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TV Academy’s Bruce Rosenblum on Emmy Rule Changes, Younger Voters and Diversity

Bruce Rosenblum may be ending his reign as chairman and CEO of the TV Academy at the end of the year, but his passion project is far from over. Before he steps down, he still has a few things on his plate, including overseeing this year’s awards.

It’s never been a better time to be in the Emmy business, he tells Variety, in a wide-ranging interview at his office at Legendary Entertainment in Burbank.

“The Emmys are a reflection of the creative excellence,” says Rosenblum. “It’s fun to be involved in a process that recognizes creative excellence when there truly is so much excellence out in the zeitgeist.”

The drumbeat leading up to the September ceremony has also been notable for the academy’s rule changes, issued back in February, which Rosenblum says all stemmed from an effort to bring clarity to the nomination process. Here, he explains what drove the decision and offers his perspective on the challenges ahead.

It feels like Hollywood has been infected with Emmy fever.
It does, which is great news for our organization. Which is also great news for the industry. It’s a reflection of the simple fact that there’s far more great programming being produced today than ever before. More of our members are working than ever before. I think that’s why you’re seeing a frenzy. That’s why you’re seeing excitement about the award season.

Certainly it’s also because there are more contenders than ever this year.
It’s reasonable to expect that Netflix and Amazon will be recognized with nominations this year. They’re doing terrific work. That’s where alongside CBS and ABC and HBO and FX, writers and producers want to be doing work for Netflix and Hulu and Amazon as well. That leads to an exciting time in our business.

Can you reasonably expect voters to watch it all?
I’m not sure they can. When you get to the peer group categories, I think the members of the peer groups watch their colleagues’ work. They certainly narrow down the amount of content that needs to be watched and make an educated determination about which entries should be nominated. The program category is tough. That’s why we have two stages. Once we get down to the nominees, the membership will do the right thing and watch enough of the shows to make the right determination.

So let’s talk about the rule changes. What motivated them?
The sense of our organization was there was a lack of clarity over what programs were eligible in the comedy category and what was eligible in the drama category. And at the same time, there was a sense that some programs were “working the system.” That was a phrase I heard, that some programs were entering the category they thought had the best chance to win, rather than really reflect what belongs in the comedy category or what belongs in the drama category. So when our organization began to recognize that may be what was going on, they took it upon themselves to craft some changes. We created a group of very senior and very diverse members of the TV business to think about these issues. That group made some recommendations for changes. We brought those changes to the board. The board tweaked those recommendations. The changes were directed and implemented by the board. It’s fair to say each of the rule changes will get looked at the end of this year. I think they’ll get looked at the end of next year. It’s an evolving process. It was highly unlikely we’d get it perfect the first time out. But nevertheless the feedback we’ve received is one of appreciation that there is now more clarity about what is eligible. The reality is that it is only a handful of shows that this impacted. It’s not the great majority. And we’ll see how the membership ultimately votes, and if any of the shows that transferred get nominated. That will be the true test if the system worked.

What’s been the industry’s response to the rule changes?
I’m sure there were those involved with shows that were not allowed to change that are disappointed, and that is understandable. But we did provide clarity and there was a process, and it appears to be an equitable process. We had to have some starting point. There’s clarity as opposed to what was there before. It’s reasonable to expect the organization will look at the process and say there are tweaks that should be made.

What about the petition process? Can you explain why “Shameless” was determined to be a comedy yet “Orange Is the New Black” is a drama?
I wasn’t on any of the panels; that wasn’t my role. That’s certainly the most challenging result to rationalize. Is there a better process? We will look at it. But overwhelmingly, the reaction was positive. It’s probably unrealistic to expect that any process we put in place won’t have some controversy. That is the glaring example, but the process did play out.

Let’s talk about the elimination of the blue ribbon panels. The second-round voting will now be open to the full membership.
One of the criticisms we’ve heard over the years is same old, same old — the same people continue to win. So we’ve meaningfully opened up the number of people who are going to participate in the second round of voting by eliminating the blue ribbon panels and enabling all members of the peer group to participate in the second round of voting — other than those who have a conflict and those who aren’t willing to watch the material. This is by far the most encouraging and optimistic of all of the changes. Our membership count is growing rapidly. We felt it incumbent upon all of us to craft a system that grew the voting participation as well. The move to online voting should also meaningfully help the voting participation as well. It’s simpler, it’s more accessible. We’re all optimistic that by expanding the voting population, by embracing new technology, and by welcoming newer members into the TV Academy, we should get some fresh voices and some fresh looks at creative excellence. And that would be a good thing for all of us.

The Oscars famously had a diversity problem with their nominees this year. Given the diversity on television this season, I’d imagine you don’t have any concerns on that front.
This isn’t a quota system. It’s my hope that creativity and creative excellence is recognized and rewarded. Clearly there has been a push by all involved both by the studio side and the network side to increase diversity in front of and behind the camera. There are several high-profile series that reflect stronger diversity than we’ve seen in the past. But I’m not focusing my hope on this year’s nominations or this year’s awards. I’m focusing my hope on ongoing processes that focus upon diversity and implementation of a more diverse workforce both in front and behind the camera. That starts with creators. That starts with writers. That starts with directors. That starts with casting directors. That ultimately leads to in-front-of-the-camera talent. That also needs to be reflected in the executive ranks, in the individuals who are making choices about the types of programs that are being developed. While this year is going to be a snapshot, I don’t think we should focus on one year, but look at the next handful of years. Three or four years from now, we want to be able look back and say, have we done a better job of getting more diversity in our storytelling, more diversity in our storytellers, more diversity in the product that’s on our air.

Give us a status report on the state of the TV Academy. What do you hope to accomplish before the end of your term?
I’m not done yet! We need to continue and conclude the fundraising for the capital campaign for the endowment and our foundation. We definitely want to leave the foundation in far better financial shape than it is today. We want to leave it with a very healthy endowment so it can continue to provide the great philanthropic work to our community and the next generation of storytellers and filmmakers. We want to get the new building finished, which will be done by the end of first quarter next year. More importantly, I’m hopeful we can continue to maintain our focus on programs that support the effort to increase diversity both in front of and behind the camera. And we’re hopeful the online voting results in more participation of our 19,000 voters. While the Emmys are one of many things we do, it’s one of the highest-profile activities of our organization. The more our membership supports the process, the more valuable that achievement is when you’re standing on the stage accepting your Emmy.

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