Television Academy Topper Bruce Rosenblum Peers Into the Future of Peak TV

On June 2, the Television Academy will unveil its media center on its North Hollywood campus at a star-studded gala, the culmination of a multi-year capital campaign. It’s been the primary mission of Academy chairman and CEO Bruce Rosenblum, who last year extended his term at the helm of the organization to see the initiative through.

But that’s not only the issue on his plate as Emmy season kicks into gear, with nomination voting set to begin on June 13 — and more competition than ever in an ever-crowded marketplace.

Here, Rosenblum offers Variety insight into the key decisions he and the board of governors made going into this year’s race.

James Elliot Bailey for Variety

Let’s start with a state of the state. From your perspective, how does this year’s race compare to years past?
We’re just at the starting gate. Emmys submissions were due earlier this month. We’re expecting to have a record number of submissions across all of our categories for the 2016 competition. There’s never been more wonderful content being produced by our membership throughout the industry for all platforms on a global basis. We had around 6,000 submissions during 2015, and we anticipate around 7,000 submissions for 2016. The number of members who will be eligible to vote will be up around 1,000 from around 18,000 to around 19,000. We have a handful of new categories in the short-form area. So overall the competition itself is expanding, it’s the reflection of an expanding television landscape. While we all just returned from New York and the premiere of the broadcast and cable network upfronts, we’re really now looking at year-round business, pilot season is really year-round. Production is year-round. Launch of original series is year-round. And each of the networks, whether they’re broadcast, cable or over the top, are looking at opportunities to bring new programming to viewers throughout the year.

What about the awards show itself? How’s the planning coming?
We’re excited to be in business with ABC. They’re terrific partners when it comes to broadcasting the Primetime Emmy show. Ben (Sherwood) and his team will do a terrific job. They’ve identified Jimmy Kimmel as the host. All of us at the Academy are excited to have Jimmy back as the host of our program. Don Mischer is also on board to executive produce. Don and his terrific team have done an extraordinary job with the Emmys the last few years, and all of us at the Academy are excited to be working with Don once again.

You announced earlier this year you’d be splitting the Creative Arts Emmys into two shows. Why make that choice?
Because of the breadth and volume of work that is worthy of creative excellence recognitions, our Creative Arts Emmy show became longer than the board of governors felt comfortable with. And our governors for the last couple of years have been looking for a solution to facilitate a more user-friendly Creative Arts awards ceremony. After a lot of deliberation, the decision was made to split the show into two and create a Creative Arts Emmy weekend. It will be the exact same experience on Saturday and Sunday from both an awards show standpoint and a Governors Ball standpoint. We will be awarding obviously different categories but from an audience standpoint, it will be the exact same experience. This gives our producer, Bob Bain, a little more breathing room to produce a show that not only is one award after another, but also has a little more entertainment and also has more air to recognize the great creative work that’s being done by our members across all of our peer groups.

Every Vote Counts
The boom in TV production has spread to the Emmys, leading
to an increase in submissions
6,000 Number of Emmy submissions
in 2015
7,000 Projected number of Emmy
submissions in 2016
18K Eligible number of Emmy
voters in 2015
19K Eligible number of Emmy voters in 2016

What has the response from the industry been?
Our sense is once our members have an experience that’s not a three-hour plus show, and still are able to enjoy the overall experience, it’ll be nothing but positive, but anecdotally we’ve heard that it was well-received, and our members are looking forward to the Creative Arts weekend as well as the primetime show the following weekend.

Have you decided which awards are going on which night?
They are going to make that decision once we see the nominees. Because the goal is to avoid to the greatest extent possible members having to go both nights. Once we see all the nominations, the team will sit down and figure out how divide up the two nights in a way that prevents anyone having to go to both nights.

You also announced an expansion of the short-form categories this year. How has the industry responded to those new awards?
Very positively. The industry recognizes that our members are working in new platforms and new formats. And a lot of high-quality work is being done on 15 minute or less episodes. As an Academy, we need to evolve and recognize that our members are not only working in traditional comedies and dramas but in new media platforms. We are agnostic in that a short-form series could air on Comedy Central or YouTube Red. It’s the quality of the work that’s the more relevant issue. This expansion simply recognizes the great work of our members in a new environment. We’re excited that we now have some time to recognize this work in the Creative Arts events. And we look forward to our short-form categories expanding over the next handful of years.

You also added more nominees to the writing awards.
There is so much Emmy-worthy work being done in our industry and it’s challenging for an organization like ours to properly recognize that work. Increasing the number of nominees in categories, while a small change, nevertheless allows more of the great work to be honored both when we make the (nomination) announcements in July and when we open the envelope in September.

