Comedy quotient upped for this year’s broadcast

Mischer praises Shandling's dedication

This year’s Prime Time Emmy Awards telecast is all about change:

  • The host. Garry Shandling follows last year’s David Hyde Pierce-Jenna Elfman duet and will be calling the shots for the first time.

  • The network. The Sept. 10 show will air on ABC for the first time since 1996, its highest-rated broadcast (14.4) of the past five years.

  • The process. Responding to growing complaints from within the industry that too few people watched too few nominees, this year’s voting procedure has undergone a radical overhaul. Gone are the weekend sabbaticals in which episodes are quickly digested by small groups of panelists. It’s now a more open — and home-based — process.

Marshall law

“There is an overall belief that we will experience (the success) by the sentimentality in the room and the way people feel,” Academy of Television Arts & Sciences prexy Meryl Marshall recently told a critics press panel. “That way, we know they have participated.”

What hasn’t changed is Don Mischer, who returns as the telecast’s exec producer for the sixth straight time. And while the veteran knows viewers usually have to be hooked to stay tuned, he is quick to quash any reliance on a specific theme.

“If there’s any theme at all, it is simply to say that we want to look at the very best television,” he says. “We want people to leave the show feeling like there are some wonderful things that television does.”

One thing Mischer does promise is more laughs.

“We are not going for (anything) definite where we hang every item of the show on it,” he says, “but there will be much more comedy than we’ve had before.”

That prophesy will try to be fulfilled with the help of Shandling, who, Mischer believes, will help to best last year’s 11.7/19 mark. “He’s got a great take on television.”

Shandling’s decision to come on board has been a boon to Mischer’s plans.

“We are hoping to pretape and prepackage a lot of that comedy,” he says. “We’ve never had anyone so committed so early. We are able to do things we’ve never been able to do before, when hosts have come in literally at the last minute.”

Dedicated topic or not, Mischer will certainly mold the show around, among others, “The West Wing,” “The Sopranos” and “Annie.” “The nominations do affect what you do,” he says. “The year that ‘Gypsy’ got 14 nominations, Bette Midler was the one.”

But it’s the winners of the new voting process that will probably draw the most attention, at least in Hollywood.

Upset possibilities

While viewers around the country may not care about Emmy protocol, the show’s success could pivot around the night’s surprises, something Marshall thinks could definitely be affected by the new regulations.

“For many of us who had watched many of the programs (last year), we were not necessarily surprised … with any of the winners,” she says. “But the feeling was that there were a lot of people unfamiliar and certainly who had not participated in the process.”

That added participation may or may not lead to unexpected winners, but it surely creates something intangible that Mischer will get to utilize, and something most producers would love to exploit.

“I think we’re going to find a real change in attitude,” he says.