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Emmy voters can go couch-potato route

Cassettes to be sent out, Creative Awards unaffected

Responding to ongoing criticism over how the Emmys are selected, the TV academy will allow at-home voting this year.

The Academy of Television Arts & Sciences board approved the rule change Wednesday night as a one-year experiment. ATAS will revisit the issue next year, according to chairman Meryl Marshall.

Under the new setup, voters — who previously gathered at a hotel in August for an all-day screening session — will receive videocassettes via mail.

According to the committee arguing for the change, led by William Morris Agency’s Mark Itkin, many potential voters couldn’t participate in the all-day panel because of intense production and/or vacation schedules.

ATAS believes that it will now be able to double the number of voters, who vary by category.

“There was a desire to expand the voter base and ensure that all the best people were included in the process,” Marshall said.

The academy traditionally sends out inquiries to the 8,500 members (out of 10,000) who are qualified to vote, and asks for volunteers.

Summer contest

With the new system, members who agree to judge and are selected will receive cassettes in early to mid-August.

The Creative Arts Emmys, which are usually awarded the week before the primetime telecast, aren’t affected by the rule change. Only the categories included in the Primetime Emmys — major acting, writing, directing and overall series awards — will be judged at home.

Emmy critics have argued that the smaller pool of voters available for the all-day sessions tended to favor traditional choices — and tended to vote for the same actors or series year after year.

That especially held true with last year’s ceremony, when nominees from hot buzz shows like “The Sopranos” and “Ally McBeal” were virtually shut out by perennial winners — some of whom from shows that hadn’t, by any critical accounts, had a strong season.

One network exec called the move “a welcome and much needed change.”

Proponents of the rule change hope to see more fresh faces clutching trophies at the Primetime Emmys ceremony in September.

On the flip side, opponents argued that there’s value in the intense scrutiny that occurs when voters see five programs back to back in a single sitting. Concerns were also raised that at-home voters might make their selections without viewing the tapes.

Reviewing reviewers

The panel selection process was first set up 35 years ago by then-academy prexy Rod Serling, who instituted the system after ABC and CBS resigned from the org — ironically, because popular shows were automatically winning year after year due to at-home voting.

Author Thomas O’Neil, an Emmy historian, said he worried that the tapes won’t be viewed by voters, or that more challenging fare like Chris Rock’s talker won’t be given their due if the tape is turned off after a few minutes of viewing.

Also, block voting — a common complaint lobbied against the Grammys — might hurt smaller outlets like Comedy Central or even HBO, O’Neil said.

“I don’t think they understand what they’ve just done,” O’Neil said. “Once voters get the lazy option of voting at home, they’re not going to go back to the panel.”

Marshall said various concerns were outweighed by the belief that the quality and quantity of voters could be improved.

“The sense of the room overall and the consensus of the committee was that the quality of professionals will ensure that the voting process will be done properly,” she said.

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