Return Engagement: Jimmy Kimmel last hosted the Primetime Emmys in 2012.
John Shearer/Invision/AP

Last year you made a bold move in redefining comedies as half-hours and dramas as hour-longs. Has that settled in?
It provided clarity, which is a good thing. We’re finding that there are fewer submissions this year to change categories, which we also think is a good thing. It allowed the marketing departments and the others involved in the Emmy campaigns to understand and categorize their shows a little more quickly and earlier in the process and ultimately that’s a good thing as well.

The Oscars got a lot of heat this year for a lack of diversity among their nominees. It’s unlikely the Emmys will face a similar problem. What can film learn from the TV industry?
Our studios and our networks have made diversity a clear priority when it comes to the casting of their pilots and their series. And in the industry, it’s incumbent on all of us, not only in front of camera but those working behind the camera, to reflect the diversity of our audience. This isn’t an effort to be politically correct. This is for good business and for great creativity. It’s vitally important that our writers and our directors and our performers and our executives and our cameramen and our makeup artists and our wardrobe teams reflect the diversity in our country. That’s both women and people of color. We expect that our nominees that you see in July will be as diverse if not more so than in past years but we should never lose sight of the need for diversity behind the camera and in the executive ranks across the board. And while the television industry has done a very good job in the past decade in expanding the diversity of our work force, a lot of work remains. We can do better. We need to do better. The quality and diversity of the creative output of our industry will benefit as the diversity behind the camera expands in our business.

We’re living in an era of peak TV, where there are 400-plus scripted series on the air. It’s impossible to watch it all. How can you reasonably expect voters to do so?
That is the biggest challenge. It’s primarily a challenge in the program and actors categories. When you talk about our individual peer group categories it’s not as deep a submission list, but you’ve identified an important problem and it’s one we’re focused on and we’re looking at potential solutions for. All of us are making an effort to get as much of the content into the hands of our voting members in as simple and as easy to access a way as possible. We’re continuing to look for new ways to do that as we move forward.

Any solutions you can share?
One is online — streaming and accessing all of the material in an online fashion. That’s not to say many or all of the studios won’t continue to submit materials via DVD screeners. But we will expect over the next handful of years a push to more online access to more submitted material.

Last year, concerns were raised that because of the long list of submissions, nominees with names that fell later in the alphabet might have been snubbed. Any plans to revisit the ballot process?

From an alphabetical standpoint, some members when they sign on, will get Z to A, some will get A to Z. That change was made for this year. I’m not sure the programs that had a T, U, V, W in their first word were disadvantaged from those that had an A, B, C in their first word. Whether or not that’s true is unclear, but it was a concern, and we addressed it.

“It’s incumbent on all of us to reflect the diversity of our audience.”
Bruce Rosenblum

The broadcast networks host the Emmy Awards, and yet they continually walk away empty-handed — last year, HBO swept the top awards. They can’t be happy.
The Emmy Awards evaluates all the submissions and the membership votes those they feel are worthy. Is there a recognition that a 22-episode competing against a 12-episode series is not necessarily apples to apples? Yes, there is a concern about that. What the solution is to that is wildly unclear. We do not want to go back to the days of the Cable ACE awards. It’s not dissimilar to a $100 million theatrical movie competing against a $10 million theatrical movie. We’re aware that it’s a concern. It’s one that we will continue to look at.

You’ll be leaving the Academy at the end of the year. What goals do you still want to accomplish before you go?
The first goal will be achieved on June 2 when we open the Saban Center and welcome the membership to the reimagined home for the Television Academy. My second goal is the new split of the Creative Arts Awards and the primetime show in September. That we leave the organization in a stronger place than (when) most us arrived five years ago, with a renewed and strengthened focus on diversity, on expanding the awareness of content being produced outside the traditional television ecosystem and a renewed focus on the phenomenal philanthropic work being done by our Foundation as we work with the next generation of storytellers and thought leaders that are in high school and college in the form of our scholarships, our summer internships, our college television awards. I’ve been very fortunate to get to work with a wonderful group of professionals who dedicate themselves day in and day out to the work of the Television Academy along with a lot of volunteers across our peer groups, the board of governors, executive committee, and the foundation board who give their time and really want to give back to an industry that’s been so good to all of us. All of us who volunteer feel we take away more than we give from a big picture standpoint. I’m hopeful that the academy is well positioned for many years to come.

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