Toon scribes not drawn to new Emmy rules

Lack of animation awards angers some

Do animation writers receive the same level of respect as their live-action counterparts? Many believe they don’t, and furthermore, they feel that this lack of consideration is made painfully obvious by the fact that no Emmy specifically recognizes the accomplishments of animation writers.

“There is no award for animation writing, the way there is for sit-com writing, or for miniseries or dramatic writing,” says Patric Verrone, a writer for “Futurama.” Instead, writers share in the outstanding animated program award.

For primetime shows, writers are eligible for the award if they wrote the episode that was nominated; in daytime, writers receive it if they’ve written a certain percentage of the season’s episodes — even if they didn’t contribute to the one the actually won.

“It’s a ridiculous system,” says Gordon Bressack, a three-time Emmy winner for “Animaniacs,” “Pinky and the Brain” and “Pinky, Elmyra and the Brain.” He believes that the real rationale for this approach is to keep down the number of prizes so that the award ceremonies stay short.

But Mark Glamack, one of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences’ two governors for animation, offers his own explanation for why the awards are distributed this way.

“Prior to 1985, we had everything separated out, the same way as live action,” he remembers. The problem was, the award for best show would go to the producers only, and the writers often would not be recognized in their own categories for that same program.

“If it wins the best program award, it’s directly attributable to the talents of producers, directors and writers,” he says. As a result, it makes more sense for all of those people to share in the best pro-gram award rather than win separate prizes. “Prior to 1985, the writers wanted the change.”

Nevertheless, he says he recognizes the frustration of the writ-ers, and this year, the award for best program will carry an additional inscription specifying the winner’s contribution to that show. “On the Emmy it’s going to say, ‘Best Writing for an Animated Program.’ At the same time, it’s all inclusive.”

Meanwhile, another voting controversy is emerging. “We’re actually in a little battle with Academy of Television Arts & Sciences right now,” says Verrone. “They’ve changed the rules on how ani-mation is voted on.”

In the past, he explains, members of the animation peer group would receive ballots so that they could nominate five shows for best animated program. The five noms would then be watched by blue-ribbon panels of people drawn from the Academy as a whole who would choose the ultimate winner.

This year, however, the shows will be nominated by a prescreen-ing panel rather than the entire peer group. “My fear is that that’s going to be people who have the time to volunteer to watch 30 or 40 hours, or that there’s going to be conflict of interest,” says Verrone.

Glamack says he is more concerned about conflicts of interest when the nominations are done by the peer group, largely due to what he calls hyphenate voters. “The bylaws within the Academy state that you cannot belong to more than one peer group. Yet there’s another rule, that if you would otherwise qualify for another peer group, you can send in a request for a hyphenate ballot.”

In other words, if a member of the sitcom-writing peer group also qualified for the animation peer group, the animation peer group would be obliged to give that person a ballot.

“We want to have it as pure a vote as we can make it. When you consider that one vote could determine a nomination, a hyphenate vote could be the determining vote,” he says.

Some of these controversies stem from deeper differences be-tween primetime animation writers, who come largely out of sit-com/variety show backgrounds and are represented by the Writers Guild of America, and daytime writers, who are part of Intl. Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees Local 839, which also represents animation artists.

Yet Bressack believes that no writer really gets any respect, es-pecially in animation.

“We’re talking about galley slaves who get whipped three times a day, jealous of the ones who get whipped twice a day,” he says.

But there may be consolations. “We don’t get the recognition that other people get, but the work itself is worth it,” says Verrone. “We are involved in the process much more intimately and I think we feel that it makes the product better.”

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