TV Academy Chief Hayma Washington Talks Emmys, Awards Expansion

It’s been six months since Hayma Washington won the influential role of chairman and CEO of the TV Academy, replacing Bruce Rosenblum, who stepped down after five years of running the organization that oversees the annual Emmy Awards.

In his first interview since taking the job, Washington — a veteran TV producer and longtime member of the Board of Governors — talks to Variety about what he’s learned since taking on the role, his thoughts on host Stephen Colbert, and offers an update on the state of Emmy submissions in the most competitive season yet (9,000 and counting!).

How are you settling into the role?
To be honest, I’m just short of six months so it’s impossible for me to tell you how the whole thing’s going to go, but so far it’s been great. I’m looking forward to seeing what the second six months is going to bring. When I took the position, I had no idea what to expect. But it’s just been really kind of overwhelming how many people are willing to help, and are excited about being involved with the Academy, whether it be the people who are on our committees, or whether it’s just the membership in general. And this is helping with the committee work, it’s helping with our Emmy objectives, but also in some of our events and our activities, whether that’s for industry knowledge, or our educational side. I’m just finding that to be overwhelming because you kind of get the feeling that you’re in this with a group. I’m really looking forward to the next six months.

What are the challenges and goals ahead for you?
I come from television. I’m a producer. I’ve done international shows, domestic shows, and I’ve been doing it for quite a few years. When you work like that, you’re used to interacting and interfacing, sometimes some very uphill battles. When I got here, I brought that skill set with me.
I hope that we can try to find a way to communicate our agenda of diversity. I mean not just gender diversity, cultural diversity or racial diversity, but also platform. We have a real challenging change in the times ahead of us with new platforms and distribution angles. And we’re really trying to make sure that we are very conscious of that, and trying to put that into everything we do.

Mitch Gee for Variety

This is a very ambitious nonprofit organization. There were a lot of initiatives, old and new. We’re trying to really pace ourselves. In order to be effective, we obviously have to prioritize things. We have 24,000 members now. Trying to make sure that we keep in mind what’s important to them, and keep the initiatives toned to their needs, it’s a little challenging, but it’s exciting.

How do you listen to all those voices, given that those 24,000 voices can have competing interests?
I think when you’re really focused on what your purpose is, and I think our purpose is being relevant and inclusive, it filters out the noise. Because if you stay very focused on why we’re here, what our mission is, and [what] our mission is to that membership, I think it’s easy if you keep it simple. There are always a lot of opinions, but I think that when we’re focused on what’s important for us, it keeps it on track.

What’s your role as these interests — broadcast, cable and streaming — combine and collide?
I don’t look at it as a collide. At the end of the day, we are the arbitrator of the Emmy, which is the mark of excellence. All those different formats and possibilities to me is what makes it exciting. Sure, they have different interests. They come from different directions. But at the end of the day, I think we’re all interested in making quality content. That’s how I look at it. It’s just more opportunities for us to be exposed to something.

We’re in the midst of an intensely competitive “for your consideration” season. What’s your assessment of the season right now?
Exponentially it always becomes bigger. We have much more content available — great content, I might add. We just closed our submission period. We’re right at just plus-9,000 submissions, in 117 categories. I’m looking forward to this being a very competitive season. It’s exciting, too, because as it grows, we just have more of an opportunity to be exposed to more quality programming.

How are you going to make sure that all those submissions get viewed by the membership?
Interesting question. As an Academy, we provide a lot of opportunities for people to view the material. We start with the sneak peeks at the beginning of the year, which gives you an opportunity to see new programs and specials. Then when we get closer to the period, we have our FYC events that take place on our campus, which are very influential and informative. We have the Emmy magazine that promotes the shows. And then obviously our governors encourage their peer groups [PGCs], and those PGCs encourage their memberships to view. We send out a postcard once the two platforms open up for the voting period. We do a lot. I think that we really try to make sure that we encourage people to watch the programs, and remind them that it is voting period time. I think we’ve got it covered.

There’s also been an increase in voting membership, too. What have you been doing to drive an increase in voting membership?
That 24,000 equals about 21,500 people that are eligible to vote. It’s very similar to the answer I was just giving on the different platforms. We have such a great sampling with that number of 21,500. I would hope that with a number like that, we really have a very high percentage of an opportunity that someone has watched something and sampled it. We want to make sure if you vote for it, hopefully you saw it. And we think with 21,500 probably we will cover most of the material that’s out there. And we’ll just pick what is a good choice.

“We’re always excited when we see the programming that comes into this submission period… It’s a reflection of the culture.”
Hayma Washington

The Oscars have struggled with diversity among their nominees in the past. Can you speak to that issue as it relates to television content and the Emmys?
Obviously, we hope that television always is a good reflection of the culture that views it. We applaud any inclusion and diversity in the industry. We are always excited when we see the programming that comes into this submission period. We’re happy because it seems to be balanced, and it’s a reflection of the culture.

Were you happy with the split into two Creative Arts Emmys awards last year? It seemed to get a good response from the community.
Oh, I loved it. I come out of production, so I loved the opportunity for the other, non-primetime entries to have a show that was wellproduced, and gave them an opportunity to have a wonderful, special night. We found it to be great. I think everyone we asked just was over the moon about how well that came down. We’re really looking forward to doing it again this year.

