meeting with strong resistance from many composers, including several former governors.

Currently, the Acad’s “music peer group” consists of about 350 composers, songwriters and music directors. Music supervisors, who for the most part add pre-existing songs to the mix of many series, are not permitted. Last month, the branch’s 12-member executive committee voted to admit music supervisors and, in an email to committee members, the Acad’s two music governors stated flatly that they would not submit the idea to the full membership.

“We were elected to lead, not poll,” it said. “Had the people of Alabama been asked in 1964 if African Americans should be allowed to vote, they probably would have said no. But because it was the right thing to do, Congress and the Supreme Court demanded it,” said the email signed by Governors Michael Levine and Rickey Minor. That declaration, quickly circulated within the TV composer community, outraged many as much for its over-the-top historical reference as for its refusal to consult the membership on a hot-button issue – one that was voted down by earlier executive committees twice in the last four years.

“People are very angry” about how this has been handled, says a knowledgeable Academy source who asked not to be identified. Even those who approve of the addition of music supervisors are bothered by the apparent rush by Levine (composer for “Cold Case”) and Minor (former music director on “American Idol”). Levine is not backing down. He calls it a “historic effort by our peer group to increase diversity and inclusion. Music supervisors are just one group that has been shut out or under-represented in the past.

“Change is always hard, and not everybody likes it,” Levine adds.

Former music governor Mark Watters, an Emmy-winning composer and a member of the current exec committee, opposes their inclusion. “Our membership is made up of people who created original content for television,” he says. Not everyone is opposed to music supervisors in the TV Acad. But many reject the idea that music supervisors should be able to vote in categories like “dramatic underscore.” “Being judged by your peers means being judged by those who essentially do what you do,” says former music-branch governor and Emmy winner Mark Adler.

Music supervisors have sought recognition and membership in the Motion Picture Academy and TV Academy in recent years,and honors of their own. Their new org, the Guild of Music Supervisors, gives out their own awards every February to help call attention to their craft. Guild president John Houlihan supports Levine’s initiative. “Like many other craftspeople on a television project, the work of a music supervisor yields tangible results that impact a show and help drive the narrative, the action and the comedy,” he says.

Lobbying for an Emmy is “not my agenda,” he insists. “My number one goal is to build a bridge for the most highly experienced music supervisors to become full voting members of the Television Academy.” The TV Acad declined to comment.

But according to the governors, the next step is approval by the membership committee, then by the board of governors, both of which usually rubber-stamp recommendations from the branch exec committees.

There is no formal provision for polling the entire membership of a branch, even in a divisive issue like this one.

Ironically, even if the supervisors are admitted, there’s no guarantee they will be allowed to vote on the music awards. Levine thinks they should, but a compromise proposal is in the works that would allow them to vote in the program categories (such as best comedy and best drama series) but not in any of the music categories. “For the foreseeable future, at least until the pitchforks get lowered and the torches are put out, I would like them to be as unthreatening as possible,” Levine says.

Acad membership execs are expected to be at the next music exec committee meeting April 6 to answer questions and, Levine says, “deal with people’s fears head-on.”

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