Are there any other changes you’re looking to make to the Emmys? There were new categories added this year.
The music supervisor is an integral part of the whole entertainment and the flavor of a show, and the casting in reality. I’ll give you an example how pertinent those selections were: We had 100 submissions in the supervising category, and 50 in reality.
To me it just goes to show that the governors that are over those peer groups had their finger on the pulse of what was important to their membership. I say all that to say that we’ll always be open minded and ready if it’s relevant to add to a category. Because by having our peer groups and our governors, we have a pretty good idea of what’s important. And what changes, if it needs to be made, should be made.

Are there any categories you personally want to see added?
No, personally, I’m happy with the process. Because of just seeing how people react to this last change, I’ve always encouraged the governors to make sure that if they see something that’s underserved, that we talk about it. I keep myself in the position to be the listening ear.

Given the expansion of peak TV, what about the idea of expanding the number of nominees in the series categories, going from seven to 10?
We’re always open-minded to be relevant. We respond to the needs and requests. It’s not something that I personally have thought about yet. But if it comes to the Academy, we’ll consider anything.

What about a best new series category?
We try to respond to the needs of the industry. If that need comes across the desk, and goes through the vetting of the awards committee, we’re always open to discussing it if there’s a need for it. We want to be relevant to what our industry needs. Whether it be digital, or a new category in general. We’d definitely not be close-minded to discussing anything.

The issue that comes up year after year is how broadcast series have been getting shut out at the Emmys. Is there any way to satisfy what broadcast wants?
I can only answer that our platform is fair and equal to anyone wherever the material comes from. And we’ll continue to run that kind of an organization. We hope that always the quality rises.

I know among your predecessor’s goals was raising money for the remodeled campus, including the new Saban Media Center. How is the fundraising coming along?
Obviously, Bruce [Rosenblum] did an amazing job on leaving us this legacy. It’s a touchstone portion of our fundraising. Our community supports us. We’re really being supported well coming out of Bruce’s campaign into our current one.

Do you have further goals that you need to reach?
You’re always trying to reach a goal. We have the Academy. We have the TV Academy Foundation, which is obviously always in need of support. We’re always looking for the goals that will help us be able to provide our service to the community.

This is your first time running the Emmys in this role. Are there things that you want to do or want to see implemented, that you’re going to get the chance to do now?

To be fair, when it comes to implementing the show itself, that is handled by our production partner, which this year is CBS. I just want it to be another exciting show. We have, as you know, three shows. We have our creative arts, and then we have our primetime show. The exciting part of it is that it gives me three nights of great excitement and enjoyment. If it can be as good as it was last year, we always want to up the entertainment quotient. I would be very happy if we just did it as well we did it last year.

What do you think of the choice as Stephen Colbert as the host?
We’re so excited to be in business with CBS and Stephen. He’s a consummate artist, and we know he’ll bring an exciting show.

Colbert has risen to the top of the ratings because of his coverage of President Trump. Have you had any conversations about just how political you want the show to get?
The Television Academy, we’re a nonpolitical organization. We know that we’ve got great talent. We know that [Colbert] is a consummate entertainer. We have not had any conversations, other than we’re just excited and looking forward to an amazing show.

New TV Academy CEO Hayma Washington has been in the role for 6 months.
Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP

The Oscars obviously had a bit of an issue with their accountants. Did you reevaluate or change procedures in any way?
We obviously have sat down and had some very detailed meetings with our accounting firm, which is Ernst & Young. They brought their plan in. I was a new eye. I produced several award shows myself, so I bring a different perspective. I feel like what they have put out to us is as failsafe as it can be, and we’re very confident in the safeguards that they have in place, and we’re looking forward to having a very eventless award show.

“Billions” star Asia Kate Dillon, who identifies as gender non-binary, sparked a conversation earlier this year with a letter to the Academy about the category rules about gender definitions. What was your reaction to that conversation?
When I say we’re inclusive, we’re very inclusive. We were very happy to be engaged in the conversation. Because, as we said in our statement, we have no requirements of any gender identity, it was an easy conversation to have. And we were just glad that we were able to provide an answer that gave them an opportunity to pick what category was comfortable for them.

The MTV Movie and TV awards then started gender-neutral categories. It likely suits them better than it suits the Academy, but is that something you could ever see happening down the road?
Well, one thing I’m not is a fortune-teller. I really don’t have any opinion on what they did. I just know that the way our categories are designed now, they do fit that need, or the need that was brought to us.

Two years ago, there was an issue about nominees not getting through because the way the ballot was alphabetized. Last year, it was sent out randomly, so some voters got A to Z, other voters got Z to A. Is that something you’re going to continue this year?
Yes, it is before my time, but I am a W. So I am a strong supporter on anything that we do [along those lines]. (Laughs.) All jokes aside, we want to make sure that everything we do is as fair perception-wise and execution-wise as we can. We will obviously continue to do that procedure as long as it seems to be effective.

Obviously, you knew Bruce well from before. Did he give you any advice on how to get through the job?
Well, you know Bruce. Bruce is a straight shooter. He said be yourself, bring your skill set. He said enjoy it. We’re at a wonderful time in our industry. You can sometimes get so deep into the weeds, you can miss it. He just said it’s been an amazing experience for me. He told me to make sure I embraced it.

What shows do you watch?

Everything is good. I’m a full-spectrum kind of guy. I like a little bit of everything.

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